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Planning an Accessible Funeral Service: A Guide for Families and Individuals

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According to U.S. Funerals Online, around 2.4 million funerals take place every year. Due to baby boomers entering their late senior years, the mortality rate is only projected to rise. Subsequently, it’s not only likely that you’ll be in some part responsible for organizing a funeral during your life, but also, that someone attending this funeral will have mobility issues or need accessibility help. 


Funerals are huge milestones for many of the people involved. Planning one can seem incredibly intimidating, partly due to the heightened amount of emotions.  However, knowing the basics of planning a funeral, and learning how to create an accessible space for all family members, can relieve some of this stress and help you feel confident that you’ve created a welcoming event. 

Basics To Planning a Funeral Service

Each funeral service will vary, because each family has different traditions or religious beliefs. Funeral arrangements may also be laid out in someone’s will, so if you don’t know where to start planning, you can consult the will to see if any specifications were left. If there were none, here are the basic steps you’ll need to arrange for any funeral: 

  • Burial or cremation;
  • Purchasing a headstone or urn;
  • Choosing a location;
  • Date and time;
  • Obituary;
  • Guestlist;
  • Wake or reception.

There are other factors that may go into a funeral’s organization, depending on what you decide, including a church service, any religious sacraments, setting a dress code, and so on. If you’re feeling overwhelmed in the planning stages, be sure to lean on your support group, or seek out online communities that may have advice. 

Pre-Planning

Many individuals are interested in pre-planning for their funeral. According to a FAMIC study, 69% of respondents would prefer to pre-arrange their own funeral. This can help make the organization easier on family members, as well as lighten the financial load if certain things have already been purchased. Funeral pre-planning may include:

  • Purchasing a burial plot;
  • Outlining funeral arrangements in the will; 
  • Purchasing an urn or casket; 
  • Creating a savings account for funeral expenses.


If you are a senior interested in funeral pre-planning, you can do this at the same time as you prepare your will. Be sure you communicate any pre-made plans to family members to whom the funeral arrangements would fall, so that they are aware of what’s already been put in place. 


If you’re going to be designating a bank account toward funeral expenses, it can be a smart idea to put a co-signer on the account. This could be a child, spouse, or other loved one that you trust, and who would be organizing the funeral in the event of your passing. 

Obituary

An obituary is typically an important part of the passing of a loved one. This can help notify community members, and create a remembrance keepsake. An obituary doesn’t have to be printed in a newspaper — you can post an obituary online using social media, in the funeral program, or in something like a church newsletter. Whichever way you feel best honors the passing of the loved one will be the right way for you. 


Obituaries usually contain the following information:

  • Biographical details;
  • Hobbies and passions;
  • Surviving family;
  • Date of death;
  • Funeral announcement.


Of course, you can personalize an obituary however you’d like. If you are going to post the obituary in the newspaper, be sure to be aware of any word-count restrictions, or the cost per word, so that you can plan accordingly. 

Choosing a Funeral Home

Choosing a funeral home can be a delicate choice when it comes to funeral planning. You will be working closely with this business on highly sensitive matters, and they will be the ones handling the burial or cremation of your loved one. It’s important to find a funeral home that you trust — having an outlet you can trust in times of high stress can reduce feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. 


Each funeral home offers different services, different cultural or religious accommodations, as well as works at different price points. If you can, you should shop around for funeral homes before landing on one. This way, you can look at the facilities, get a price quote, and just gauge the overall feel of the staff you’ll be working with. This can help you make a more informed decision which can save you money, and lower stress. 

Funeral Planning Checklist

Once you’ve settled on a funeral home, a service type, and have reviewed any existing documents for funeral arrangements, it’s time to organize the actual event. 


Your basic funeral planning checklist includes: 

  • Securing a venue: Many funeral homes have facilities in order to host funerals. However, you may want to have your ceremony in a church, or at the graveyard site. It’s important to secure your venue early, so you can be assured to get the place that you want. Additionally, you’ll want to have a contingency plan in place for bad weather. For example, if you’re having an outdoor ceremony, you may want to bring a canopy in case of rain. 
  • Choosing an officiant: The officiant will guide the service. This is an important step if you’re planning a religious service, as they will have access to scriptures, blessings, and other spiritual funeral rites. You do not have to have any kind of ordination in order to host a funeral, as the minister or officiant does not have to notarize the death certificate. 
  • Writing a eulogy and arranging guest speakers: A eulogy is similar to an obituary, however, it’s meant less to establish the context of who died and how, and more to capture the feeling of the person’s spirit in life. A eulogy can be given by anyone in the family, though make sure you coordinate with your officiant if you’re having any guest speakers. A eulogy can be a poem, a song, a letter — anything that you feel expresses the soul of the person you’re eulogizing. 
  • Commemorating the deceased: Commemorating the dead can be a deeply personal part of the ceremony. This is where loved ones and the larger community can come together to hold space for the recently departed. There are many different ways to do this, throughout many different cultures. Some cultures set up an altar and provide offerings such as flowers, favorite sweets, or other sentimental mementos. Some may play certain songs, or perform other ceremonial rites, such as a 21-gun salute. Whatever you do, this is the time for everyone in attendance at the funeral to say their final goodbyes. 
  • Organizing a wake/reception: A wake or reception after the funeral is not required, however, it can be a nice moment of community for the family and loved ones of the deceased. Most wakes involve food, with many opting for a potluck style. This can be a great place to share stories, connect with family, and celebrate the passing of a loved one. Wakes can be somber or lively, short or long, or can simply be an informal moment for everyone to gather after the ceremony and check on each other. 

Transportation

If you’re not going to have the service at the funeral home, you’ll need to arrange transportation for the casket or urn. Some funeral homes may offer casket transportation as a complimentary service, or it may come with an additional charge. You can also make your own arrangements, such as renting a hearse, depending on your needs and preferences. 


You could transport an urn easily in your personal vehicle, though you’ll want to make sure it stays sealed until you get to the ceremony venue to avoid any chance of loss. 

Burial Monument

The burial monument is the physical memorial to your loved one. This monument typically has permanent residence in a public cemetery, but this is dependent on your arrangements. The most common types of burial monuments include: 

  • Flat marker: This is the most simple and economic type of marker. It lays flush with the ground, as the name suggests, and is typically rectangular in shape. 
  • Bevel marker: A bevel marker, also called a pillow marker, is a rectangular marker with a sloped design.The slope adds more of a display element to the text, as the monument is raised off the ground. 
  • Slant marker: A slant marker is the same shape as a bevel marker, but on a raised platform. This heightens the display effects of this marker. This market can be rectangular or square. 
  • Headstone: A headstone marker may be what you classically think of when you think of grave markers. These are markers that rise out of the ground at the head of a grave. They are traditionally square or rectangular slabs, but they are also more unique shapes, like crosses.
  • Ledgers: This is one of the most unique grave markers available. A ledger covers the entire gravesite where a loved one has been interred. These long, rectangular slabs can be used to signify a certain place of significance, or more than one name. 


Both caskets and urns can be buried in public cemeteries with burial monuments. The size of the plot you purchase may help inform your decision of a marker. 

Making a Funeral Service More Accessible 

Once you’ve organized the event details of the funeral, you’ll want to make sure that it’s an accessible and welcoming place for everyone. The last thing anyone wants is for a loved one not to be able to participate in the funeral because they couldn’t hear the officiant, or make it into the church.

You can increase accessibility at a funeral in a few ways, ranging from low-commitment to higher effort. Whether or not you know of anyone specifically with a disability or impairment coming to the funeral, you should still keep accessibility in mind when planning. This way, there’s no chance of anyone being left out.

In-Person Accessibility

It’s important to note that barriers to your service can include elements that impede both people with disabilities, and people who are physically distant. For example, the funeral will be less accessible if you plan it in a different city, without advance notice, or in an inaccessible venue. Below, you’ll find some ways to accommodate people who might have barriers to the funeral service. 

Physical Accommodations

When accommodating people with disabilities, you’ll want to make sure that the venue has things like ramps, wide doorways, accessible bathrooms, and accessible parking. If you’re having the event outside, then you’ll want to consider how to make it easier for someone with a mobility aid, such as a cane or wheelchair, to maneuver on grass.


When contending with physical distance, there are a few things that you can do. If your family is spread out, you can hold a formal funeral several months after the passing, in order to allow people to arrange travel plans, while still arranging a small burial or cremation. Another thing that you can do, which became much more popular over the last year, is live stream the service. This allows people to still take part in the service, regardless of their location. 

Sensory Accommodations

Those with sensory disabilities may also need accommodations in order to participate in the service. People who are blind or have low vision may need aids or services ranging from materials in large print or braille to staff describing visual elements aloud, or interpreting the service through sign language. 


Additionally, deaf individuals or people who have difficulty hearing may need written materials, captioned media, or assistive listening devices. Make at least some of these accommodations available during the service, even if you don’t end up using them, just in case. 

Online Accessibility

If you’re going to stream the service to non-local friends and family, it’s important that you use the right resources in order to ensure a smooth, quality stream. Excessive buffering, cutting out, or poor reception can create a poor experience for online attendees, which, ideally, you want to avoid. 


When organizing an online funeral service, you’ll want to choose a widely accessible streaming platform. This is beneficial for a few reasons — it will be easier for people to use, and likely be able to support a larger audience, if needed. Streaming funeral services has become an increasingly common and popular part of many funeral packages provided by funeral homes. Similarly, many churches are streaming their worship services


If your venue of choice is not set up to live stream the funeral — or their setup is not sufficient for your needs — consider using a live video production service to maximize accessibility and engagement. This will let you control all technical aspects of the service, such as music, lights, and mics, while live streaming. 


Privacy is another concern when streaming. Funerals are a very vulnerable occasion, so you’ll want to be conscious about who and what you film. Some funeral homes use their public website to host their streams, which can be a downside of using their service. You might instead opt for a private web player that is password protected. This ensures that only the people you want to see the service can see it. 


Whether you’re using a venue’s provided streaming tools or bringing your own, you’ll want to have more than one technical host. This way, there’s someone who can run the service for those in person, and someone who can run the online experience. You may want to integrate pre-recorded videos, slides, or other media elements into your online service, rather than just filming it, in order to create a more immersive experience for your distant guests. 

Additional Funeral and Bereavement Resources

There are several books, online communities, counseling services, and other resources that can provide you with support during your bereavement. Your work or school may have a specific bereavement policy that provides you time off, or other resources. You can also check with your local church community for resources, which can include both emotional healing and event organization help. 


Some online bereavement resources include:

  • Good Grief: Good Grief provides resources for professionals, families, and individuals dealing with grief. They have educational resources, as well as support programs and events. 
  • After a Death Checklist: ValleyMed’s After a Death checklist can be a good way to organize your thoughts after a death. The days leading up to and following a death can be hectic, and keeping a checklist like this on hand can be an easy way for you to keep track of what needs to be done. 
  • American Counseling Association: The ACA offers educational reading materials on grief, as well as a portal to search for practicing counselors who specialize in grief. 
  • Center for Grief Recovery and Therapeutic Services: The Center for Grief Recovery offers a list of helpful websites for those in different grief circumstances. This can be helpful for individuals who may live farther away from family and are seeking digital support. 

Further Reading On Organizing Accessible Events

The following resources can provide you with more information on how to organize accessible events for a wide range of individuals with disabilities and impairments: 


Grief manifests in many ways. It’s important to keep a support network during and directly after a funeral. 


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