Grave Expectations: There’s More to Funeral Planning Than Sourcing Free Funeral Program Templates Online. Have You Already Begun Planning Your Own Unique Memorial Service?

January 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Anne Holmes, Blog, Living, Spirit & Faith

Grave Expectations: There's More to Funeral Planning Than Sourcing Free Funeral Program Templates Online. Have You Already Begun Planning Your Own Unique Memorial Service?

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 20:  Funeral director Pete...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

A recent article in the AARP Bulletin, titled “The High Cost of Dying,” discussed how easily funeral costs can spin out of control. The article noted that this happens primarily because your surviving relatives — faced with unexpectedly having to quickly put together a funeral while simultaneously grieving your demise  — just don’t have the time or energy to price shop or bargain.

Hey, you can understand: They’re grieving for you, right?

Besides which, it’s human nature to want to provide a loved one with the best funeral possible, as a show of respect, right? This classic skit by Nichols and May really exemplifies the dilemmas grieving relatives experience. You’ll find yourself laughing out loud as you squirm at the man’s discomfort with the sales pitch he’s receiving. After all, she’s not even offering him the option of free funeral program templates!

Sadly, if you’ve recently found yourself planning a funeral, you may believe that not much has changed in the years since they first created it:

The AARP article also points out many people have the impression that the magnitude of the casket is an indicator of socioeconomic status. No doubt that accounts for all those solid bronze caskets still offered in most funeral homes.  (After all, who wouldn’t want to be packaged for death like an ancient Egyptian pharoah, right?)

How about you?

Do you want to exit the world in a solid bronze casket? Or would you rather have a deeply meaningful service that you’ve planned in advance — and the opportunity to leave the money that could have gone for that fancy casket to your grandchildren or a worthy cause?

If you’re more into benefiting family or charitable causes with your worldly goods, they now is the time for you to take action to assure your wishes are met. Why not plan your funeral now — or at least discuss it with your family?

Think of funeral planning as being just as important as the plans families make for a birth, a wedding or a graduation. That you can both enjoy the funeral you’d really like, as well as save your family a lot of future pain. (After all, you’ll be there, both in body and spirit.)

  • Don’t you agree that now — when you’re still hale, healthy and able to speak your mind — is really the best time for you to give some thought to what you’d like to have transpire at your personal memorial service?
  • That way your surviving family members will be saved from the pressure tactics and indecision many currently encounter when talking to a funeral director while trying to give you the send-off they think you’d prefer.
  • After all, you hate to waste money, and you’re well aware that the “traditional funeral” — complete with embalming, viewing in that expensive casket, funeral ceremony and graveside service — is not the only option.

If You Just Want to “Dip Your Toe” Into the Concept of Personalized Funeral Planning, Here Are Some Small – But Extremely Helpful – Things You Can Do:

For starters, how about writing up your obituary now – except for the specifics of when, where and how?

After all,  if you can provide all the “nitty gritty” specifics – such as what high school you attended, or the names of all relevant survivors, this is a real help for whoever is managing your final arrangements.  If you’re famous, the newspapers already have an obit on file for you. Thankfully, for the rest of us, there are readily available fill-in-the blank forms, which will help get you started.

Here are a few you can review. Keep in mind that in addition to the specifics of your death –  which you obviously don’t know at this time – the obituary gives you a chance to tell your story, to create your legacy statement, and get it out there the way you’d like it told:

OK, That Was Easy:

So Why Not Take a Figurative Deep Breath and Jump Into the Deep End of the Memorial Pool? You Know, Spend a Little Time to Plan Your Funeral – EXACTLY the Way You’d Like It?

After all, unless you take the time to write up your plans – and keep them somewhere where they can be found in time – only you know that you’d always secretly wanted something special and personally meaningful, like:

  • To have your funeral procession led by your high school’s marching band
  • A real Irish wake
  • A Viking funeral, complete with a burning pyre floating off to sea
  • A huge send-off party at your country club, with all your friends toasting your life – and maybe you’d like to sign off by treating them to a “hootenanny” and a hot air balloon ride
  • A quiet memorial service after you’ve donated your body to science
  • A service with full military honors. Perhaps you’ve even wondered whether – since you are a war veteran —  you might even qualify to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery?
  • Then again, maybe your dream is to have your ashes scattered over place that holds special meaning for you. Perhaps your dream is to be:

Now’s the time to think about what really appeals to you.

Assuming you’ll want some sort of memorial service involved, you can even pre-determine the specifics including:

  • What sort of coffin you desire. After all, not all coffins are made of solid wood anymore.
    • There are “green” coffins made of cardboard, for example, which can be decorated to suit your personal style.
    • Or you may prefer something natural and recyclable, such as bamboo or wicker.
    • Or – can you imagine – there’s an “ecopod,” that’s actually made of recycled newspaper?
    • And, then there are all sorts of caskets, urns, body bags and shrouds. You could have a unique clay pot specially commissioned, for example. Eco Urns are made from completely natural materials and are fully bio-degradable and are suitable for either burial or cremation.
  • Your funeral budget. Funeral expenses can quickly add up.
    • Few relatives want to worry that they didn’t provide you with the send-off you deserve, so they often spend money on things which might mean nothing to you.
    • Currently you’d need to budget $10,000 for an average funeral in the United States. More if you’re really intrigued with the special events and party planners…
    • If you’re determined to have your money go elsewhere, you may want to join the Funeral Consumers Alliance in your area.
  • Any special poems or readings you’d like shared with your friends and family
  • Your preferred music and songs so that you can set the tone for the ceremony.For example:
    • Do you want your favorite rock music blasting out triumphantly as people enter the service?
    • Or would you prefer a simple flute – or maybe a throbbing drumbeat?
    • Or maybe some Cajun zydeco that merrily sets everyone’s feet a-tapping?
  • Your preferred pallbearers – and you’d like to have offer your eulogy?
  • The funeral venue is important too.
    • Do you feel that a traditional church or funeral home chapel is where you’d like people to assemble?
    • Or maybe you’re an outdoors-y kind of gal, and you’d rather people gather in a lovely bower in the woods.
    • Then again, perhaps you feel drawn to the sea, and you’d like your service to be held on the water, or overlooking your favorite beach.
  • You’ll even have the opportunity to dictate what sort of catering and transport you’d prefer. Here’s where you can let your family know that you’d love it if everyone:
    • Finished off the ceremony by feasting on BBQ ribs and toasting your memory with your favorite micro-brew beer
    • Enjoyed a campfire meal at your favorite national park, complete with hot dogs roasted on a stick and s’mores, or
    • Toasted your memory with your favorite vintage champagne before riding off to the opera in a fleet of white limos
    • Hey, it’s your funeral, as they say… And it’s your last chance to tell your loved ones where you’d like them to go!

One easy way to assemble this information for posterity would be to plan your service and even create the program for it now. Again, there are planning forms available online – and even free funeral program templates.

Heck, you can even order the stock for the funeral programs in advance, selecting your photo, the cover image, etc.

Alternately, you can create a video of your life story, and make it permanently available online or on your headstone. Or, perhaps hand out  CD copies of your video as funeral keepsakes.

Recently Carmen Flowers and Sue Bailey, authors of the recently published book, “Grave Expectations,”  Were Featured on NBC’s “Today” show.

Here’s their take on funeral planning:

Need Even More Help and Ideas? Here’s a Handful of Additional Sources For Funeral Planning  Services:

And Here Are Several Other Great Funeral and Memorial Resources:

Final thoughts on Pre-Planning Your Funeral

As the cliche points out, no one can escape death or taxes. So why not take some time when you are healthy and pre-plan your own funeral? It is a surprisingly simple thing to do and really don’t cost much.

  • If you’re at a loss for ideas, not really sure how you want to be memorialized, the links are great starting points. The book “Grave Expectations” is actually subtitled “Planning The End Like There’s No Tomorrow,” and it’s a fantastic resource for idea starters.
  • Or if you’re not into reading, you can start your planning efforts by contacting a funeral home in your community and ask them to come to your home and discuss what you’d prefer. Once you’ve decided on your arrangements, the company will provide you with a quote, and you can choose to pay for it in monthly installments.
  • As you can see, pre-planning allows you to the peace of mind of knowing that your funeral will be exactly what you want — and the price will be locked in and will not change – no matter how long you live.
  • Given that, you have to agree that pre-planning your funeral is not a bit morbid – especially since it means that when your time comes, your family will be freed from having to make arrangements in the midst of their grief.

Based on personal experience, you know they’ll appreciate the fact that they can focus completely on celebrating your life with friends and family – and of course, their grief! Given that we all have to go eventually, isn’t that really the way you’d like to leave this world?

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21 Responses to “Grave Expectations: There’s More to Funeral Planning Than Sourcing Free Funeral Program Templates Online. Have You Already Begun Planning Your Own Unique Memorial Service?”

  1. Katie Holliday on January 26th, 2010 2:32 am

    Lol! I can’t stop myself from laughing.. Oops, im not laughing at your blog, im laughing at my “funeral” someday. Gosh, i can’t picture out myself lying inside a casket. Brrr! But you are right, we should plan ahead so that even if we leave our loved ones, they are still under control. You know what i mean? No pressure,no stress, with grief of course but atleast they don’t have to grieve for the financial aspect! “Or would you rather have a deeply meaningful service that you’ve planned in advance — and the opportunity to leave the money that could have gone for that fancy casket to your grandchildren or a worthy cause?

    “Or would you rather have a deeply meaningful service that you’ve planned in advance — and the opportunity to leave the money that could have gone for that fancy casket to your grandchildren or a worthy cause?” – VERY WELL SAID!

  2. brad@traffic ultimatum review on February 23rd, 2010 12:10 pm

    It’s frightening how much goes in to planning a funeral you have really opened my eyes. I do like the idea of planning my own service that way you could add a bit of humor in to the proceedings. Thanks for such a detailed post.

  3. Anne on February 24th, 2010 2:05 pm

    Didn’t mean to frighten you. Brad. And I agree, let’s revolutionize funerals by making them personal and adding humor to the proceedings. I certainly want my friends and family to remember the good times!! Anne

  4. Memorial Maker on April 7th, 2010 12:41 pm

    I found this article very interesting and thought provoking. We often deal with families during their bereavement time ( and one thing I could say about having a funeral really planned out is that it makes the surviving family members jobs easier. When the plans of their loved ones is known for sure, it makes what they have to deal with that much easier. We have seen this with our business because often times a family comes in and we hear all kinds of stories of arguments between family members because it is such an emotional time for all involved. The better it has been thought out and planned, the better it is for all involved.

    You can contact me at or ph (973) 337-2881

  5. Sue @ Soldier Costumes on April 15th, 2010 10:47 am

    This is a very interesting subject…although it probably is a good idea for people to take charge and plan their own funerals I doubt its something I’d personally ever do…maybe thats selfish of me but I just find the whole idea a little strange – at this stage in my life anyway.

  6. gardening gifts on April 23rd, 2010 7:16 am

    I want to plan my funeral. It’s important to me and I just know my family will get it wrong. I don’t know exactly what I want but the best way for it to go smoothly is to simply plan and save for it all yourself. I’m 24 but you never know, do you?

  7. Philip Hawkins Edinburgh Wedding Photographer on May 6th, 2010 11:13 am

    I found this article interesting and informative as being a wedding photographer I am aware of how much planning goes into a wedding day but have never really considered that funeral planning must take as much if not more work. Plenty of food for thought!

  8. Jim@funerals on August 2nd, 2010 8:23 am

    Making funeral arrangements can be especially difficult for those who are grieving the loss of someone special. By pre-planning your final send-off you will spare your family and friends the confusion and uncertainty of arranging a funeral. Thank you for your post

  9. Karen@photographer on August 17th, 2010 12:44 pm

    I realized that we should also consider preparing for our funeral. We would never know until when are we going to stay in this world. It may be odd to say this but it’s the reality. I wanted it everything would be hassle free for my family and friends.

  10. dlf@wedding photographer on August 23rd, 2010 2:15 pm

    This is a difficult but important topic. I think after the things I’ve seen through the years, I want to pre-arrange my own to make it easier on my family. Often, though, you don’t have time or notification. This is an excellent guide and you have covered all the steps.

  11. brittany@photographer on September 29th, 2010 6:34 pm

    If you’ve ever settled a loved one’s affairs after death, you know it can be difficult to plan a funeral or memorial service. Family and friends want to honor the person who has died, but they may not agree on what’s best. The grief and stress of loss can make decisions even more challenging. Taking the time now to document your wishes for a funeral or other memorial service can both ensure that you get the kind of services you want and provide tremendous relief for your loved ones.

  12. NicoleAndiem on February 4th, 2011 8:55 pm

    Great article, full of useful information. As a former cemetery administrator and grief counselor I noticed the need for a user-friendly funeral plan workbook. I authored “Memorial Preferences” to fit this need. An essential end-of-life planning tool the workbook is a concise 17-page guide to craft your own funeral/memorial service, record family history, document location of vital paperwork required at a time of death, log your special requests-music, theme, poetry &/or bible verses to be read, medical history and more. I also included an outline to write your own obituary. The workbook is in ebook format, loaded with checklists and down-to-earth advice and money saving tips. Order today at I have reduced the price to $8.95 from $12.95. Please feel free to print out as many copies as you would like to share with friends and family.

  13. Sarah on March 1st, 2011 3:47 am

    The best memorial services mix memories, comfort and encouragement. You need to take this time to share your loss, to laugh and talk and share your thoughts and feelings with each other. The beauty of a plan like this is it can be expanded to include anyone who wants to get up and say a few words, or play a musical tribute, or do another prayer or Bible reading.

  14. Keith@IRA Income on March 9th, 2011 5:51 am

    Hello! I worked the in the funeral industry for a few years and all of your information is very accurate. This is the most informative and complete group of links and helpful resources I have seen in one place. I worked in the preneed funeral planning area and even the families of those that had their funerals all planned out still had a very difficult time. They money was taken care of but the details still had to be planned which is the hardest part on the family. I will say that the better plans the person made before they passed the easier it was on the family for sure. There was no arguing or bickering between the kids about how mom would have wanted a certain kind of flower or what music was to be played. I have witnessed some horrible fights over the seemingly small things that drove siblings apart during a time where they could have really leaned on each other for support. So all of this information is very important.

    Thanks for the post,

  15. Birch Photographers on March 21st, 2011 10:57 am

    I could say about having a funeral really planned out is that it makes the surviving family members jobs easier. When the plans of their loved ones is known for sure, it makes what they have to deal with that much easier. Thank you.

  16. 0800 Number on March 25th, 2011 6:32 am

    Making sure you remember the persons life is the important thing in my honest opinion. Not enough time is spent as to why people are remembered rather than mourning their loss

  17. Juli@Jacuzzi Spas on July 30th, 2011 9:42 pm

    This is definately a good idea and it kinda falls into the same category as life insurance would.. planning ahead so that your love ones don’t have to suffer. I do like the idea of pre planning myf funeral and making sure the will is where it needs to be so there is no bickering among my kids. Overall there’s a lot of good resources here, very nicely done.


  18. Ana @ Deceased Estate Sales on September 23rd, 2011 3:16 pm

    I know exactly how I want it to be.
    I grew up in a small village on the seaside. The cemetery there lies on a plane that goes all the way to the cliff and has a great view to the open sea.

    I want to be cremated and my ashes spilled from that cliff. I also don’t want a lot of people on my ceremony. Only family.

  19. robert@senior life insurance on September 27th, 2011 8:44 pm

    Many, if not most of us, especially those of my age, have had to deal with end of life arrangements for loved ones or friends. it is one of the most painful and difficult tasks anyone can face. The loss of a loved one is difficult enough, without having to go through the whole process of making the arrangements, and sometimes, having to gather the funds as well. I decided years ago that I should do all of the pre-planning I could possibly do, in advance to, avoid, or ease this task.

  20. MountainView on January 23rd, 2012 2:59 pm

    You’ve really provided some excellent funeral planning resources here! Planning one’s own funeral in advance can be difficult, but doing so can save your loved ones much stress and confusion while they are mourning your passing. Find some great funeral planning tips and resources at

  21. Jason Dexter@Chinese Scrolls on April 11th, 2012 7:16 pm

    I recently had the experience of helping plan a funeral. My mother-in-law passed away. We live in China so funerals here are a LOT different. They are much less expensive, but there are still a lot of decisions to be made.

    I agree that the service is much more important than the coffin/headstone, etc. As a Christian, I would want a service that reminds those who come of the hope that I have in God. Beyond that, I wouldn’t want my family bearing much extra cost during that difficult time. They should buy the cheapest coffin possible (a plain wood box would be fine). No reason spending money on that when I (my soul) won’t even be around.