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last rites

Organising a funeral: The unexpected challenges when a loved ones dies

It can seem like an overwhelming task – here it is step by step.

shutterstock_113984353 Shutterstock / Kzenon Shutterstock / Kzenon / Kzenon

WHEN A PERSON dies, those who are left behind will need time, space, and support to grieve.

However, the immediate days following a death are often frantic and daunting if you have no previous experience of it.

Organising a funeral can be a lengthy, expensive and time-consuming process that can catch a first-time grieving family off guard.

From my own experience in recent months, finding out step-by-step what happens in the run up to an occasion that forms such an integral part of Irish society was almost surreal; there were several moments in the process that were unexpected.

Sitting across from a funeral director while he sensitively helped us flick through a booklet of coffins and when registering the death in a registrar’s office surrounded by crying newborn children, I thought: “I hope I don’t have to go through this more than a couple of times in my life.”

The whole process is complicated and hard to wrap your head around while dealing with grief, unless you can force your mind to concentrate on the task at hand

What stuck me was the need for this focus. It may not be apparent on the surface, but a funeral consists of dozens of small tasks: people to call, things to organise, food to prepare. It requires someone to put on a business-as-usual cap to make sure it all gets done

What if that person has to be you?

Below is a peek inside the process of a Christian funeral. Although families will have their own way of doing things, this is the basic formula.

The first steps

shutterstock_110911754 (1) Shutterstock / Richard Lyons Shutterstock / Richard Lyons / Richard Lyons

Where a person dies dictates the first steps. If they pass away unexpectedly, it might have been preceded by a 999 call and a trip in an ambulance to a hospital, or it could have been without warning, at home in their bed after a long life.

Either way, a doctor is needed for the sombre task of making sure that a death certificate can be signed. This is a legal document that will become important once they are laid to rest. It must be signed as soon as possible.

In doing this the doctor will confirm the cause of death. If there are any uncertainties over this, for example, if they are not a family doctor who would have knowledge of the person’s medical history, they may request for a post mortem to be carried out.
The gardaí must be informed in some cases.

A post mortem will be carried out in cases of sudden or suspicious deaths, or even if the family just want to know for sure what happened.

If the person held an organ donor card, the doctor involved should be informed immediately.

Some families will already know their relative’s last wishes and information on where they wanted to be buried. A solicitor may also have been provided with this information.

A funeral director will often be contacted to help arrange the funeral, especially if no set plans were left.

All members of the Irish Association of Funeral Directors are bound by a code of conduct that includes openness about cost and payment and accurate advertising of prices, as well as having a focus on sensitivity and confidentiality.

shutterstock_239410174 Shutterstock / Volt Collection Shutterstock / Volt Collection / Volt Collection

The director can sit down and talk through what needs to be done, and give advice on how to decide between a burial or cremation, and show what caskets, coffins, or urns can be used.

It will also mean that several expenses can be consolidated.

It will also be decided if the deceased will be embalmed, preserving the body. This is generally only carried out if the funeral isn’t immediate. They may not be embalmed at all if they are buried soon after passing.

Planning the funeral

The process of planning a funeral is hugely varied depending on the wishes of the deceased and their religion

A wake or viewing is generally held. A wake is a key part of Irish funeral culture, and are events for people to meet, chat, and share memories of the deceased.

It is now also common for a viewing to take place at a funeral home or other location.

Arrangements must also be made for transporting the deceased from where they are reposing to the funeral, as well as the family. You may need to find someone who is willing to mind the family home while it is empty during the service.

shutterstock_118223500 Shutterstock / Kzenon Shutterstock / Kzenon / Kzenon

The funeral service

Planning the service itself is done in liaison with the celebrant. They will explain the process of the funeral, and what elements can be customised.

The main points to plan out are:

  • Will there be readings, be they religious or otherwise? Who will read them?
  • Will there be a eulogy?
  • Will there be music?
  • Will mourners bring flowers or would charitable donations be preferred?
  • If the music is live, a singer or band will need to be arranged.
  • If the music is pre-recorded you will need to be sure of how you will be able to play it on the day (such as USB stick or using music saved on a phone).

Of course this will vary greatly. The deceased may have opted for a traditional Catholic funeral, or might have requested a non-religious ceremony, for which a Humanist celebrant is often used.

The latter was the case in the bereavement my family experienced. It allowed for a relaxed, informal structure, with music and poems, and allowed for the atmosphere to be more of a celebration than a time for mourning.

The burial or cremation

The deceased’s final resting place must also be decided. Some families have plots in graveyards reserved years in advance, but there is generally space available where it is hoped the burial will take place.

However, it can be expensive.

Historic Ireland - Glasnevin Cemetery Is a Hidden Gem And Well Worth a Visit infomatique infomatique

Plots in some local cemeteries cost in the region of €600, but can rocket to more than €9,000 in certain more sought-after locations such as Glasnevin Cemetery.

The plot has to be opened. You’re looking at between €400 to more than €1,000 for the grave to be dug (if not in an area where locals traditionally dig the grave), and potentially another few hundred on top of that if a registration fee is required.

Headstones can cost several hundred euro, and more additional fees for erecting it, such as for the foundation and kerbing.

Because of these high prices, cremations are becoming more popular, but are not with their own costs. There’s also the option of a woodland burial.

Mount Jerome at Harold’s Cross in Dublin has a clear breakdown of their costs:

  • Adult cremation fee – €400
  • Cremation fee for an infant, stillbirth or body organ – €160
  • Environmental/filtration fee – (not applicable to body organs, stillbirths or infants less than one year old) – €50
  • Use of chapel for a service – €90 for one time slot of half an hour, or €120 for an hour.
  • It must also be decided whether the ashes will be held in an urn, buried, or scattered.

There are limited grants available, ranging from the Widowed or Surviving Civil Partner Grant worth €6,000 if there are dependent children, the Funeral Grant under the Occupational Injuries Scheme, or an exceptional needs payment (ENP) for anyone on a low income. The Bereavement Grant was discontinued last year.

Although it may come across as disrespectful, there is also the need to plan the afters.

Some families may not like the idea of having drinks or any kind of gathering afterwards, but for others it’s a continuation of the celebration of the person’s life, or simply a way of thanking the people who travelled to the funeral by providing them with a bit of grub.

After some hesitation, I found that getting the chance to sit and talk with other members of my family was a fantastic way to bring some closure, both to the day and to the passing.

One final note – all this information can be posted on

The day itself

After all this planning comes the wake and the removal if it has been decided to form part of the process, and the funeral itself. Aside from worrying about getting people from one place to another, the planning has been done; it is a time to simply remember the deceased, and to celebrate their life.

The experience of each individual at the funeral will be slightly different. Just remember to give yourself time to grieve, and be there for anyone who needs your support.

If you have planned the day but fear you might be overwhelmed, see if someone more removed from the funeral would be able to help you handle it all on the day.

shutterstock_310523501 Shutterstock / Shutterstock / /

Getting back on track

The days immediately afterwards can be tough. The process of a funeral can be stressful, tiring, and extremely emotional, and the lull afterwards can catch you off guard.

Dealing with grief is a difficult process, and each person handles it differently. You might experience every emotion possible, or none at all. You might also experience physical effects such as loss of energy, poor concentration, or sleep issues.

Take your time, look after yourself, and talk to people. Here’s some more places for advice

Once your loved one has been laid to rest, everything becomes quite clerical and can be divided into four different areas.

First, is the payment. Most of the costly payments are not made up front, and must be noted as the process goes on. Using a funeral director allows the costs to be streamlined slightly, and they will often not seek payment until a couple of weeks after the funeral.

Second, a formal notification of the person’s death must be made. The death certificate (remember that from earlier?) must be brought to a Registrar of Births, Marriages, Civil Partnerships and Deaths office within three months. There are more fees involved, maxing out at €20 for a full standard certificate, which will be required to close various accounts or transfer them to the next-of-kin and for taking out probate.

It can be a surreal experience – people are likely to be registering births and marriages in same area.

Third, bills, bank accounts, and any other accounts need to be closed. gives the following examples:

  • Standing orders
  • Newspapers & other journal subscriptions
  • Coal deliveries
  • Telephone and broadband internet connection
  • Mobile phone
  • Bin collection
  • Rent
  • TV licence
  • Postal services (or have them re-directed)

There’s also a number of other documents you will need to find:

  • Trusts
  • Life insurance policies
  • Pension-retirement benefits and plans
  • Investment accounts
  • Business and partnership arrangements
  • Credit-card statements
  • Bank statements
  • Cheque books
  • Other evidence of assets and liabilities
  • Marriage and birth certificates
  • Nuptial agreements
  • Divorce documentation
  • Notes receivable
  • Documents of business ownership or business interest
  • Stocks, shares, bonds, annuities
  • Any title deeds for assets, such as land, vehicles or houses
  • Any leases
  • Health insurance (to claim for the deceased’s final illness)
  • Any unpaid bills, notes payable or creditors
  • Safe deposit agreements and keys
  • Last tax returns

There’s a lot to get through. Each will have their own process and will need to be contacted individually.

Fourth, is the deceased person’s estate. An entire series of articles could be dedicated to this topic alone, but if there is a will, then the executor needs to take out probate. This means having the Probate Office certify that the will is valid and matters are in order.

It’s an extremely nuanced area of law.  A good starting point to understand it is here on Citizens Information.

More information on planning a funeral is available from:

It is complicated but achievable process. and something that help is available for if you find yourself struggling.

While it is important to remember the small items like ordering some food for the afters, or to make sure that everyone has prepared their readings, all of this is dwarfed by the importance of allowing yourself to grieve, and remembering the person you have lost.


Advice: What to say – and not say – to a friend who is recently bereaved >

A personal story: ‘Then everyone died’: I lost four people I loved in 14 months

Read: Everything you wanted to know about grief but were too afraid to ask >

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