In this week’s episode I thought it would be helpful to talk candidly about a few of the things I learned from planning a memorial service for my own son. This podcast is a bit different than the others and I wrote it as a list of the 5 specific things I would tell a newly grieving mother who is faced with planning her baby’s funeral. I share a few things I would have done differently, a few reminders of truth and hopefully lots of helpful information should you or a friend or a family member ever walk this road.
COMPLETE LIST OF FUNERAL PLANNING RESOURCES
A mother never anticipates having to plan her child’s funeral or memorial service. Nor should she. It’s tragic.
While I thoughtfully planned my wedding and my future home and my baby’s nursery, I never once gave thought to how I would want to remember my son’s life should he die. And yet when it happened, it became necessary for me to make a dozen decisions about something I would look back on forever, at a moment’s notice all while trying to fully grasp that my son was gone.
I remember sitting at a shiny lacquered wood table in a dark basement of a funeral home, not daring to make eye contact with the funeral director. “This cannot be my reality.” I thought. And maybe if I ignored the man chattering callously away about caskets and pall bearers this moment would just disappear. However, no matter how many decisions I refused to make in the end they had to be made, by either myself or someone else.
Looking back I wish someone had come along who had stood where I was standing and helped me walk through all of those decisions; helped me understand how much that service, that last moment in time with my son, would mean to me.
I would love to be that person for you. Someone to help you think through a few of the decisions you will face, someone to provide a few ideas to help make this moment meaningful and intentional.
Below I have worked through the 5 specific things I would tell I would tell a newly grieving mother who is faced with planning her baby’s funeral. Click on each button to see the information under each.
My first bit of advice is Take your time. There is no rush. Traditionally funerals happen very quickly, in a matter of a few days so when my son died I assumed it had to be that way. However, there is actually no set time requirement — so take a minute to grieve and think and let a bit of the shock wear off before you (or your family) jump into planning those details.
When my son died I was so afraid I would fall apart, that if I thought too long about the decisions that needed to be made, that it would somehow magnify the pain. The truth is, your heart is going to hurt whether you rush the process or not — getting the funeral arrangements over quickly will not help you heal more quickly. So instead of trying to rush the process, take your time. Do your best to think intentionally about the decisions that need to be made — not because you have to but because you get to, as the mother of your baby.
Those around you may try to rush the process as well, not because they don’t care but because they do. They too are most likely trying to lessen your pain, helping you move on. Encourage them that you just need a little more time, not that you’re in denial about what has happened or what needs to happen next but that you just need a minute to grieve. Remind them that you want to celebrate your baby well and that to do so, you want to take your time, not rushing through the process.
It is so important to know your options and what decisions you will need to make. However, because very few of us have ever planned a funeral we come into this experience vastly unprepared, not knowing what needs to happen, what options are available to us, or what decisions we will need to make.
While this specific podcast episode and blog post is not meant to cover all of your options or even the legalities and logistics surrounding those options, I wanted to provide a few things you will need to think through so you can begin to have an idea of what lays ahead.
- Funeral Director. The first thing you will need to do is find a funeral director. This is the person who will lead you with funeral planning process and in my opinion the person who has the power to really make this moment a special, joy-filled one; if they are kind, empathetic, knowledgeable and helpful. If you aren’t quite sure where to start in finding a funeral director to work with, see if there is a support group for baby loss in your area and ask them for funeral home recommendations.
Your funeral director will then lead you through making all the necessary decisions. In case you’re like me and like to walk into a situation as prepared as possible I wanted to give you a few of the additional options that you will need to consider in regards to a funeral or memorial service; I present these to you not as a funeral planning expert but simply as a mama who has done this before. I simply wanted to give you a brief idea of the decisions that lay ahead, in the hopes that you might have a chance to think about what you want as well as discuss these difficult questions with your closest family and friends.
Remember don’t feel rushed to make any decision and if you’re unsure about something feel the freedom to ask as many questions as you need to to the funeral director.
Additional options that you will need to consider in regards to a funeral or memorial service:
- Will you want to have your baby buried or cremated?
- Depending on the answer to that question you will need to choose a casket or an urn, there are options specific to infant loss that could be really beautiful and meaningful to you.
- You’ll need to think through what kind of service would you like and where you would like it to be held? In a church, by the graveside, on a private property or other significant place such as your favorite park?
- Do you want a private ceremony with a small group of family and friends present or one that is open to the public
- Do you want to hold a viewing of your baby or a visitation? A “Viewing” is when your baby’s body is present in an open-casket while a Visitation your baby’s body may be present in a closed casket or not a at all.
- Will you send out a funeral announcement?
- Will you have a Church Minister or Funeral director officiate the service?
- Will you want your baby and the tiny casket present or not present at the service?
- What do you want to happen during the service?
- What do you want to happen after the service?
There are a few additional considerations specifically for before the service:
- Would you like to see your baby privately one last time?
- Would you like to dress your baby in something special?
- In podcast episode #6 Lindsay Ostrom talked about how special it was to get her son Afton ready for his funeral service. That it felt right, like something a mother should do for her son.
- Is there anything you would like placed with your baby? A toy, a book, a blanket, a letter or something that holds significance with your baby?
Making decisions about some of those options will be really difficult and painful as the reality hits that these decisions being made are about your baby. I have the most distinct memory of sitting in the funeral home, not being able to look the funeral director in the eye, digging my fingernail into the enormous dark mahogany table where we were sitting, trying to mentally escape from that moment. I just couldn’t believe this was my reality. I was vastly unprepared and to this day I have no idea what was said at that meeting or why I thought digging my fingernail into a fancy table would be helpful. I just didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want this reality. But ignoring it and not being proactive about the ways we wanted to celebrate our son’s life doesn’t change the reality.
Pretending these decisions don’t need to be made doesn’t change the reality that if I don’t make them someone will have to — and if someone else does it may not be what I would have done.
I don’t remember much from that meeting with the funeral director but I do remember a really poorly designed pamphlet outlining a few options with lots of words in tiny print and in hindsight I think a simple checklist would have been more helpful — something I could have worked through, one thing at a time instead of having to process through it all at once.
If you happen to read this blog post or hear this podcast while planning a funeral or memorial service, I’ve created a simple checklist that you can download and print to walk through each of the decisions that need to be made. It’s not an exhaustive list but it will at least help you get started. You can download that free resource by simply clicking the button below.
FUNERAL PLANNING GUIDE
More importantly than even answering those questions and making decisions about all the options presented to you is this: ask questions. There’s just so much you likely will not know, so ask. Ask for help thinking through your options. Ask for help thinking through ways to make it special. Even asking the question “what have other mothers done in situations like this” to the funeral director may be really helpful as you hear what’s possible.
The third thing I learned from my son’s memorial that I wanted to share with you, is how important it is to be intentional & make it personal. I know it hurts. I know you so badly want to pretend this isn’t your reality. And because of that you may want to defer all the planning. Or maybe you feel bad for suddenly interrupting everyone’s life and becoming a burden to the people you love so much, so in an attempt to make their life easier you say yes to all their ideas and plans.
But this is your reality. And in a few months or years you will look back and want to remember a funeral or memorial or graveside service that celebrated your baby. So, ask God for the grace to think deeply about what you and your spouse want. And do your best to not worry what others think of you.
This is your baby. No one knows better than you how to best celebrate that precious life.
And I want you to know this too, your friends and family members don’t see you as an inconvenience or a burden. Their hearts are breaking too and they’re just doing anything and everything they can to help carry the pain. So let them. Ask them to take care of things you just can’t. Ask questions about what the possibilities are and what decisions need to be made. Then take some time to think about what you want and then ask your friends and family to take care of making it happen. They will be grateful for an opportunity to tangibly help you.
WAYS TO MAKE THE FUNERAL OR MEMORIAL PERSONAL & UNIQUE.
Start by asking what reminds me most of my baby? What were his or her favorite things? Did she have a favorite book? Did he have a favorite blanky? Was there a song that she kicked to the most when she was still in your tummy? These are hard questions to ask especially depending on the length of their life — but I am sure no matter how long you had your precious baby there are specific things that remind you of him or her, so start there.
- HAVE A COLOR THEME
- You could choose a color and ask everyone to wear it. Or have dozens of balloons in that color. And while i know this isn’t a birthday party or a celebration of that kind, having a thematic color instantly transforms the experience into one that is unique to your baby. And it does so in a way that makes it feel more child-like, different than a normal funeral. It could be a color that you decorated your baby’s room with. Or the color of their blanket. Or the color you think of when you think of your baby. This is a simple way to make the service instantly personalized and unique.
- PAPER GOODS
- Use custom paper goods throughout the service. Custom paper goods like a big welcome sign with your baby’s photo or footprints as people are walking in. A custom guest book or memory cards for people to jot down their favorite memory of your baby or prayer cards for people to jot down a prayer or their favorite bible verse to encourage you later. A program with letters from you and dad and pictures of your baby along with the order of the service could be special too. Your funeral home will most likely have paper goods they can offer you or you could have a friend design the items or you can go to shop.themorning.com and purchase customizable templates for all that I mentioned and more. Templates from our shop are instant downloads so there’s no waiting and they are easily customized in Microsoft Word.
- Customized paper goods such as funeral announcements, programs, guest books, and memory cards are not only functional as a way to communicate to those attending but they also become a precious keepsake in memory of your baby.
- Shop Memorial Paper Goods here
- Welcome Sign
- Footprints & Handprints
- Memorial Display: Have a table set up with photos and footprints and toys and blankies and favorite things that remind you of your baby and tell of his or her life to those attending.
- For Decor Inspiration: Balloons | Florals | Memorial Displays
- KEEPSAKES & FAVORS
- SERVICE ITSELF
- Plan the order of the service with intentionality, asking yourself what do you want to happen during the service that would most celebrate and honor and treasure your baby’s life?
- For example, you could have a friend or family member read your favorite, or if your baby had a favorite, baby book.
- You could ask a few close friends or family members to write a letter and read it at the service. Or you could write a letter and read it at the service. I realize that seems like an impossible feat, but I promise you are stronger than you think. And besides, its ok if you fall apart.
- When thinking through the service details, make sure to include your favorite songs during the service. Songs that mean something to you, or your favorite baby lullaby.
- Communicate with the pastor or funeral director who is officiating the service if there’s a specific text from the bible you would want them to work from.
- Make a slideshow with all the photos of your baby and show it at the service.
- Think through who you would like to be pallbearers.
- If you have other children, you can also think about if you want them involved in the service and if so, how you would want them involved. Make sure to include them in those conversations beforehand and don’t force them to do anything they don’t want to.
Friend, you’re going to want to wear something nice. And getting dressed for your baby’s funeral is going to be really really hard. So, ask someone to help you. Ask someone to take you shopping. (And remember, your body just grew a baby. Try so hard to not add to your hurting heart by body shaming yourself right now. But I understand. It’s hard not to be frustrated that your body says one thing but your empty arms say another.)
Ask a friend come over and help you do your hair and makeup. If you’re up for it go to the salon. Get your nails done. It may provide momentary relief. But also know that any kind of normal activity may make you feel strange feelings, especially this soon after losing your baby — like it’s wrong to laugh or wrong to get dressed or do your makeup or get your nails done. Feel the feelings but then speak truth to yourself. It’s ok to feel joy or to laugh or to even enjoy something fun — that doesn’t mean you love your baby any less, it doesn’t mean you are no longer grieving. There will be plenty of moments in the future when even getting out of bed will be a success so do your best to not feel guilty when you aren’t so sad.
And this is probably obvious but waterproof mascara is going to be your friend for awhile.
You may be judging me for caring about what I wore to my son’s funeral and that’s fine. I’m just telling you from my experience I wish there had been a little more planning and intentionality into that outfit choice. I mean, I do far more planning and preparing for far less important moments in life and I just wish I had bought a new special dress for that day.
My last thought dear friend, is to have someone take photos and video. It may be a long, long time before you look at those, if ever, but one day you might want to remember all those special details you planned. And the pretty new dress you wore. And how handsome and brave and strong your husband looked while reading the letter he wrote to your baby boy. And all the friends and family who came to mourn death and celebrate life with you.
So ask a friend to take photos and another friend to take video or you could hire one as well, I promise you will not regret that decision.
Friend, there will never be a perfect memorial service — there will be decisions you wish you had made differently or things that just don’t go as planned. That’s ok. My hope is not that you have a perfect service but more-so that you find the strength to think through the details in order to celebrate your baby’s life in a way that is meaningful to you and your family. A way that brings much joy to those difficult days ahead as you remember how you celebrated your baby.
COMPLETE LIST OF FUNERAL PLANNING RESOURCES