Organising the funeral

Organising your baby’s funeral has understandably been described by some parents as an immensely difficult task; the related practicalities to be planned are unlikely to be processed mentally at all, especially when you are feeling distressed and overwhelmed and have just given birth. Some parents choose to organise it before the baby’s birth; some choose to leave it until after the baby has died. As always, there is no right or wrong answer, and parents should do what feels right.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each option. Organising the funeral beforehand could be traumatic, but parents would be more likely to think ‘straight’ and plan things the way they would want them to be. Others may feel that leaving the planning for after the death is a little more ‘logical’ and hopeful, but being distraught by the birth and the death of their child, parents may miss out on thinking about valuable things they might have needed.

  • Funeral director:

Would you prefer a man or a woman to conduct the funeral or do you have no preference? Would you prefer someone who has lost a child or is already familiar with children’s funerals? Is the person approachable and can he be contacted for questions? The key is to feel comfortable with the person and being able to ‘trust’ him with your child when the time comes. Some parents may not relate to a funeral director but may be too embarrassed or overwhelmed to do anything about it. It is vital for parents to know they have the right to meet a funeral director and decide if the person is ‘right’ for their family.

  • Burial or cremation:

Another personal choice; do you feel comfortable with one idea or another? Would you prefer your child’s body to be laid to rest in the ground or would you prefer to have the ashes at home or scattered somewhere meaningful?

  • Celebrant:

Being at ease with a celebrant is just as important as it is with the funeral director. The person could be a bishop or priest from your church group, a celebrant you know or have been recommended, or someone the funeral director has contacted on your behalf. Once again, the key is to talk to any celebrant before the service to ensure that you agree on what will be done and said.

  • The service:

I believe the service to be a ‘farewell party’ for your child. As emotional as it will get, I feel it is vital to do all the things you want, as it will be the last thing you will do for your child. Parents should feel they ‘own’ the ceremony and be able to express their needs and have them met. Families should take the time to sit down and discuss what really matters for them in terms of rituals, and what can be left up to the celebrant or funeral director. Things you can choose are music, flowers, toys to display, decorations, photos or portrait displayed, songs to be sung, photos to be taken or videotapes to be organised, talks or poems to be read, having an open or closed casket and who should be involved in the preparations. Not everyone will have the same needs, and it is imperative to do what feels right for you.

  • The cemetery:

There are many cemeteries and it can be overwhelming to decide which should be the ‘one’. If possible, try to visit a few so you have an idea of how they feel to you, and have a look at the general appearance. Is it well maintained? Are you allowed to leave little things on your baby’s grave? Are there opening and closing hours, is there an office or a florist on site?

  • The burial site:

Many parents have little experience in organising a funeral, let alone a child’s funeral, and find out much too late about facts that could have been valuable. Do you want your baby to be buried in a children’s section? Would you prefer a family site, where you can all be buried later? Do you want your baby to have a plaque on the grave or would you prefer to choose a site where you can build a garden? What costs are involved? How close apart will all the gravesites be? Is the grass mown and watered? Here are some of the considerations you might want to think about when choosing a burial site for your baby.

  • Options:

The ‘extras’ are often the hardest thing to organise as they have an intimate dimension for the parents. There is often a cost involved with these things. The casket is not an option as such but its size or shape is, if you want enough room to place toys or other items in it. You should also be able to have special stickers or decorations placed on the casket if you wish. Press notices can be a tangible reminder to keep and this can be organised by the Funeral Director. You would need to choose a notice and a paper for the message to go in. Balloons, doves or butterflies to be released are a lovely and uplifting way to conclude your child’s service. A portrait or sketch by a professional artist is also a wonderful reminder; many can be done while your child is at the funeral home, although they can be done from a photo at any time. A memorial or signature book for your guests to sign and write messages is also an easy way to remember who came and record special notes and events of the day. Calligraphy may be included or may not. Funeral directors often do hand and footprint moulds; however, this is a personal decision on the director’s part, so you should either check or request this. The moulds are relatively inexpensive and will give you a physical impression of what your baby’s feet and hands were like when the photos no longer will. Finally, you should be able to organise flowers to have on the day in advance. Bear in mind that you may not feel like going to the florist on the morning of the funeral.