There are many frequently asked funeral questions that family members ask when they find themselves having to plan a funeral. When a loved passes away, it isn’t only the grief you need to face. Mourners also have to handle the various funeral plans and other arrangements. During this emotionally devastating time, many people don’t even know where to begin with funeral arrangements. Here are seven of the most common questions, together with definitive answers, which we hope will enable you better to manage this difficult time.


How to select a headstone

Selecting a headstone for the grave of your late parent is not an easy decision to make. It may well appear trivial as you find yourself preoccupied with your loss, and the various administrative and family matters to which you need to attend to. Should you invest in a headstone in the first place? Actually, it can be an essential step in the grieving process. It offers a tangible way to deal with the loss by choosing a memorial to your loved one. That being said, how do you approach it? You want to select a beautiful stone that pays a worthy tribute to the departed while staying within your budget and the limitations set by the cemetery’s regulations. Follow these steps to make the choice easier:

> If you are working with a funeral home, they will likely make all the necessary arrangements with the cemetery. Each cemetery has specific policies regarding headstones - size limits, headstone types etc. The funeral director can then guide you regarding any limitations on the gravestones you can choose, which will narrow your options considerably, making the choice less overwhelming.

> Set a budget. A modest headstone can cost around R4000, while a more lavish one can cost up to R35 000 or more. Generally, the price is calculated according to weight.

> Decide on the type of headstone you need- this will depend on the cemetery’s policies, your budget and the style of headstone you feel is most fitting as a memorial to your loved one. There are several different types of headstones, varying in dimensions and design. The most common types are:
- Flat headstones, or grass markers, which are flat tablets of stone or concrete set parallel to the ground.
- Raised-top flat markers: flat headstones with a block of stone or concrete raised at a slant.
- Upright headstones: the most common type of headstone. A slab of stone or concrete that stands vertically, supported by a stone or concrete base.
- Kerbed headstones: monuments that lie flat across the length of the grave. An upright headstone is often attached to it.

> Next, select the headstone material. Your budget will be a central determining factor here. You can choose from granite, marble, limestone, concrete, or even metals such as steel or bronze. Granite is the most popular because it lasts the longest and is available in a range of colours and finishes.

> Decide on the finish you want for the headstone. You could go with a polished look or a natural, rock pitch one - or something in between, such as a part-polished finish. You will probably know which look is most suitable when you see it.

> A good funeral service will be able to carry most of the weight for you during this process.


What to do when a parent dies

The death of a parent brings a combination of emotional turmoil and practical challenges that can be very difficult to navigate. While being confronted with the loss, you also find yourself having to handle certain administrative and financial matters. You can never really prepare yourself for the emotional difficulties you are about to face, but you can ease the practical obligations through a step-by-step process. Drawing up a checklist like the one below will be helpful.

1. Identify the deceased. Identification can be made at a hospital or mortuary, usually by a family member or a person who knew the deceased well. Keep your ID document, as well as that of the deceased, on hand.

2. Inform the rest of the family of the passing, and divide up the necessary tasks between you.

3. Appoint a funeral director affiliated with a recognised Funeral Association. The funeral director will assist and guide you through the funeral preparations andarrange that the body gets moved to a mortuary or funeral home.

4. Obtain notice of death so that the funeral director can get a death report and aburial order. When you have this, your next step will be to go to Home Affairs so they can issue a death certificate. The funeral home will usually be able to do this on your behalf. Ensure that you keep the original death certificate and death notice safe and make copies for insurance and medical aid claims, and other administrative purposes.

5. Contact your funeral policy insurer to find out what you need to claim. If the deceased contributed to UIF then you or others in the family may be entitled to a dependent benefit.

6. Select a coffin and clothes for the deceased, if this has not already been done.

7. Organise the funeral or memorial service, or assign some of the arrangements to your funeral home and other family members.

8. Find the will and contact the executor of the estate to advise on the next steps, including documents you will need to gather, people you may need to contact and any special arrangement/s stipulated in the will. Should there not be a will, you need to report the death to the Master of the High Court, who will appoint an executor for the estate if necessary.

9. Contact banks and other relevant institutions where your late parent had accounts and notify them of the death.


Five ways to cope when a loved one dies

Losing a loved one is among the most traumatic events we go through in life. While everyone deals with the loss differently, it is a universal human experience, and there are some general steps you can take - with certain personalised adjustments to suit your own sensibility and the unique relationship you had with the deceased. Here are five actions you can take to help you cope with bereavement.

1. Allow yourself to grieve and express your emotions. Don't stop yourself from having a good cry or listening to a song or doing certain things that bring back painful memories. It is natural to feel this way, and it is best to allow these feelings to take their natural course. As time goes by, these emotions will become less and less painful. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should feel or express your grief.

2. Make time in your life to process the grief by taking some time off work, or clear your schedule to spend time with family and friends.

3. Preserve memories of the person who died by planting a tree, or by taking part in a charity run or walk. Find some way to honour them that is personal and specific to who they were.

4. Gather support around you for those times when you might need it. Friends, family, religious leaders, or a therapist are all people that are accessible during your grieving process.

5. Look after your health. Your mind and body are connected, and good physical health will enable better mental health and quicker emotional healing. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat right and get some exercise. Resist the urge to numb your feelings with alcohol or other intoxicants.


The do’s and don'ts of attending a funeral

Here are a few things you should do and shouldn’t do when attending a funeral to help you avoid any awkward situations:

> Do wear conservative clothing to a funeral. People don’t always expect the traditional mourning clothes that were once mandatory, but keep it low-key, even if you are trying to present a brave face and bring a bit of lightness to the occasion.

> Everyone will want to offer you their condolences - and this can become a little overwhelming, particularly if you are not used to being the centre of attention. As the chief mourners, you and your family are the hosts of this occasion and people see it as their responsibility to offer you their best wishes. Also remember that the guests are there because they too are mourning the loss of your family member, and paying their respects to you is part of their mourning process. You don’t need to engage deeply with everyone - you won’t be able to anyway. Simply accept their wishes gracefully.

> Ask your family members and close friends to set an example by keeping their cellphones out of the funeral venue.

> Be there early to receive other mourners.

> Do make the funeral about the deceased and not about anybody else. As much as you are struggling with your loss and your grief must be recognised and respected, turn the focus onto the person who has passed and use the occasion to remember them and bid them farewell.


A how-to guide for making funeral arrangements

When a loved one dies, or death appears imminent, funeral arrangements become the first priority. Funerals are not small affairs - even if you opt for a modest one. They are significant events in the lives of families and communities. Accordingly, they require a lot of organisation. A funeral is typically held around one or two weeks after the death, depending on the applicable religious beliefs. No matter what time frame you have to work with, the arrangements will go more or less as follows:

1. Contact all immediate family members, including the spouse, parents, children, and siblings of the deceased.

2. Find out if the deceased left behind a pre-arranged funeral plan that specifies the funeral service provider they would like to conduct the funeral, and any other special requests they have made for the day.

3. Meet with a funeral director, who will assist you with everything that happens next and with obtaining the necessary documentation, such as a death notice, death certificate and burial order, on your behalf.

4. If your late family member is to be buried, rather than cremated, you will need to arrange for the purchase of a burial plot, if this has not already been done.

5. Meet with the funeral service provider to help with the planning of the ceremony and the transportation of the body. You will need to make the following arrangements:
- Choosing a venue and date for the funeral
- Buying flowers for the burial and ceremony
- Selecting and ordering stationery for the funeral ceremony such, as service booklets and photographs
- Sending out invitations
- Arranging catering

6. In order to carry out appropriate and worthy farewells at the ceremony, the following will need to be chosen:
- People who are willing and able to speak at the funeral and eulogise the departed. A funeral eulogy should touch on a few points such as what the deceased's life was like, their career and achievements, and any particular interests they may have had.
- The pallbearers also ensure that they can carry the weight of the casket. On the day of the ceremony, the immediate family will enter the funeral first followed by the pallbearers.

7. Decide if there will be any post-funeral events, such as a private reception or tea and refreshments for your guests. A post-ceremony gathering is not a necessity and depends entirely upon you or the wishes of the deceased. It can be as simple or elaborate as you want.

8. After the funeral, handle the affairs of the deceased such as the estate, and any financial and administrative matters.

All you need to know about cremation

Cremation is the process where the remains of the deceased are burned instead of being buried. The ashes can then be kept in an urn, scattered or buried. If you have decided to cremate, then here is everything you need to know:

Cremations usually occur after the ceremony, meaning the funeral itself will occur in much the same way as it would for a burial. You will need to select a casket and a cremation urn. Cremated remains generally get interred in a columbarium, buried in a plot, or scattered by family members. There are unconventional ways of handling the remains, such as turning the ashes into memorial diamonds, placing them into fireworks, or even planting a tree over the burial pod. The cremation costs include the cremation casket, an urn to hold the ashes, and if the ashes are to be buried, a burial vault or grave liner, and a headstone or grave marker, if these are desired.

A funeral home will assist you with coordinating the cremation, depending on whether there will be a funeral service beforehand. The choice to cremate may also depend on the religion. Some religions forbid cremation, whereas others insist upon it. Should the family wish to watch the cremation or if the cremation itself forms part of the ceremony, this will have to be arranged with the crematorium in advance.

When should you start thinking of your funeral?

Most people never think about their funerals and pass away without expressing any particular wishes about the event, or making any preparations. They thus leave the matter entirely to the loved ones who will bury them. Many individuals do think about the matter, however, and make certain arrangements or stipulate their wishes in advance. It is something most of us don’t like to consider though, so when should people start thinking about their funeral? It seems that it is most common to begin pondering the matter when we are in our 50s. Others may start even younger if the death of a loved one brings the topic to the front of their minds. It is always better to start preparing sooner rather than later, so that you can feel more secure and know that many of the major decisions involved with arranging a funeral will be taken care of, alleviating the burden on your family.

Funerals can be costly, and one of the other most frequently asked funeral questions is, how will the family afford to pay for it? At Total Risk Administrators, we provide a funeral cover policy that provides benefits for the primary member and their immediate family when they pass away. Go to www.totalrisksa.co.za for more information.

Note: All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The information and opinions expressed here are believed to be accurate, based on the best judgment available to the authors, and readers who fail to consult with appropriate health authorities assume the risk of any injuries. Errors and Omissions Excepted. Terms and Conditions Apply.