“A funeral is not a day in a lifetime; it’s a lifetime in a day”. – Anonymous

“A funeral is not a day in a lifetime; it’s a lifetime in a day”. – Anonymous

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There are several important steps to take within 24-48 hours of someone passing away. The process may feel overwhelming, and the funeral home and other deathcare professionals you’re working with should help guide you through this difficult time.

In the midst of this often painful and emotional time, it can be very helpful to understand what requires immediate attention, what can wait a few days, and what isn’t as pressing.

Read on for key first steps to help guide you through the immediate days after the loss of a loved one.



The first calls to make when planning a funeral

First Calls

Hospice Care is Involved – At Home

If your loved one was receiving services through hospice and dies at home, call the on-call hospice nurse or the 24-hour care line for the hospice agency. They will come to the home to complete the pronouncement of death, and they will help with contacting the funeral home to arrange for the body to be picked up. They will also notify your loved one’s doctor.

Hospice Care Is Not Involved – At Home

If your loved one passed away at home and is not currently receiving hospice services, call 911. If there is a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) or Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST) document, have these ready to provide to the emergency medical professionals. Without a DNR, EMTs on scene may start emergency procedures. Police or sheriff deputies will be dispatched and will determine if a coroner or medical examiner is needed at the home. You can work with your funeral home to arrange for the body to be taken.

If There’s an Accident – Not at Home

The pronouncement of death may be made at the scene of the accident, or the body may be taken to an emergency room or a coroner’s office where the pronouncement will occur.

Information Needed

Information will you need to provide to the funeral director and other parties for the first call:

  • Name of the deceased person
  • The deceased person’s residence address
  • The deceased person’s social security number – if you have it
  • Time of death – this will be pronounced by the hospice nurse or other medical professional
  • Current location of the body
  • Attending physician’s name and phone number
  • Your name
  • Your residence
  • Your telephone number
  • Your relationship to the deceased person

If applicable, call the person’s employer. Ask for information about any benefits, including life-insurance information and wages due.

Check Pre-Arrangements for the Funeral

If your loved one has pre-planned for their funeral, they will have outlined what their preferences were for the memorial services and disposal of their body.

If you aren’t sure if pre-arrangements have been made, check with the funeral home first. The deceased’s important documents (like the will or living will) may also shed light on any final wishes or pre-planning decisions if they were documented.

To learn more about how pre-planning and pre-funding your funeral is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your family, click here to visit our latest blog.

Meet with the Funeral Director

Generally, you should plan to meet with the funeral home within 24 hours after the death of your loved one to start planning the final arrangements. The funeral director will help guide you through the process and answer your questions. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions you may have, that’s why the funeral director or assistant is there. Yes, they take care of the final arrangements for your deceased loved one; but they are also there to provide support for you and your family.

Suggested Read: What’s A Funeral Director, A Mortician, And An Undertaker?

What to Expect During the Arrangement Meeting

Here’s what you should be prepared to review and discuss:

  • The deceased’s biographic information, photo, date of birth and date of passing
  • Pre-planning arrangements that have been made
  • Ideas on the type of events/funeral service you hope to have
  • Estimated funeral costs or a tentative budget
  • Your plans for the disposition of the body, such as a burial or a cremation, etc.
  • Information on the deceased person’s group affiliations – e.g. if he or she was in the military or a specific fraternal or religious group
  • The number of people you expect for the service or events

If your loved one has planned and/or funded their funeral in advance, you will go over the details of their final wishes during the meeting with the funeral director.

Note: Some items that were pre-funded may need to be updated – for example, if the model of casket that was chosen is no longer available, a casket of equal value may be selected.

Wake, Viewing, Funeral or Memorial Service

You will be asked to decide what type of services, if any, you’d like to have in honor of your loved one. Here’s a quick overview of the most common services:

  • A wake is a gathering of family and friends to pay their respects to the deceased person. Traditionally, the wake took place in the house of the deceased. Modern wakes, similar to the viewing, are often held at the funeral home. A wake is generally held before the funeral service.
  • A viewing is a gathering of friends and family at the funeral home with the body of the deceased person present. The viewing gives mourners the opportunity to gather and support one another, and to pay their respects to the deceased. Generally, visitors have the option to arrive at any time during the designated viewing hours, and can stay for as long or as short as they’d like.
  • A funeral service is designed to create a space for families and friends to lend support to each other and to say their final goodbyes. Unlike memorial services, wakes, and viewings, a funeral service may involve the burial. A funeral service typically takes place at a funeral home, place of worship, or a combination of both. The timing of the funeral service can vary by culture, ranging anywhere from a day or two to a week after someone has passed away.
  • At a memorial service, family and friends are invited to memorialize the deceased without the body present. If a cremation has taken place, the memorial service may be held with the cremated remains present. Alternatively, if a burial occurs prior to the service for the deceased, the service that follows is considered a memorial service. It is common for the service to take place shortly after the passing or on the anniversary of the death. Memorial services can take place in traditional settings, such as a church or religious institution, or at a home or memorable location that is sentimental to the family.

Note: Some people are very specific in their funeral plans and request that there be no services at all. There are also families that choose to have private services. If your loved one discussed what he or she preferred, make note of that and talk it over during the funeral arrangement conference.

More like This: Saying Goodbye: 9 Ways to Honor Your Loved One Without a Funeral

How to Write an Obituary

The obituary is designed to acknowledge the passing and to share about the deceased person’s life; the noteworthy events, special relationships and unique qualities of the individual. The obituary can include as much or as little information as the family wishes.

There are 6 things you should consider including in the obituary:

  1. Announcement of death
  2. Important details and life events
  3. List of family members
  4. Funeral/memorial/visitation locations and times
  5. Flower or memorial donation information
  6. Photos

You may be wondering, “How long does an obituary have to be?” It can be any length. Some obituaries simply list information about the deceased person. Others read like a novella about the person who has passed away.

If you’d like more help with what to include in the obituary, read How To Write An Obituary – 6 Things You Need To Include.


How to Plan a Funeral

Notifying Immediate Family and Friends

When announcing a death, immediate family members and very close friends should be called. Once the immediate family is informed, the rest of the family can be notified as well as other friends. Whenever possible, the people closest in relationships to the deceased should be told personally before it becomes general knowledge.

Suggested Read: Announcing Death On Facebook: Is It The Right Medium For Grief?

What to Wear to a Funeral

An often-asked question is “What is appropriate to wear to a funeral?”

Traditional Services and Formal Attire

If you are planning a formal service, for example, in a church, guests will likely want to wear the following:

  • For men — A dark suit or dress shirt and slacks, and dress shoes.
  • For women — A dark suit, dress shirt and slacks or skirt, and dress shows with a lower heel.
  • For children — Black or darker-colored dress, skirt and top, dress pants and top, school uniform, and dress shoes. Keep in mind that regardless of what your child wears should be comfortable.

Personalized Service Attire

Personalized funerals are becoming more popular. These types of services may be themed around the deceased’s passions or interests, favorite color, sports team, or an achievement. For these types of events, you may request that your guests dress in accordance with the theme of the service.

To get more tips and information, read What To Wear To A Funeral: Expert Tips for Men and Women.

Funeral Thank You Card

The days and weeks after the funeral may be especially difficult as you try to adjust to a new normal. Thank you notes can be a good reason to reconnect with friends and family, and you may want to thank everyone who attended the services, people who brought food, or offered you a shoulder to cry on.

It is also possible for writing these notes to feel stressful or overwhelming. If it does, it is okay to delay, or forego, sending them. Remember, there are no deadlines to meet, and even if you wait a long time, it’s okay to reconnect when you feel ready. Use your own timeline to reach out to your family and friends in a way that feels right for you.

Funeral Thank You Note

“Thank you sincerely for your support and encouragement during this difficult time. It is deeply appreciated and will always be remembered.”

The ______ Family

To explore more on this subject and see more examples of what to write, visit our blog What To Write In A Funeral Thank You Card.


Father and daughter hugging

The most important thing to know about planning a funeral is that you are not alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your funeral director and the funeral home’s staff will be there to help guide you and answer any questions you may have.

Click here to find even more resources and practical first steps to take in the moments after the loss of a loved one.