Funerals can be expensive, and it’s hard to know what’s worth spending money on, especially at such a stressful time.
Think about the values of the deceased person, and of your family. Were they a person of lavish tastes, or were they more interested in life’s simple pleasures? Would they have wanted a grand celebration of their life or a more low-key affair? Hundreds of people, or just close family? This will be your last send-off for your loved one, you only have one chance to do it right. Take your time and think about how you’d like it to go.
What kind of funeral should it be?
The funeral is for the living as much as it is for the deceased. It’s a chance to say goodbye and to celebrate a life well lived. If having a Charlie-and-the-Chocolate-Factory-themed funeral will make everybody smile and think of their now-departed Nanna’s love of her favourite film, then why not do it? If the deceased loved flowers and nature, then those elements will be important in the funeral, while for others, music will be much more relevant. These options range in cost, but once you’re identified what will be important to you in the final send-off, it can make the priorities easier to identify.
Coffins are often one of the most expensive portions of a funeral. Coffins are a legal requirement in Australia for a burial or cremation to take place and can be made from a range of materials. While some opt for simple and traditional, coffins and caskets can be much more elaborate, and cost up to $40,000. There are so many more options for coffins, including custom colours, designs, and pictures. For example, if your departed loved one was a big fan of Formula One racing, it is now a simple matter for us to design and make a Formula One themed coffin. These personalised options are often relatively inexpensive and a great way to honour the personality of your loved one. There are eco-friendly coffins available, make to be biodegradable and from sustainably grown timbers, and some people even choose to build and decorate their own coffins. Coffins are one item we often see people overspend on. They believe Dad deserved the best, when in fact he would have been horrified to see so much spent on this particular thing. Think about whether it’s important to the deceased, and their family. If it is, then it’s worth spending on, if not, perhaps think about some other things that better reflect their values and interests.
Flowers are a fantastic way to brighten up a funeral and to surround it with things the deceased loved in life, but they can get expensive quickly. Once again, it comes down to what you think would be most meaningful for the funeral. If flowers aren’t something the deceased enjoyed, then a simple florist arrangement for the coffin could suffice, or skip the flowers entirely and use their favourite t-shirt, a quilt they’ve made, or something else entirely to adorn the coffin. If, however, flowers were important to your loved one, there are a great many options to choose from. Your funeral director can organise to have their favourite flowers displayed (within the season of course), or you could even organise to have a friend or family member do the flower arranging for you. For the green thumbs, you could even choose to use flowers from the deceased’s own garden as a way to bring their passions to the fore.
Was music important to your loved one? Many people live their lives to a soundtrack of jazz, ACDC or classical music. You have the option to choose some of their favourites and provide them for the funeral, but this is also a chance to think outside the box. Were they in a choir? Why not ask them if they’d like to sing as a tribute to their friend? Would the grandchildren like to sing or play an instrument? We’ve had funerals that involved jazz bands, pipers, and everything in between. These can be a wonderful centrepiece to a funeral, and a great way to think about what the person you’re remembering loved. If music is not particularly important in this case, talk to your funeral director, and they will be able to provide something suitable.
Pictures can be a great way of remembering a life well-lived. Many funeral services involve a photo presentation on a screen, mostly put together by the family, although most funeral services can put one together for a small fee if you provide the photos. Pictures can also be hung up around the room, or placed on a table for people to look at. You could even put together a photo album or memory book for people to look through afterwards.
Would you like a viewing?
In some cultures, a viewing is more or less mandatory, while in others it comes down to the preference of the family. Do you think it will add to the way you remember your mum, or not? Viewings aren’t overly expensive, but they add a few hundred dollars to the cost of the funeral, and are not necessary in all cases.
Coffee and food
If you’re having a gathering after the funeral, it’s always nice to have some coffee and food available. Some people choose to kick on to the pub or return to the house of a family member, but for any very elderly guests, this can be fraught with difficulty. Most funeral facilities will offer the option of coffee and tea following the service, and this can be worth considering as the simplest option to mingle with friends and family to discuss the person you’ve just farewelled.
Where would you like them to be interred?
There are so many options for a final resting place. Often the deceased has told you in life what they’d like done with their remains, and we’ve heard it all, right through from cremated and scattered at sea, through to a full marble mausoleum. Do you want a headstone or grave marker?
Again, this is something that can be as simple or as extravagant as you like. You may even already have a family plot with existing headstones that can save you some money. Cremation is the cheapest option and often preferred, even within communities who traditionally opt for burial (have a look at our podcast, where we discuss that subject (2 Death Defined Joe and Aldo Full Interview)). Burial is next most expensive, and interment in a mausoleum or similar comes in at the priciest.
Whatever options you choose, it should be intentional and geared towards creating a memorable experience to farewell your loved one. A funeral is highly personal and should help you to remember all the facets of someone’s life. The things worth spending money on are the ones that make you and your family feel close to the deceased and to each other. Some people choose to go all out and have a lavish funeral, because that’s what would have made their loved one happy. Others prefer to keep things more simple. There is no wrong answer, as long as you are being true to your loved one’s wishes and your own needs.
If you’d like to hear more, check out our podcast, Death Defined (https://deathdefined.com.au/Video/) where we discuss the complicated emotional spectrum of death with real people, from their experiences. Hosted by funeral director Matt Kwoka, we delve into the complicated emotions, processes, and taboos surrounding one of the experiences that unites all humanity.