Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Funeral planning

Not long after we got Carleigh's diagnosis I knew I wanted to start preparing for the road that was ahead. At some point we would have to make funeral arrangements for her. Not something a parent ever wants to have to do for their child. It makes it extra cruel when the child you are planning the funeral for is still alive. It's just not right. So I am hoping with this post that it will help those who are in the midst of planning and are wondering what to expect or what to do next.

The first thing I needed to decide was what funeral home I wanted to go with. I looked up some funeral homes in the phone book and I found 2 I wanted to call. So I made the call to the first one. They were friendly on the phone and sympathetic when I went into small detail of our situation. I had a really good feeling about them so I went ahead and set up an appointment time to meet them. I made the call to the other one and they were definitely not as friendly on the phone and I knew instantly that I would not be going with them. I knew before our meeting with the first funeral home that we had found the one. If you're uncertain about what funeral home you want to go with, take into consideration the courtesy of the staff, the layout of the funeral home, and any amenities they offer.

For our first meeting with the funeral home we had our pastor come with us for support. It was nice to have him there for us. He also came for our second meeting but it was just Anthony and I for our final meeting. It is up to you whether to have a support person present in deciding all the arrangements. When our pastor asked us if we wanted him to come we thought it was a good idea as we didn't know how we would handle everything. He even prayed with us after the meetings. For the first meeting our pastor arrived there before us and let the funeral director know of our situation so that when we got there we didn't need to explain, which was probably good as it may have caused tears. There is so much to go over in planning that it may take more than one visit to the funeral home to plan it all, but if you don't think you can handle several visits then it is ok to do it all at one time.

We gave the funeral director the information about us and our families for the obituary. We decided on what newspapers we wanted the obituary printed. We were asked whether we wanted just the regular wording or a more personal one. We just went with the regular. We decided that we wanted to have a place where memorial contributions could go in lieu of flowers and included that. Later we proofread the draft of the obituary to see if there was anything we wanted changed or added.

We looked through the different memorial cards that they offered. I also looked online to see if I could find anything that I liked. If I did, I could order them plain online and then send them to the funeral home for them to print. I ended up going with one from the funeral home. We decided what we wanted in the card, including a little poem. Some people put pictures in them.

The funeral director went over all the expenses with us. He told us that for babies, transportation and professional services, like embalming, are free. We went over cash advances, which are services the funeral home will do for us (newspaper notices, getting copies of the death certificate, grave marker, cemetery, flowers) and how much they would cost. We chose to take advantage of many of the cash advances so that we had less to worry about.

We were given the option of having the memorial service at the funeral home or at our church. Our funeral home could hold 75-100 people. We weren't sure how many would come to the service so we decided to have it at our church where there would be more room. I'm sure we could've had the service somewhere else besides the funeral home or the church but we didn't have a special place that we would rather have. The funeral director let us choose if and when we wanted to have any visitations. We decided to have one the night before and the morning of the service. The evening visitation was at the funeral home and the morning visitation was at the church.

In deciding on where to have the service we also had to decide when to have it. Our funeral home let us have her service a week after she was born. The funeral director advised us he wouldn't want to wait any longer than that to have it. We wanted to have a weekend service so that more of our family and friends could come to it. Most of them live several hours away. For our funeral home, services on the weekend cost more but that didn't matter to us. We made our service public, but some choose to have a private service with many, few, or no family or friends.

One of the bigger decisions is deciding between burial or cremation. We chose to have a burial. Many families who anticipate moving decide on cremation so they can take their baby with them. We never plan on leaving the area we live so we didn't want to go that route. Anthony and I had to decide on what cemetery we wanted. It was between 2 local ones. I made a visit to each and the choice was very easy for me based upon location, surroundings, and price. I also called both cemeteries to see what the rules (like planting flowers) and hours were for each. We also decided when buying Carleigh's plot to also buy ours. We wanted her to be beside us and this was the surest way to make that happen. Some cemeteries have a babyland where only babies are buried. Ours did not have that but even if they did I don't think I would've wanted to bury her in that section. When buying the plots, I met with the lady who is in charge of the cemetery and she showed me what sections were available and I got to pick out exactly where I wanted us all to be. After we bought the plots, we received the deed to them in the mail.

One of the hardest things to do in planning was picking out a casket. Our funeral director during our first meeting brought out several models, none of which I liked. He let us borrow a catalog that contained a bunch of children's caskets. Caskets can come in copper, wood, steel, particle board, cardboard, plastic, and styrofoam, with copper being the most expensive and styrofoam practically free. In addition to the casket, you will most likely need to select a vault that the casket will be placed in. Many cemeteries require these. Vaults serve to protect the casket (or urns) from outside elements plus keep the ground more stable after burial. We had the choice between a copper and a steel vault and we chose the steel. (Copper is very expensive.) We also chose a steel casket. In choosing our casket, we had to pick out the colors, what material/color would line the inside, paneling, edge design, size, and lid type.

In deciding about her marker, we had to pick between all the colors of granite available. (Besides granite, you could choose to have a bronze marker.) We went with a color called Sunset Red. The black granite is the most expensive. This is the kind that you can laser images on. We chose the style, which was a slanted marker on a foundation. (There are many, many styles to choose from.) We also chose to have a vase off to the side to put flowers in. Some cemeteries may limit you on what you can have for a marker so it is good to check ahead of time with them. The part that took the longest was deciding what we wanted on the marker itself. I took my time with this. We chose the image along with a short saying to put on in addition to her name and her birth date. I looked through a lot of sayings and poems until I found the one I wanted. We were told it would take about 6-8 weeks once ordered for it to be up, but it ended up taking much longer than that.

After Carleigh's birth, we made the final preparations for her service. We picked out any songs we wanted played and any readings that would take place. We put together the order of how things would go so that things would go smoothly. We went over this with our pastor and he came to our house to do so. It might be good to work out some of these things ahead of time if possible but this is something we waited on.

We also sorted out all the little details. We decided that we wanted an open casket for both the visitation and the service. However, I held Carleigh for both visitations and the service so she was never really in her casket. This is something a lot of people aren't aware that they can do and some funeral personnel may not offer it, but the parents have a right to do so. Our funeral director encouraged us in doing it. After Carleigh's birth, we kept her with us overnight in the hospital. The funeral director let us know that the longer we kept her, the darker she would get and it would be harder to lighten her skin with embalming, but that didn't matter to us. They would've preferred taking her the same day but knew it meant a lot for us to keep her longer. And really, her skin looked pretty great after embalming. It lightened up very well, except for her face, which had a lot of bruising from delivery. In knowing Carleigh would not live long, we arranged that they would pick her up from the hospital. However, the day we were leaving we changed our minds and had it arranged so that we could take her to the funeral home ourselves. Our funeral home had no problem with this and made sure that the hospital knew that it was ok. Anthony and I let them know that we wanted to dress Carleigh in her burial outfit and the funeral director let us know which day we could come and do that. They let us take her out of her casket and gave us as much time as we needed. They let us know we were welcome to come back any time during the week but we didn't. The next time we saw her was at the visitation.

There may be more or less involved with the planning that I mentioned in this post. It can be very individual. I would appreciate it if anyone else who has also experienced planning could add to what I've already written. Thank you!! (I'll add all your suggestions at the end of this post.)


Read below for additional suggestions/advice from moms (or me just throwing some more things in there) who have planned a funeral for their child. You can read the comments for a more in-depth description and their own experiences.

Danielle has created her own post called Funeral Planning that talks of her own experience in planning for a funeral.

  • When looking at cemeteries, pay attention to how the grounds are kept. Some may be more well-kept than others. Check with the cemetery on how often the grounds are cared for and who is in charge of doing the work.
  • Be sure to ask the funeral home if they donate any services in special cases like the death of a baby. You may be surprised at what they will give you for free.
  • As a tribute to your baby or babies, you may choose to do something special like releasing doves or butterflies at some point during the service.
  • You can give a small gift to those who attend the service so that they will always remember your baby or babies. This gift could be flower seeds, candles, bookmarks, etc.
  • It may be a good idea to check into your state's laws and regulations when planning for a funeral. Things may vary from state to state.


Danielle said...

Thanks for sharing. I wish I came across more information like this when I was trying to plan Wyatt's funeral. I think you made really good decisions.

I'm fixing to head out the door to go grocery shopping, but will add to what you have written when I get back. I'll send through e-mail and you can use what you want.

Mary Ellen said...

What a helpful post Holly. I too wish I had read something like this before planning our Grace's funeral. I felt bullied by a lot of the details and everything just seemed to happen so fast and sudden that I didnt feel like an active member in a lot of the decisions. One regret that I have is that I took bad (IMO) advice and allowed them to give me sedation medication. It made me feel numb and I think harder to come to terms with the reality of what was happening. I wish that I had been able to have that time to realy be in the moment and been allowed to grieve with out being in a haze.
I would also suggest that when you are looking for a cemetary you look at how the grounds are kept. I keep her site well groomed but there are times in the summer that I feel the other sites are neglected a little.

Bree said...

Wow, Holly. I can't believe you had to do that while Carleigh was still living and growing inside of you. I'm so sorry. It sounds like you had a beautiful service for Carleigh. What a nice idea to hold her through the service.

Jen said...

We still had my daughter while we were planning her funeral.. she was on hospice. About 3 weeks before she passed, we saw her getting weaker and knew she was slipping away.. I had a very hard time even discussing it. My husband and my mother in law researched cemeteries and funeral homes. We decided on one a little out of town, against the one down the street from my house. I have a 9 year old and to me, I didn't want it to hurt him each time he rode by..even the possibility of it was too much. We chose a local owned funeral home. They were so kind and able to donate alot of their services, even the casket..they went above and beyond anything we could have expected.. They came to pick her up at the hospital after she had passed ( a pastor) and he had tears flowing down his face..he was so gentle with her, which made it easier to let her go with him.. We did bury her in the babyland part, the only thing I don't love is that it had to be a flat memorial stone..but we were able to tell them exactly what we wanted..its so surreal that so many others have to endure this pain..the loss is enough, but to plan a funeral or service for your own child..ugh.. its heart-wrenching..

Once A Mother said...

God bless you Holly, for creating a post that is sure to lighten the burden of funeral planning for other baby lost mommas.

Lisette said...

Thank you for posting this. We are currently going through this stage in my pregnacy. My brother was nice enough to go for us however I know in the next few weeks we will have to go ourselves to make sure we have all the details squared away. I am really not looking forward to it but at least I do not have to tell them the whole story, they know now. Again thank you.

Tina said...

What a great thing for you to post. Sadly, for so many of us, our children are our first experience with planning a funeral. We have no idea where to start or what to plan for. Looking back, I would have done things differently if I had more time or knowledge. But I did the best I could considering my sweet babies had just died. Thanks for sharing your experience. xx

Just Breathe said...

Holly, you did an excellent job on laying each detail out. I know that this will be helpful to many.
I did my Aunts funeral last year which was difficult but nothing compared to doing one for your own baby. A baby you hadn't even meet in person yet. I love the idea of holding her for the services. How beautiful that must have been compared to looking into a casket.
Your really an inspiration and a great help to so many. I am so sorry that you had to go through all of that. It's so sad.God Bless.

Franchesca Cox said...


I just want to say that I really admire your strength. I know this must have been heart-wrenching to prepare for. When we knew we were losing Jenna, my pastor and his wife asked if we wanted to plan her funeral or if we wanted them to do it for us. We had hope until the very last day that she would make it, so I never planned for a funeral her death, only for the hope of her life. Her last moments I wanted to be with her, so my pastor and his wife planned the entire thing. They did a marvelous job. I would never suggest babyland because they don't do perpetual care for those graves for some reason and it is just a different atmosphere. Thankfully my a few sweet ladies from my church went over to the cemetery to check it out and chose another spot in the cemetery, near other church members that passed recently. Another thing that the funeral home did that just made the gravesite service breathtaking was doves. They played "Jesus Loves Me" and released about 10 doves into the sky. It was perfect for her. That is something that made her funeral so sweet.

Thank you for sharing. XX

Nicole said...

I just want to thank you very much for sharing this. I can't imagine how difficult it was for you and your husband to make these arrangements.
Holly, it is an amazing testimony to me, how you have been so strong in your faith throughout this heartbreaking ordeal.

croleyc69 said...

Thanx for sharing that, you did a great job of planning for her funeral. I have done my Dad's and my Grandma but nothing like a child. It still hurt but I know having things set in place helped us somewhat. I remember so much reading your blog and wishing I was still in Ohio and could have came to just give you a hug and see Carleigh. {{HUGS}}

Jennifer Ross said...

What a hard subject to think back on. I hope you are able to help somebody out with all of the great information that you have written.

Lucy and Ethel said...

I'm glad you did this post; I never gave full thought to how others might plan for a child's funeral.

When things started looking bleak with Jeffrey, my husband made the call himself to the director of one of the 3 funeral homes in the county (he'd cleaned the carpet of this particular one and liked the director, who was young and extremely caring). We learned that we qualified for the 'Cherub Service' offered at that time; because Jeffrey was a baby, there were no charges.

We opted for no embalming, so I don't know if that would have been extra. I also don't know if they still offer that service, but it was wonderful not to have to add expenses for a funeral on top of the reason for the funeral and everything else going on at that time, including a job loss for my husband!

Because we live in a rural area, we were able to have Jeffrey buried on our property - on top of our little mountain next to an OLD cemetery that also has a 5-month old baby in it (Jeffrey was 5-1/2 months). We did have to have a road done to the top for vehicles (diggers and 4WD Bronco from the funeral home).

Because I had held Jeffrey almost the entire time he was with us, I did not feel I had to hold him (long, anyway!) after his death. I got as much time as I needed. I bathed him (without having to worry about respiratory distress), clipped a bit of his hair, and dressed him in the gorgeous 'going-away' gown my sister-in-law had made for him. He was beautiful. The director of the funeral home came when we called, and he had brought a blanket for Jeffrey to keep him warm. That memory still makes me a bit teary.

I never saw Jeffrey once he left our home. The casket was closed for the service, but there were pictures of Jeffrey - smiling! - all over. My mother-in-law wanted a picture of the casket because she couldn't be here, but I told Randy he'd have to get someone from the funeral home to take it. I realized some years later that I never saw it and don't even know if it was taken.

We didn't have a viewing; we had a receiving line after the service at the funeral home (before we came back home for the graveside service), and it was wonderful for me to be able to do that AFTER the service (the funeral home kept asking if I was SURE that's what I wanted, and I kept saying, YES!). I did NOT want to do it before the service.

After almost 12 years, we still don't have a marker. There are several garden angels around Jeffrey's spot, and we planted daffodils and tulips, too. There is a stone garden bench and a park bench, and it's all under a huge pine tree. It's peaceful, and the wild critters love it :) Some day, I'll think about a marker, but since I feel he is with me all the time, I haven't felt it was as essential as it would have been had his body been buried elsewhere.

It sounds like you had what you wanted with Carleigh's service. I'm glad, as that is so important, not only for then, but for the years that follow.


Anonymous said...

You have done a great service to families who need to plan a service for a child. I wish upon wish I could have had a memorable funeral for Meredith like you had for Carleigh. But, that is in the past - we did what we could at the time. Thank you for this post, Holly. You should send this to your funeral home as a guide for other families.
Blessings, Sarita

Anonymous said...

Hi Holly, I have been reading your blog for quite some time now, and wanted to start out by saying that I think you are an amazingly strong woman. I am sure going through each detail again was hard. I am pretty positive that you are going to help ease the fears of people who are walking along the same road. The only thing that I can really add to your post is that laws and regulations are different from state to state. Some places may not allow you to be so hands on, but don't be afraid to ask. I am glad that you were able to do all the things you did for Carleigh. I also wanted to say thank you for something you don't even know you did. I am just starting out in the funeral business. I am nearing the end of my degree. You taught me several things about how to work with families facing the death of a child that I was not taught in school. I am so grateful for finding someone who is so willing to share the experience. For you and all who follow your blog who are in your shoes...My heart hurts for you all. I will continue to pray for each and everyone who is suffering through the loss of a child.

Nickel Pickle said...

Planning the funeral of a child who is still very much alive is one of the hardest things on earth to do...I was about 7-8 months when we planned everything for Logan. The funeral home was very kind & helpful. Up until I got Logan's dx I worked at a funeral home & cemetry selling caskets, vaults, grave plots, urns, and headstones....There was no way I could go back to that job & I quit the day of the ultrasound...

I think you did a very good job. I wish I would have held Logan during the memorial service...That would have been nice.

Angela said...

God bless you.

There is no way of knowing how many people you are ministering to though by taking the time to write this all out, even through your own grief.

I am so sorry for your pain. I am praying for you tonight.

My Very Own Angel said...

Love this post. We def need to put this together in a general stand point, so like take out the names. To add to the website this is wondeful info for parents during such a hard time.

Anna Marie said...

Thank you for posting this Holly. We are in the process of planning Fisher's funeral. It's good to know I can hold him again. I probably wouldn't have thought to do it during the viewing.

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