A Daughter's Guide to Planning a Funeral
They raised you, provided for you, and supported every wish, whim, hope, and dream. And now, when it comes to celebrating and commemorating your parent’s life, how do you pull all of the pieces together and both say goodbye and honor their spirit — the spirit that made you you?
Any daughter planning a parent’s funeral faces these same challenges — challenges amidst your own mourning as well as, potentially, caring for the needs of a surviving parent. Alone, any one of these pieces could overwhelm — but together, they can be a perfect storm for any daughter to overcome.
When my father passed away I saw it all firsthand. In a lot of ways the experience of planning his funeral was a mixed bag. While the planning helped me move forward and process some powerful emotions, I also had periods of tremendous self-doubt and second-guessing. Was I doing everything right? Was there a “right?” Was this how my father would want to mark his 72 years? Could I have done something better, more meaningful, or more aligned with his unique wit, wisdom, and unwavering humor?
Learn the Basics - And Plan for Them
I found it helpful to keep a concrete rundown of what needed to be done. The five steps that would take me from my father’s death to the funeral itself:
Call the funeral director to make arrangements, confirm dates and begin finalizing details
Call relatives, friends, and loved ones — or enlist others to help you share the news. While this was incredibly difficult, I knew it was the most important task at hand, especially in the first few hours and days.
Share any instructions left by your parent with the funeral director — think burial versus cremation and wishes for his or her final resting place, plus headstone inscriptions
Finalize arrangements including post-funeral meals, meeting places or shiva calls
Write the obituary and submit to the funeral home for publication and general use
Fortunately for me, my father and I had had an open dialogue about his death, and he’d clearly outlined some of his final wishes — a casual service, a local burial, and, above all, a post-funeral get-together at his favorite local pub. It was very “Dad.” He’d even specified he didn’t want my mother to wear black and, despite some initial protests, she obliged, showing up in a pale purple dress he loved.
Focus on Honoring Your Parent - And Ignore the Rest
While working through the above steps can be difficult I found it incredibly helpful to focus on the overarching goal: to celebrate and honor Dad. With that vision in mind, the pieces began to fall into place, and when my emotions overwhelmed reminding myself to “celebrate Dad” kept me grounded, on track, and moving ahead. When it’s too much, when the sadness sinks in or when you feel you’re off track, take a breath and remind yourself that you’re doing that — celebrating your mother or father. You aren’t being judged for your floral choices or question about the content of the eulogy or obituary. You are, simply, celebrating your parent in a way you know would make your parent happy — and you, above anyone else, knows what that entails.
There Is No "Right" Way
If there were a “right” way to plan a funeral, every single funeral would be the same. Your parent’s funeral is meant to honor their life and legacy, and whatever you choose to do is the right thing. That could mean a formal church service with ornate florals, powerful hymns, and moving eulogies — or it could mean a simple memorial and, even, celebration at home or at a venue following the funeral. It could be big or small, private or public, casual or over the top — if it speaks to you, it would no doubt speak to your parent, and that’s ALWAYS “right.”
Ask for Help - And Accept It
Planning a funeral is not only an emotional journey, but it’s also a time-consuming one. Chances are relatives, friends and other loved ones will offer to help with the planning process — and now is the time to take them up on it. Whether it’s asking an aunt or cousin to oversee food and drinks at a shiva call or home visit, tapping a close family friend to work with the florist or a sibling to coordinate the day of logistics, taking some of the major details off of your plate will help you focus on the overarching task at hand while, at the same time, giving you some room to breathe and to mourn.
At the Funeral, Be Present
When the day of the funeral arrives be sure to reflect on everything happening around you. This is, again, an opportunity to celebrate your parent’s life, and you should absolutely take the time to do just that — taking in the sights, sounds, words, and reflections while saying goodbye to mom or dad. At my father’s funeral, I reminded myself over and over to take a moment and, when I did, I started to gain the closure I’d been searching for. As soon as I was able to take a step back I saw what mattered most — the people, memories, anecdotes, and countless other signs of a life well lived. It was my dad’s 72 years, all right before my eyes. It was bittersweet, but I’m forever grateful that I was able to take it all in, if even just for a minute.
Another tip? Any pre-planning you and your parent can do will, ultimately, be very helpful when his or her time finally comes. While not everyone is as forthcoming as my dad, focusing on a few basic details months or even years ahead will make planning the funeral more seamless and less charged. Some thoughts:
Understand the type of funeral your parent would want — a formal church service? A casual or non-traditional ceremony? Something else?
Ensure you know their wishes — burial or cremation — and specifics about where they want to be laid to rest
If there are long-lost friends or relatives who your mother or father would want present — or, at the very least, notified — be sure you have their information
Discuss small details like wardrobe, music, flowers, and food — if there’s something special that should be represented, make note
Check out our free Personal Planning Organizer, which compiles all of the above information in one convenient place and provides a comprehensive checklist of things that need to be done
Planning a parent’s funeral is one of the most difficult things a daughter will ever do. But with some preemptive planning, a clear-cut focus on the goal — celebrating your parent’s life — and understanding that there’s no “right,” you’ll be able to work through your emotions as well as the logistics tied to the service and, ultimately, gain some critical closure that will help your own mourning process. It’s a powerful journey filled with countless emotions — but at the end of the road is an opportunity to memorialize the person who meant so much to you, your siblings, your children, and everyone in between.
Jaime Hollander, Sunset Contributor