Few things in life are as hard as experiencing the death of a loved one. We can ready ourselves all we want, but the reality often hits us harder than we ever expected.

Nonetheless, don’t dismiss the importance of careful preparation beforehand. Having all your ducks in a row can make the process of planning a funeral at least somewhat more bearable when the time arrives.

In this article, we will discuss some of the steps you can take to ensure you are at least somewhat ready for the unfortunate, but the inevitable. And remember – a loved one’s passing doesn’t necessarily have to be a tragic event, but can be a joyous celebration of the life they lived.

Before we delve into the specifics, a note of caution: A funeral will be one of the most expensive investments you will ever make. While the funeral itself can vary widely in price, there’s no doubt you will be paying somewhat of a hefty price in the end. Your best buffer from any unneeded outrageous prices will be doing your due diligence as you prepare. In the event a death occurs before the funeral can be thought out, you risk making hasty decisions based more out of emotion than research and fact.

Which Type of Funeral to Choose

It’s important to clarify the differences between funeral and a burial service. It’s not merely a matter of semantics – the two generally refer to separate items. The funeral refers to the method of burial you choose for your loved one’s remains; the burial service (or memorial service) refers to the actual celebration of the their life.

Since a funeral itself is the broadest decision that will affect others, start here and work your way into the smaller details (who will cater the wake, who will deliver eulogies, and so on). This decision is obviously made best by the person whose funeral it is, but if you find yourself facing an unexpected situation where they didn’t have the opportunity to make their preference known, you’ll have to use your judgment to decide which option is appropriate.

Traditional Burial.While this may be the most well-known option, it is also the most expensive option due to the fact you’ll need to purchase a casket and coffin in addition to some sort of memorial marker. Traditional burials run around an average of $6,500 – $7,000.

Traditional burials involve variations as well. You may choose a single or double burial space, an above-ground burial, or you may opt for entombment in a mausoleum. In the end, this will come down to your loved one’s wishes (if known) or the judgment of their loved ones.

Cremation.The popularity of cremation has dramatically increased in recent years. Cremation involves burning the body, which can happen before or after the ceremony. Typically, the ashes are either stored in an urn or spread somewhere of significance to their life.

Green Burial.Similar to cremation, green burials have just begun to gain rapid popularity. With a green burial, a body basically returns to the Earth in the most natural of ways – without any chemicals or containers involved.

No matter which option you go with, it’s important the burial reflects the wishes of your loved one as well as provides a sense of closure to loved ones. One thing to remember with cremation and green burials is that you may want a specific place to remember the them – it might be valuable to plant a tree or install some alternative memorial in their honor.

There are constantly new trends emerging in funerals, too, that may be more suited to the your loved one’s tastes or situation. But the importance of thorough research cannot be overstated. Making decisions about the funeral and the service ahead of time will help you avoid being pressured to make sudden choices when the time arrives. A funeral home may quote you too much when you approach them – or push you to invest in a “traditional funeral” approach, which may not be the style you truly want.

The Service Details Checklist

Once these aspects are accounted for, then plan for the other smaller (but nonetheless meaningful) details: flowers, the wake, the obituary, the agenda of the service. These details tend to hinge on the bigger decisions, and can often be more manageable to nail down. Flowers are often pervasive at a funeral service – not to mention the countless arrangements that are sent by well-wishers. But your loved one or you may prefer that these well-wishers donate to a select charity or nonprofit instead. “In lieu of flowers, please send donations … “ is a sentence frequently found in obituaries. This may be especially poignant if the charity or nonprofit relates to their cause of death, something they’ve battled during their life, or any cause dear to their hearts (like animals or helping the unfortunate).

Lastly, you may want to put aside some time to finding a company for any sort of documentation or funeral cards you want available for guests at the ceremony. To best honor your loved one, you’ll want to look for a company that is reputable, well reviewed, and knowledgeable about proper death etiquette. Remember – funeral cards serve as mementos of the their legacy that guests will cherish for years to come. These cards are usually the only physical item your guests will carry away from the actual ceremony, and as such, will be a permanent reminder of their effect on their life.

One such company is Funeral Prints can help compile a fitting tribute to your loved one. They have a rich legacy of assisting countless people honor their loved ones, and they understand the factors that compose a meaningful remembrance. Their photo books, funeral cards, and memorial programs all can play vital roles in your service. Funeral Prints is fully capable of managing the printing, folding, and delivery of your preferred remembrance in addition to having them to you in a timely (and if need be expedited) manner. You can trust them to best commemorate your loved one both tastefully and beautifully; these skilled professionals have years of experience doing so.

The Small Print – Rights and Documents

On a related note, thoroughly understand your rights as a consumer beforehand. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) permits you to an itemized price quote from your funeral home. You can receive this quote either in person or over the phone. It’s important to do this ahead of time, as the emotional nature of the actual funeral may make it easier for any possible manipulation to occur.

You’ll also want to take the time to gather all the necessary legal documents. These can include but are not limited to: organ/tissue authorization, Social Security card/information, life insurance information, or military discharge papers. If in the very preliminary stages of planning a funeral, try to keep these documents in one central location (like a safe) that will make for easy access when the time arrives.

Final Note: Practice Self-Care

When it finally is time for the funeral – whether it is unexpected or anticipated – one of the most critical things you can do for yourself is to, ultimately, take care of yourself. Eat normally, get enough sleep, prioritize treating yourself as much as you can. Ask for help when you need to. You may be surprised at how willing your friends and family will be to support you.On the other hand, if spirituality is more comforting to you, reach out to someone in your faith (like a pastor or a rabbi) during this time for guidance. Meditation or prayer may bring extra comfort to you, too. If you believe in an afterlife, this may be of utmost importance to your peace of mind during this period.

It’s critical that – while doing your best to honor your loved one who has passed on – that you do not neglect your own well-being in the process.