It’s a big thing to think about. The funeral. Why does it have the word fun in it? Nothing fun about organising these at all.

The day after Riley was pronounced dead, I received the call. A lovely lady by the name of Donna from Hope and Sons. She was very sorry about what had happened and wanted to help in anyway with the funeral planning.

Now I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but funeral homes and hospitals feel about the same way to me. A non-cheerful place with a couple of things to make it ‘cheerful’. The smell is the same as well. Is there a book of smells that your hospital, funeral home and/or real estate office is allowed to smell like?

Either way it was terrible. Everyone spoke in hushed tones wandering around like they were walking on eggshells. Apart from Donna. She was all business, but with enough care in her eyes that I didn’t feel like she was a walking robot. You must need a lot of stamina to work in a place like that.

I met with Donna about the funeral. Funerals are expensive as all balls. As Riley’s death was an accident, ACC paid about 6000 towards it. This was not even half of the funeral costs, after the first planning session. From there Sarah and I discussed cutting costs. She would design and print the service sheets to cut costs down there, and I would organise the food afterwards at my friend’s establishment at a cheaper cost. The most basic coffin (because it was being set on fire anyways), and some creative planning (putting his photography up and bringing some special items to put on the coffin instead of flowers), and we were slightly more in business. But still when I got the $10,500 bill in the mail my heart sunk.

Why does our society kick the down and out? The one thing you don’t want to worry about when the love of your life dies is money issues.

I was ready to ring up my bank and get a loan, beg my family for some money, or sell off some expensive items that I had. I really don’t need a television, or food each week… In the end Sarah and Grant took the funeral bill and I paid for the wake. A team effort (done mostly by them); they’re a good sort, those two. I could not have done this without them.

The day of the funeral arrived. I could not wear Riley’s favourite dress of mine as it was a little small, so I chose the second one. A cute wee red dress with pockets. Flat shoes to be able to carry the coffin, and a small crown (to give me courage).

I grabbed a couple of things to put on the coffin: his camera, his hat and a Lego Walle (his favourite Lego set).

Arriving at the funeral home, everything was exactly how you would expect. His photography was up around the room, flowers people had sent were sitting in the front, a slide show of photos of Riley was playing up on the wall. I went to go see him before they closed the coffin to say goodbye and see his face once more, and put the photographs on the coffin. It was such a shock seeing him, dressed up in his favourite blue suit with his ‘peach’ shirt. Glasses, shiny shoes; he looked like we were about to go on a date, rather then he was about to be cremated. His hair was all slicked down neatly so I mushed it up as he liked it. He was smooth and very cold to the touch. I sat there alone in the room talking to him. Told him that he looked good, I thought about the time we bought that suit. He didn’t think he could pull off a blue suit. I tried to get him to try on a bright blue one for my amusement but he didn’t go for it. After much polite pushing he put on the dark blue suit. He came out with a sly smile on his face and looked at me for approval.

“You have to get it. Looks so good”

His smile turned into a grin, he knew he looked good but liked to be told. We spent about a grand that day but boy did he look dapper af in those suits.

After Sarah and I had a proper goodbye we put the lid of the coffin on, slightly squishing his size 13 shoes as we did so. Together we wheeled him out to the little space on the stage where the coffin sits. I added the finishing touches and he was good to go.

Slowly the room began to fill up, people from his work, my work, friends, and family all gathered in the room wearing our Sunday best. He would have found it so silly and funny. Trying our best not to cry as we watched the photos changing above our heads on the projector, wishing there were more and he was older in them. There were so many more people then I imagined.

The funeral started. The celebrant read out his eulogy and a speech prepared by Riley’s mother, then Sarah, Riley’s best friend Chris, and I shared our own things. We watched some time lapses Riley has done. His scout leader spoke of a fun loving and mischievous little boy, and I spoke of the fun loving and mischievous man. Finally the surprise I had organised for everyone at the funeral, as we carried his coffin out we played the Imperial March or Darth Vader’s theme from Star wars. One time he mentioned if we got married I would have to walk down the aisle to that tune. Well I never got to but I’m sure he would have appreciated the gesture, and it made people laugh. Everyone then travelled to the wake while I drove out with Riley to the crematorium where I got my final goodbye. I didn’t say much that time, we didn’t stay long; we were all too exhausted. We went back and joined up with the rest of the funeral at a restaurant that my friend’s friend managed (so we got ourselves a deal). From there we ate and drank. Chris had made Pumpkin pies. Pumpkin pies for days. Riley’s favourite food in the whole world. I introduced all my workmates to the wonders of pumpkin pie.

 

So funerals:

Between you and your loved one’s family, you have a number of options for a funeral. Most of the following is the same for any tradition funeral.

First you have to decide when it will take place. Usually these are between 3 and 7 days after death. We had 4 days, allowing for people to come down from varies parts of New Zealand. Next we discussed burial or cremation. He mentioned a Space burial but that was not going to happen so we went with his second option. Cremation.

From there you need to think about what things your love one would want for Religious or Cultural reasons, e.g. Riley’s mother asked we put the Lord’s Prayer in the service, while my friend had a tradition Maori greeting read out at the start.

Then you will need to get a Celebrant. A lot of funeral homes will have some recommendations that you can use or ask your friends and family who they can suggest.

Together, with the family and celebrant, you will need to do the following:

  • Plan the format of the funeral service
  • Decide who will deliver the eulogy
  • Select music, reading or poetry for during the service
  • Decide on the use of other symbols such as candles, flowers and photos as required
  • Discuss the content of the printed service sheets
  • Schedule the audio-visual presentation in the service

Next we go onto clothing. We picked a lovely suit that was both Riley’s and my favourite. Think of something they would like to spend the rest of eternity in. Along with the clothing you will need to pick a coffin. We went for a plain one because Riley would be mad if we spent lots of money when we were just cremating him, but these range from $600 to $5000.

From there we discussed Riley’s urn. We got a nice box to transport him from the funeral to Mt Cargill where we distributed most of him into the wind. Riley’s sister and I also got a necklace which contained some of his ashes to keep him close.

After that we discussed Pall Bearers. These are the ones that carry the coffin out to the hearse at the end of the funeral. You need 6 adults to carry the coffin. Riley’s mother, father, brother, sister, best friend, and I (with Grant as backup in case one of passed out (me)). Make sure you distribute the strong amongst the weaker (again, me).

Next we prepared photos and time lapses. Most funeral homes will have a slide show to play as people come in of your loved one, and then just one photo to have showing while the service is on. You can have someone set up more photos and videos but that will cost you more; we were willing to pay to show his time lapses.

We discussed catering with the funeral home but it was too expensive, so I talked to my friend who knew a girl who managed at Riley’s and my favourite restaurant, and she did us a deal for the reception! It pays to know people.

We also discussed the service sheets but the funeral home’s amount was a lot more than we expected, so Sarah did these herself and they were so beautiful. You can go through the funeral home (which is easier), but also a lot of printing shops can print them cheaper, but that’s more work, which one would understandably want less of during this time.

Money. Even very cheap funerals can cost an arm and a leg. Riley’s one was about $13,000 all up originally, which we got down to 10,000. ACC contributed some because Riley’s death was an accident but it was still so expensive, I was going to talk to my bank about a loan and the funeral about payment plans. I was a 22 year old, with a bill for $4,000 (which was A LOT for someone as poor as me). Luckily Sarah and Grant took it off my hands and I just had to pay for the reception.

Hopefully your partner dies at such an old age they have already discussed what they wanted, but if they haven’t, try to think about what they would want. Most religious people prefer burial. Make people laugh but most importantly do what you want! I know a girl who let her partners parents sort everything because they were rude and pushy and she didn’t have the strength to argue with them. She says to this day, 10 years on, it’s the one thing she regrets.

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P.s. And in case you were wondering, the other F words were fuck, fucking, fuckity etc.

 

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