‘The Art of a Funeral’ – The Planning Process

Coleman Funeral Home of Oxford hosted the third session – “The Planning Process” – of its series, “The Art of a Funeral,” on Tuesday, August 15.

The first two sessions, held in June and July respectively, discussed the purposes and customs behind funerals and dispelled misconceptions about it.
Glenn Coleman, who owns the company in partnership with Dr. Tom Fowlkes, said the purpose of the series is educate consumers about funeral planning so they can make informed choices that both fulfill their wishes and meet their families’ needs.


Deciding before crisis

“There are two sides to the pre-planning process,” Coleman said. “One side is the financial aspects, and the other is what songs you want, who you want to officiate, what pictures you want to use in the video, and other details of your service.”

Glenn Coleman stressed the value of pre-planning one’s funeral. Choosing between burial or cremation is one of the biggest decisions, and then come details about music, officiants, pallbearers, and more.

“There can be around 125 different decisions when someone dies and no plans have been made ahead of time,” he said. “When I sit down to meet with families and am gathering information for the obituary, the death certificate, etc., lots of times I’m asking for information that surviving family members have no idea about. They wind up having a long list of homework to do on a day that’s already one of the most stressful days in their life. With pre-planning, you can make most decisions and secure most information ahead of time.”

Another value of pre-planning is being able to locate and store vital documents from Social Security cards and insurance policies to marriage licenses and military records.

“I talk to families all the time that say, ‘I know Mom had three insurance policies,’ but they don’t know where the policies are or even which companies they’re with,” Glenn Coleman said. “You can plan pretty much every detail out except the date of the service.”

Planning ahead can free survivors to grieve and support each other instead of stressing over seemingly endless details.

“Even if you don’t pay for a single thing, make sure that the funeral home that you wish to handle your services knows what you want,” he said. “When something happens, the kids are notified, and they come in and finalize the arrangements – dates, times, and logistical issues – and then allow the funeral home to get the word out to everybody through newspaper obituaries, social media, websites. Such a huge burden is lifted from them right then.”


Pre-paid planning

Many folks choose not just to leave instructions for their funeral services but also to pre-pay to eliminate a financial burden on their survivors. In previous times funeral homes usually kept pre-paid monies in trust, but to provide adequate oversight most are handled today as insurance policies or annuities.

“The insurance product is what I recommend people’s putting their funeral payments into,” Glenn Coleman said. “An insurance policy acts just like a life insurance policy. If you take out a policy and die a week later, the company covers your funeral expenses.”

With either an annuity or an insurance policy, one of the biggest advantages is locking in the cost of funeral services.

“If you pre-arrange, the cost is frozen at today’s costs,” he said, adding that Coleman Funeral Home usually offers credits toward urns, monuments or other related purchases for pre-paying in full.


Painless procedure

Glenn Coleman acknowledged that planning one’s own funeral requires facing one’s own mortality – an exercise many people would rather avoid.

“I don’t ask you to dwell on it, but I ask you to think about it long enough to make some decisions,” he said. “You may be a billionaire and your family won’t have any trouble paying for anything, but there are still things you have to decide for yourself.”

Another advantage of pre-planning, he said, is the ability to compare prices and services.

“I encourage you to shop. This is a relatively big purchase for most families,” Coleman said. “We’re one of the only funeral homes in the State of Mississippi that I know of that puts all our pricing on our website. We’re very transparent; we try to make our prices available as many ways as we can.”


Avoid guilt spending

Pre-planning also eliminates the temptation for survivors to assuage their guilt by purchasing more than their loved one might have wanted in their funeral.

“You don’t want your family to go through ‘emotional overspending,’” Glenn Coleman said. “What I see often is when things are not planned ahead. Mom or Dad have been in an extended care facility for 10 years, and the kids have all moved off and haven’t been able to visit as often as they wanted to. Some family members may feel guilt, and they equate that to, ‘The more I spend, the less guilt I’ll feel.’

“As a business owner, I’d like to sell a bronze casket every time, but what I won’t do as a funeral home operator is to play on people’s emotions,” he said. “It is a business, but it is also a ministry and a community platform. It does the family no good when they already struggling to have me throw a $5,000 bill on top of everything else that they can’t pay. What alleviates the need is pre-planning.”


Olive Branch series

Coleman Funeral Home will repeat the entire “The Art of a Funeral” series at its new Olive Branch facility, hosting each with a light lunch buffet included. Session One – “Why Should One Have a Funeral?” – will be Tuesday, August 22, with “Myths vs. Facts” following on Tuesday, Sept. 12 and “The Planning Process” on Thursday, Oct. 5.

Each event is free to the public, but attendees are encouraged to RSVP for each session by noon on the day before by contacting Jeremy Roberts, Director of Operations and Event Services for Coleman Funeral Home, at [email protected] or (662) 893-3900.

Support groups helpful to grieving folks

A support group can be invaluable to folks in the grip of grief. Here are a few available in Oxford currently or soon:


Sponsor: Wright Counseling Group

Location: 224 Old Taylor Road

Time: Thursdays, 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Curriculum: Wright Counseling Group’s custom program (stages of grief; early days of grief; understanding and coping with emotions; self-care while grieving; reflecting on your loved one’s life; coping with anniversaries and holidays; adjusting to a new journey in life)

Entry: Any session

Cost: $35 per session or $200 for all seven weeks

For more information: 662-202-7332 or www.wrightcounselinggroup.com


Sponsor: Camellia Hospice

Location: Brookdale Assisted Living, 100 Azalea Drive (game room on 2nd floor)

Time: Thursdays, 10 a.m.

Curriculum: “Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essentials for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart” by Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D.

Entry: Any session

Cost: No charge

For more information: Rev. Marjorie Buckley, Camellia Hospice, 662-238-7771


Sponsor: Wellspring Community Church (current session ending June 29; new session starting late summer)

Location: 119 County Road 303 (Old Taylor Road)

Time: Thursdays, 6-8 p.m.

Curriculum: GriefShare (video presentations by experts; support group discussion; personal study and reflection)

Entry: Any session

Cost: $20 for materials

For more information: Jennifer Neal, Wellspring Community Church, 601-937-1919

Roberts named Instructor of the Year

Jeremy Roberts was honored May 9 as EDHE 101 Instructor of the Year by the University of Mississippi’s Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience.

Jeremy Roberts was named EDHE 101 Instructor of the Year for 2016-17 at the University of Mississippi. Roberts is also Director of Events Services for Coleman Funeral Home in Oxford and Olive Branch.

Roberts, Director of Event Services at Coleman Funeral Home in Oxford and Olive Branch, is also an adjunct instructor at Ole Miss, where he teaches the course titled “Academic Skills for College.” The course emphasizes time management, note taking, textbook reading, exam preparation, and test-taking strategies as well as providing an orientation to university life.

The award was presented during the year-end meeting of faculty in the Center for Student Success and First-Year Experience and based on student nominations.

Roberts’ nominator wrote, quoting journalist Dan Rather, “‘The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called the truth.’”

The student added, “Mr. Roberts did just that.”

The student said he arrived at Ole Miss having desperately overestimated his abilities – a problem that Roberts helped him overcome.

“The truth is, I was a little lost when I got here, and realized very quickly that I was going to need some help figuring things out to survive my freshman year. Thanks to Mr. Roberts, and his pokes with the sharp stick called the truth, I have such a better understanding of what is expected of me and how I can meet those expectations,” the student wrote. “Thank you, Mr. Roberts, for being an exceptional teacher. Thank you for your kindness and the compassion that you bring to the classroom, and thank you for giving me confidence.”

Coleman Funeral Home co-owner Glenn Coleman said those same qualities are evident in Roberts’ work with grieving families planning a visitation or funeral as well as with community leaders planning meetings, conferences or other events at one of the Coleman Funeral Home locations.

“We’re elated that Jeremy has earned such an honor, but we’re definitely not surprised,” Coleman said. “Kindness, compassion, and the desire to help others in a difficult situation are what motivate his work every day.”

How can I help?

In the immediate aftermath of a death, some bereaved people turn all their energies to “doing what needs to be done.” Others may be in such shock that they can only say, “I don’t know what to do.”

In either case, there’s a world of help that close friends and family members can give. Here are some suggestions, derived both from Nancy Guthrie’s excellent book What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts) and from our own experience with grieving people.

There will be phone calls to make to other family members. There will be the need to hug, hold, and listen.

Children will need to be cared for. Obviously, small children will need someone to watch them, and older kids may need a family friend to stay with them, provide transportation, and cook meals if their parents have to be absent or are overwhelmed. They may also need to be sheltered from certain emotional situations – and yet may need to be helped in processing their own loss.

Your friend may need help with several emotionally charged tasks soon after a death:
• Picking out and delivering clothes for the deceased to be buried in.
• Planning the memorial service (including choosing readings and music, securing clergy or another eulogist, hiring musicians, and selecting and contacting pallbearers).
• Writing the obituary.
• Picking out the casket and/or gravesite.
• Going through photo albums to choose pictures for display at the visitation/funeral or to go in the memorial video.

Other immediate needs may include cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, and stocking bathrooms to accommodate an influx of visitors. Laundry, dry cleaning, and shoe polishing may be necessary to assure family members’ funeral attire is ready.

If family members must travel to a distant funeral, they may welcome help with making airline, hotel, and rental car reservations. If the memorial is being held locally, there may be a need to shuttle out-of-town guests from the airport or even to open a guest room to them.

While it is traditional in many communities to bring food to a bereaved family, organizing delivery of meals (by a church/community bereavement committee or through an online site such as Take Them a Meal) will help cover the needs over a longer period without overloading the family with food that may spoil before it can be used. (See this blog for more detail.)

Many a friend has sincerely urged bereaved friends to “call if you need anything” and been baffled when they never heard back. Guthrie reminds her readers that in the shock that comes with a loved one’s death, friends who take initiative are priceless.

Grieving people, she said, “are not going to call if they need something. They don’t have the clarity or the energy for it. Nobody wants to call and ask someone to come over and wash their dirty clothes or mow their lawn or clean their toilets even though that’s what they really need. Nobody enjoys being needy. To ask someone to help with filing the insurance claims, picking out a gravestone, addressing thank-you notes, or packing away your loved one’s things seems like a big ask, so the grieving person probably won’t. What they really need is for you to figure out what they need and either ask if you can do it with them or for them, or just show up and take care of it.”

NOTE: This blog series is adapted from What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts) by Nancy Guthrie, © 2016. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org

Funeral food: A blessing, within limits

A little coordination among friends can help make “funeral food” a real help instead of one more problem for a grieving family to manage.

It may seem heretical

to say it here in the South, but funeral food – that reflexive response to tragic news – can have a downside.

Especially in small towns and rural communities, taking sliced ham, deviled eggs (“stuffed” eggs in some locales), potato salad, green-bean casseroles, pimiento cheese sandwiches, pecan pie, and the like to the home of a bereaved family is as ingrained as offering words of condolence or signing the guest book at the visitation.

It’s natural to want to help, and chances are that family members and friends will be returning home from far-flung places, providing a houseful of folks to feed for several days.

Besides, funeral food gives rise to the Southerner’s paraphrase of Julius Caesar: “I came. I saw. I cooked.”

Where such beneficence becomes troublesome is when it arrives in such mass that (1) the recipient family must take time away from grieving and visiting to try to manage it all, and (2) food ends up spoiling because it exceeds available capacity of all onsite refrigerators and/or stomachs.

The other downside is that we can forget that grieving goes on long after the funeral, and providing at least occasional meals is one way friends can continue to take burdens off the mourning family.
Churches often head off such problems by having a funeral committee overseeing who’s going to bring what, how much, and when.

Websites like Take Them a Meal can also help coordinate a pantry posse. Take Them A Meal allows one friend to set up a schedule, with input from the grieving family, so any group of friends can bring kitchen-born love on a timetable that makes it most welcome and useful.

The website also allows listing of food allergies and preferences, suggests recipes, and offers insights in its blogs about everything from suitable meal-transport containers to non-bereavement issues such as how to make a hospital stay easier on both patient and family.

Take Them A Meal lets friends see what dishes others bring so no family need burn out from three straight nights of tuna casserole or spaghetti and meatballs. The website suggests recipes, and for those with more money than time or culinary skill, there are tempting send-them-a-meal options.

With a little coordination, the culinary compassion of a neighborhood, church, or social group can give a mourning family whole new insights into the term “comfort food.”

For generations yet to come, we hope it will continue to be a part of helping others grieve well.

Tell us what you think.