Thinking ahead can help you make informed and thoughtful decisions about funeral arrangements. It allows you to choose the specific items wanted and compare the prices offered by several funeral providers. It also spares caregivers the stress of making these decisions under the pressure of time and emotions. Arrangements can be made directly with a funeral establishment or through a funeral planning or memorial society.

An important consideration is where the remains will be buried, entombed, or scattered. This too should be discussed and planned well in advance. It is a good idea to review your decision every few years.

Many people prearrange their funerals and prepay some or all of the expenses involved. This may take the form of an insurance policy specifically to pay costs connected to the funeral and burial. State law on this subject varies from state to state, as does consumer protection. Some points to consider are: 


  • What are you paying for—merchandise like a casket and vault or funeral services as well?
  • What happens to the money you’ve prepaid? What happens to the interest income on money that is prepaid and put into a trust account?
  • Are you protected if the firm you dealt with goes out of business?
  • Can you cancel the contract and get a refund?
  • What happens if you move to a different area of the country?
  • Make plans in advance to choose a burial plot, columbarium, or mausoleum.
  • Funeral homes must disclose the cost of all goods and services and, upon request, provide a written price list for your review.
  • Organ and body donations must also be preplanned during the person’s lifetime.
  • Plans should be placed in writing and kept where they can be easily found by family members. It is vital that family members be told that such plans exist.
  • The Social Security Administration, the Veterans Administration, and life and casualty insurance companies pay death benefits. Call these agencies to determine coverage and benefits.
  • The Veterans Administration offers many benefits for honorably discharged veterans. Veterans and their spouses and children may be buried in veterans’ cemeteries. Arrangements should be made through a local funeral director. Veterans may receive money for a private burial and a headstone at no charge. Information on other veterans’ programs
    can be obtained by calling 1-800-827-1000 or write Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20420 for the booklet, “Free Benefits for Veterans and Dependents.” To access benefits, you may need a copy of the honorable discharge. This can be obtained from the National Personnel Record Center, 9700 Page Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri 63132 or online at

End of Life Signs and Symptoms

One To Three Months

  • Withdrawal from the world and people
  • Decreased food intake
  • Increase in amount of sleep
  • Going inside of self
  • Less communication

One to Two Weeks

  • Agitation
  • Talking with the unseen
  • Confusion
  • Picking at clothes
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Pulse increase or decrease
  • Color changes—pale, bluish
  • Increased perspiration
  • Respiration irregularities
  • Congestion
  • Complaints of body being tired and heavy
  • Not eating, taking few fluids
  • Body temperature, hot/cold

Days or Hours

  • Intensification of One to Two Week signs (see above)
  • Surge of energy
  • Decrease in blood pressure
  • Eyes glassy, tearing, half open
  • Irregular breathing, stop/start
  • Restlessness or no activity
  • Purplish or blotchy knees, feet, hands
  • Pulse weak and hard to find


  • "Fish out of water" breathing
  • Cannot be awakened

At the Time of Death

  • If a death occurs at home, call the Emergency Medical Service for your area or the Police Department. If under hospice care, you may call your hospice nurse. If you are certain the person is dead, call the Police Department. These professionals will tell you what to do next.
  • Contact your minister/rabbi and your funeral director and immediate family members. Your religious advisor will provide not only comfort but also planning for a service or memorial.
  • Some funeral directors will help with the obituary and provide the death certificate. Additional certified copies of the death certificate will be needed as you settle the estate.
  • Have a friend watch your home during the visitation and funeral service. Thieves have been known to read the obituaries to learn when homes may be empty.
  • Have a pad and pen readily available to note those friends who call or bring food or flowers to your home. This will help in remembering these kindnesses and thanking the giver.

Next Steps

  1. Do not make snap decisions or feel pressured to make any decisions. You can always say, “I want my advisor to review that.”
  2. If the deceased was employed or was retired with a company’s life or health insurance, call to determine benefits.
  3. If a credit card was solely in the name of the deceased, notify the company and cancel the card.
  4. Contact the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213, and notify them of the death. You will need the Social Security number of the deceased. Some funeral homes will contact the Social Security Administration for you. In turn, SSA will notify the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits at the time of death, do not cash any checks received after the death.
  5. Find a copy of any insurance policies and notify the company of the death. Ask what paperwork you will need to complete. The sooner you apply for benefits, the sooner you will receive them.
  6. Cancel medical, disability, and long-term care insurance that was solely for the deceased.
  7. You will need several documents as you progress in settling the estate. If you do not know where all of these documents are kept, some typical places to look are: “special box” or hiding place, desk, safe deposit box, and automobile glove compartment. Some papers that may help you identify assets and liabilities are bank statements (checking and savings), tax returns, brokerage statements, and correspondence with prior employers.
  8. Survivor benefits may be available from the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213, the Veterans Administration at 1-800-827-1000, and from job pensions. You will need to apply formally.
  9. Generally, federal and/or state estate/inheritance tax returns must be filed and taxes paid within nine months of a death.
  10. Write down what needs to be done, who and when you contacted people, and keep all of the papers and information together in a folder or a binder. Make copies of important papers and any original documents
    before giving them to an advisor.


Grief is a normal and necessary process. It is how we learn to live around the hole in our heart after the loss of someone we love. Grief is work. It requires that we labor through the emotional storm of realizing loss, of saying goodbye, of being angry and alone, and of finally moving forward and rebuilding our relationship with life. In the face of loss, you may experience:

  • Shock/confusion
  • Panic/crying spells
  • Anger/guilt/relief
  • Appetite or sleep disturbances
  • Aimlessness

Though each of us experiences loss in our own unique way, there are similarities in this complex experience, and there are supports to help us as we journey through the wilderness. Healing begins when you:

  • Are patient with yourself
  • Share your feelings
  • Pay attention to your physical needs
  • Learn more about grief and its effects
  • Ask for help when needed

Grief Support Groups

Grief counselors and support groups offer the opportunity to share our feelings and stories with others, to learn that there is light on the other side of grief, and to know that we are not alone. Grief counselors and support groups can be found through:

  • Hospice
  • Some funeral homes
  • Faith-based community
  • Gilda’s Club
  • Alzheimer’s Association


Manifestations of Normal Grief

Normal grief is not just sadness or depression. It reaches into every part of your life and touches your work, your relationships with others, and your image of yourself. You can expect grief to affect your feelings and your ability to think clearly. Grief may even produce unusual physical sensations and behaviors.


  • Sadness—often through crying
  • Anger—sense of frustration at not being able to prevent death
  • Guilt and self-reproach
  • Anxiety—from insecurity to panic attack
  • Loneliness
  • Fatigue—apathy or listlessness
  • Helplessness—akin to anxiety
  • Shock—immediately after death, especially sudden death
  • Yearning/pining
  • Emancipation—common after death of ambivalent relationship
  • Relief—death after a lingering illness (often accompanied by guilt)
  • Numbness—nature’s way of anesthetizing survivors immediately after death

Physical Sensations

  • Hollowness in the stomach
  • Over-sensitivity to noise
  • Breathlessness, feeling short of breath
  • Lack of energy
  • Tightness in chest or throat
  • Sense of depersonalization
  • Weakness in the muscles
  • Dry mouth

Thought Patterns

  • Disbelief—“It didn’t happen”or “I’ll wake up and find it was a dream.”
  • Confusion—difficulty remembering or concentrating
  • Preoccupation—intrusive thoughts of images of the dead person
  • Sense of presence—deceased is somehow in your current time and space
  • Hallucinations—both visual and auditory


  • Sleep disturbances—difficulty going to sleep or early morning awakening
  • Appetite disturbances—more frequently under-eating, but also overeating
  • Absent-mindedness—doing atypical or potentially harmful things
  • Social withdrawal—loss of interest in outside world
  • Dreams of the deceased—usually reassuring
  • Avoiding reminders of the deceased—avoidance of grief triggers
  • Searching and calling out—may or may not be verbalized
  • Sighing—similar to breathlessness
  • Restless overactivity—avoiding thoughts and situations
  • Crying—liquid emotion
  • Carrying reminders of the deceased—pictures or items for security
  • Treasuring objects of the deceased—wearing clothes or carrying amulets

It is normal to feel emotional pain or grief after the death of a loved one. Healing begins when you express your feelings, are patient with yourself, stay alert to your physical needs, learn more about grief and its effects, and ask for help when needed.

There are several agencies that a grieving loved one can access which provide counseling and assist in the grief process. This assistance is accomplished in individual and group settings with adults, children, preteens, teens, families, friends, and co-workers. Some grief counseling agencies are free, and others have a fee. Your congregation may also have experience in helping with grief.