A few years ago, as Walton’s funds built up in his account at the nursing home (he couldn’t ever have more than $2,000.00 in his account or he was in danger of losing Medicaid benefits), we decided to use those funds to make some funeral arrangements in advance on his behalf since the nursing home provided for his physical needs. We found a funeral home that looked nice, filled out lots of paperwork, and forked over the funds in his account, all remotely from Miami. The only piece we couldn’t then pre-pay was the burial plot since the county run cemetery at the time was reserving all of the available plots for COVID victims. Then, we patted ourselves on the back and put the information away.
As with many of my older relatives, Walton did not want to talk about planning for his funeral. This meant that we were and are having to make educated guesses as to what he would want, balancing that with the thoughts and desires of various family members. At the end of the day, while a funeral is to remember a lost loved one, it is truly for the people left behind, not the deceased, so we tried to keep everyone’s perspectives in mind.
On July 28, 2022, Walton died unexpectedly during a hospitalization for what we suspect was sepsis and those plans we’d made before became a focus. We pulled out all of the paperwork, let the funeral home know that Walton had died and went off to the meetings; lots and lots of meetings.
And we got a gigantic lesson:
Those pre-payment plans were only a small part of the overall picture.
Here’s what we learned:
- Most funeral homes now have a website where an obituary can be uploaded and people can make comments, send gifts/flowers, etc. We’d not pre-drafted Walton’s obituary and it was a bit of a scramble to locate all of the details and names of his family members who are scattered throughout the world. Thinking about drafting this document in advance, with some spaces to fill in details can save a lot of effort and angst when you are grieving the most.
- What we prepaid was the expenses of the service and the coffin (we saved a bunch of money there since the coffin itself had nearly doubled in cost) but that still didn’t include things like a barber, flowers, and the escorts from the service to the burial. We had to make a lot more decisions than we’d anticipated in the moment after figuring out the dates due to all of the family members involved, both local and in other locations.
- The burial plot itself was extra and since that county run cemetery had filled up its available spaces with those COVID victims, we ended up at a private cemetery to purchase the plot and the marker. The difference between that county run cemetery plot and the private one was nearly $5,000.00 — one of the costs we’d paid for in advance for the county run cemetery was the cost to open and close the earth for the burial and while we got a credit for that amount, the cost at the private cemetery for the same service was much more.
- I suspect that the marker would have been the same regardless of the cemetery location, but that was another hefty cost that comes with extra delays because of COVID — they tell us the granite and bronze marker will take about sixty (60) days after the order is placed and they won’t even do that until they receive payment in full.
- Walton died at the hospital and since he’d been in a nursing home since 2005, he had few clothes in his closet outside of T-shirts and sweat pants. The suit we still had in our closet from when he was younger is not only dated, but also not his size any longer. So we had to go purchase clothing that fit him and represented him.
- We’ve had to gather pictures for the obituary, for a poster sized printout, for the collages, etc. Taking pictures of pictures has worked out, it’s been helpful that most of the more current pictures were taken on phones anyway and gathering these pictures on a USB to give to the funeral home wasn’t onerous, just time consuming.
- For music, we created a Spotify channel to play during the viewing and we still needed to pick two songs to play during the service.
- Selecting an officiant created some discussion. Walton wasn’t attending church services due to being in a nursing home, so there isn’t an officiant who knew him, so we had to educate the officiant contracted with the funeral home. The end result was a combination of guesses on the part of the officiant and the information we shared.
Pre-paying and thinking about some of these decisions in advance definitely helped; at the same time, I’m updating my list of suggestions/requests for my funeral based on this experience. Leaving details for your loved ones means that they don’t have to think about so much in the middle of grieving and figuring out what’s next. Walton wasn’t as much of a central figure physically in our lives since he’d been in a nursing home so long, but it’s never easy to lose someone, to know that there will be no more visits, no more interaction, no more memories to make. Whatever we can do individually to ease that transition for our loved ones, the more we show our love and concern for them, the ones left behind, the better in my mind.