Arranging a funeral for the departed while trying to come to terms with the loss is a difficult moment in life. Most families employ funeral directors to streamline the arrangements. Funeral directors work in a funeral parlor, also known as a funeral home or mortuary. Learn more about the role of funeral directors here.
A funeral parlor provides burial and funeral services according to the wishes and needs of the surviving family members of the deceased. The staff can transfer the departed from the place of death – home, hospital, nursing home, palliative care facility, etc. – to the funeral home.
If the funeral parlor does not offer cremation service, they can transport the body to a crematory or crematorium if needed. Read our The Cremation Process: What to Know post for more information about cremation.
Besides preparing and preserving the body, funeral parlors usually handle the paperwork, permits, and other crucial details to facilitate the funeral. For example, they can compose an obituary and send it to newspapers upon request. Also, they contact the cemetery to make preparations before funeral services.
What papers do funeral homes need to make arrangements?
The funeral home you choose will specify the documents and forms they need to start making funeral arrangements. Generally, the copies of papers you may need to collect and bring to the funeral parlor appointment include:
- Original birth certificate
- Social Security Number (SSN)
- Marriage and/or divorce certificate
- Cemetery deed
- Funeral plan or life insurance policy covering funeral expenses
- Military service papers
- Residential address proof
- Recent photos of your loved one
- Funeral prearrangement papers (the documents contain the final wishes of the deceased, such as whether to be cremated or buried)
- Names of surviving relatives
Some documents may not be readily available before the initial meeting for a funeral arrangement. Funeral homes understand this. The funeral director will work with your family to obtain the required documents.
What do funeral homes do to prepare a body?
When the body arrives at the funeral parlor, the staff will explain what happens depending on the disposition options and family wishes. Regardless of the preservation method you opt for, the funeral home staff will first bathe and disinfect the body.
Funeral homes can embalm the body to slow the decomposition if a viewing or wake will be held before burial. The process involves draining blood from the deceased circulatory system through veins. Then, the funeral professionals inject an embalming fluid into the body through the arteries. You can find more information on the embalming process in our Embalming Explained post.
After embalming is complete, the body gets cleaned, and cosmetics are applied. The deceased get dressed in clothes and other accessories you choose for them. Your loved one is then placed into a casket and prepared for visitation or service.
Some cultures and religions prohibit this body preservation method. Also, green cemeteries do not allow embalmed bodies. In this case, families can choose refrigeration. Some states require storing the body in refrigeration units for a specific time before cremation. Learn more about green burial in this post.
Suppose an accident disfigured your loved one. Or maybe they were an organ donor or underwent an autopsy. The funeral home may provide restorative services to prepare the body for open casket viewing or funeral.
Why do funeral homes take fingerprints of the deceased?
Great comfort can be found in keeping things that make us feel closer to a departed family member. Having their fingerprints on jewelry and keepsakes is one way that people have embraced to stay connected with their loved ones.
Funeral homes take and keep the deceased fingerprints on file to help families to create memorial pieces. Interested family members can request the fingerprint impression later and send it to companies making memorial jewelry.
However, fingerprint-taking services are not available in every funeral home. Most funeral parlors will collect the fingerprints only upon request. You will want to find out if your chosen funeral home takes fingerprints.
How do funeral homes cremate bodies?
When the body arrives at the cremation facility, the crematory staff will offer a cremation container to place it. But you can choose a casket as the cremation container.
The container or casket is placed in a cremation chamber or retort and exposed to extremely high temperatures between 1400 to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.
The crematory facility can use natural gas, propane, oil, etc. to burn down the container. Cremating the body usually takes about 1-3 hours. Remains are collected in a tray.
However, these remains contain foreign and non-consumed objects like dental surgical screws and nails from the casket. The crematorium will remove these objects.
Using a pulverization machine, the facility will grind the skeletal and bone fragments to achieve a fine texture. On average, the ashes can weigh 3-7 pounds. The contents are placed in a chosen container or urn and delivered to a family representative. Take a look at our What is an Urn post for more information.
How long does an autopsy take before funeral?
If you want an autopsy report for your loved one, it is best to schedule a post-mortem examination within 24 to 48 hours of death before organs start deteriorating.
Ideally, an autopsy should happen before embalming, as the body preservation method can affect blood cultures and toxicology.
From the time the deceased gets admitted to a funeral home or other autopsy facility, it takes about 24 to 48 hours to receive the preliminary report.
But the actual autopsy takes 2-4 hours to complete. Your family may have to wait up to six weeks for the full autopsy report.
How long does it take to set up a funeral?
There is no specific timeline for setting up a funeral. The planning process depends on several factors. This includes the local disposition requirements, the complexity of the funeral, obtaining paperwork, gathering family members, and choosing a place for holding the service.
In some cases, an investigation may delay funeral arrangements. That’s if the deceased died under unclear or suspicious circumstances. Generally, making funeral arrangements can take a few days to a week or two, or even more.
How long does it take for a funeral after death?
In the U.S., most families bury their deceased loved ones within 1 to 3 weeks after the date of death. Cremation can occur before or after a funeral service. If cremation happens earlier, the family can wait as long as they want to hold the funeral or memorial service. However, most are done within a month.
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