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When someone dies in a local ward many families turn to the bishop and or Relief Society president for direction and organization. In this episode I interview Greg Ballard, who is a former bishop and has had 20+ years of experience as a funeral director in Salt Lake City, Utah. We discuss some best practices of conducting and facilitating funerals.
To get the most out of what Greg Ballard discusses it is recommended that you listen to the attached episode in its entirety, but here is a brief summary of the big take-aways:
1. Read the handbook
This should come as no surprise to any leader. The handbook discusses simple policies that will help guide a leader to have a successful funeral program and one that is in harmony with the spirit of the gospel. This information can be found in the official Church Handbook, section 38.
2. Create a Funeral Committee
The bishop or Relief Society president should not attempt to plan and organize the funeral proceedings by themselves. The funeral experience creates high emotions for the family of the decedent and the funeral experience should be a positive experience for them. Any sign of disorganization or mismanagement can cause frustration with the family.
Having a funeral committee of ward members that can help plan the program, prepare the building, assist in dressing the decedent (if needed), and organize the family luncheon. Because theft of the family home is common since funeral details are often published in local newspapers, it is a good idea to have members of the funeral committee monitor the family home so that the home doesn’t remain empty and vulnerable to theft.
Funeral committees are not only for wards with a higher level of funerals. Any ward could assign individuals to a funeral committee that are trained and ready to help when a ward member passes away.
3. Be ready to recommend a funeral home to the family
Many families will not have prearrangements in place for their recently deceased loved one. They most likely will look to the bishop for suggestions and recommendations of a funeral home to use. The bishop or Relief Society president might find it helpful to get familiar with the local funeral homes in the area so that they can confidently suggest one for the family to consider. The leader can assure the family that any funeral home is ready to take their loved one into their care 24-hour a day. They are just a phone call away, ready to serve.
4. Be prepared to educate non-LDS funeral directors
LDS leaders living in Utah have the luxury of dealing with funeral directors that most likely have an LDS background or are at least familiar with LDS customs. These funeral directors will easily guide certain details while respecting the customs of LDS funerals. However, if you live in an area where the funeral director is not familiar with LDS customs, it would be nice to have the local bishop or Relief Society president make sure the funeral director is educated on these customs and offer help where needed.
5. It’s not required that the family dress the decedent
Some family members might feel obligated to dress the decedent. It is not required that family members dress the body. If the decedent was temple endowed and the funeral home is not familiar with the dressing, this is another area where the ward funeral committee can be helpful.
6. Be ready to conduct a funeral with cremated remains
When I served as a bishop, a member of my ward passed away and was cremated. At the funeral I found myself a little unprepared with certain details, like how the urn would be displayed during the services. Thankfully the family was patient with me as I discussed with them how they felt most comfortable with displaying the urn. They ended up not even bringing the urn to the chapel.
A funeral with cremated remains presents new questions to consider before the funeral. It is one more thing to discuss with the family that will lead to a memorable funeral.
7. Set expectations with the family before they meet with the funeral director
Setting expectation with family members of the decedent is key during the entire process of funeral planning. The sooner the bishop can set expectation with the family the least likely it will be that the family will experience disappointment. By setting general expectation with the family before they meet with the funeral director will avoid issues and result in a funeral that is withing the policies of the Church Handbooks.
8. Look for alternatives if you disapprove with program details
It’s going to happen. There will be a moment when the bishop, as the presiding authority, disagrees with a detail on the program. It might be tempting to tell the family no and move on even if they are hurt by the bishop’s direction. However, before you say no, look for alternatives to their requests. For example, if the family really wants to have a medley of Beatles music played during the funeral service, maybe suggest this happen during the family luncheon.
9. Review welfare principles if fast offering funds are needed to pay for funeral services
Some families are not prepared financially to pay for a funeral. Fast offering funds are an option for paying for a funeral. Just like any Church welfare request, be ready to apply welfare principles that safe guard the use of these sacred funds while also respecting the wishing of the family. In this case it might be best for the bishop to work directly with the funeral director on the details of what is being paid. This is another place to seek for alternatives to keep the families happy.
10. Anticipate strained family relationships
Funerals are a wonderful time for family members to get together, but that doesn’t mean everyone likes each other. It might be beneficial for the leader to get familiar with who is coming to the funeral and ask if there are any members of the family that might try to cause trouble because of past disputes. Most likely not, but again, the presiding authority should anticipate anything that could cause a negative funeral experience.
11. Be ready to give closing remarks
It’s very common for the presiding authority to offer closing remarks. Even though the presiding authority gets the final call of who is on the program, it is a nice gesture to ask permission from the family to give closing remarks.
A few resources written by apostles to help you prepare closing remarks are:
The Gateway We Call Death, By Russell M. Nelson
Suicide: Some Things We Know, and Some We Do Not, By M. Russell Ballard
What is this list missing? I am sure many leaders reading this have additional tips that would help other leaders during the funeral planning process. Please share your tips in the comments below.
The list seems pretty comprehensive. Some thoughts from my experience so far…
1) Show up early to the funeral. It’s nice to be there at least 30-45 minutes before the funeral. This helps the family and funeral director be at ease that the Bishop has shown.
2) Be sociable. Get out of your shell and make sure you introduce yourself to as many of the family members as possible. The family will appreciate will generally appreciate this.
3) If you didn’t know the ward member who passed away very well do your homework on a few things about them. Even if you weren’t great friends with the member that passed the family will appreciate that you took the time to get to know their deceased family member which can sometimes be incorporated in your closing remarks.
Love these points Jay D. Also i would add the below
Being a non SLC member in one thing that we need to keep in mind is the the diverse backgrounds of the family. 1) Culturally, 2) Faith wise, 3) Emotional. These elements really play into the sweet spirit of the services For eg. Many cultures have elaborate rituals or events associated the someones passing and understanding that though not strictly catered for in the handbook, consultation (local and heavenly) and sensitivity to the family plans are important.
Understand and seek information for how to assist families with live streaming and be familiar with church policies. This has become one of the biggest hot topics of funerals and family services.
For family services, (a common service for many cultures but NOT A GIVEN) is exactly that. A service by and for the family and will many times be conducted by the family. This may mean you will need to work closely with the person conducting to help prepare for that meeting, as the Bishop still conducts
The EQ and RS are key but do not OVER burden them as well. Funerals are sad moments and VERY important for in the grieving process and sadly the services and planning for them have to happen in very short amounts of time. Work with the Ward council but do not over burden the ward and the Presidents or the ward.
One important note. In giving council and comfort to family members of the deceased, it is very important that “ALL” leaders “DO NOT” give preference to one funeral home over another. Such as using the most prominent funeral home over another. Also advise the family to “DO NOT” purchase any funeral items such as grave markers during the arrangement conference. Funeral directors often will take advantage of emotion to up sell on not only caskets but headstones as well. They can save hundreds of dollars by waiting and shopping around on headstone especially.
I am a funeral professional in the UK and I have to say I’m not a fan of all of these tips. Firstly, I cannot convey how much I would hate for Bishop to assign a committee to save me from the “burden” of planning my loved one’s funeral. The writer is correct that “the bishop or Relief Society president should not attempt to plan and organize the funeral proceedings by themselves,” but neither should some committee. Planning a funeral is a privilege and a deeply personal act. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE should take a backseat to the close family in funeral planning. Be ready to help but at the invitation of the next of kin.
And I can’t believe I have say this but any meeting the Bishop has with the bereaved before they have met with the funeral director is to *minister*, not to “manage expectations.” A Bishop with the latter approach might not be warmly received and that would be very understandable. Yes the Bishop may preside over meetings in his chapel but in the event of a funeral I would hope he would wear that mantle lightly. He has final say over the program but he should have a VERY good reason for excluding anything or anyone the family request, and should certainly not include anything the family haven’t authorised. Everything about the service should receive approval from the family.
This episode is very helpful for new leaders who have not dealt with a death and funeral before in a leadership position. I would like to add a few comments.
1) Outside of the predominately LDS areas in the western US, it can be more difficult to find a funeral director who is familiar with LDS funerals. Ask around in your area for funeral homes that endowed members have dealt with and had a good experience.
2) Even when members are dressing the body, I have found that the funeral director may be able to offer helpful assistance on things like how to put a shirt on the body. For men, make sure you have a clip on tie.
3) Plan ahead! People may want to make their wishes known ahead of time. I am 51, but a few years ago I sent an email to some family members with some preferences for my funeral arrangements. I hope they don’t have to use that information for a long time. Some elderly people that I know have even given away some items that they wanted to go to specific family members before they passed away. This was especially nice with things that have sentimental value as they were able to explain why they wanted the recipient to have that item and share that experience.
Thank you for sharing this additional insight. Very helpful.
In the past I worked for a funeral home and have been in nursing for some years now. I have had the opportunity to counsel with families in both of these areas. People in the wards and stakes that have this experience can be very helpful and help relieve stresses for the family and the bishop. Many of the people in the medical field have had to experience these events and could be most helpful. Thank you for sharing. I enjoyed everything that was shared.
Great comment! Thank you!
As a brand new bishop of 3 months and have very little experience with the ancillary events of a ward (i.e. funerals, weddings, etc), I found this to be extremely helpful. Thank you Leading Saints for the post, and thank you to all those who took time to comment to add to the content!
As my father grew older and it became more evident that his passing would happen sooner than later, we asked him what he would like his funeral to include. He refused to contribute any ideas. He would tell us often that the funeral was not for him, it might be about him but it was not for him. He strongly believed that his funeral was for his family who was left. It was their opportunity to grieve/mourn his passing. As He passed-away, we family members planned his funeral and it was easier to use the opportunity to grieve in a more personal way.
Seems there is an expectation that the ward pays for the luncheon. Is this true or just a tradition? Seems unusual that the family not participate in funding the luncheon.
After offering to the family, I have often gone to the funeral home, as Relief Society president, to speak with the director about our custom of clothing the body, carefully explaining temple clothes and the process of a small team of sisters to come dress the body. Often they offer assistance if needed, in maneuvering the body and a quiet private area to do so. They are always respectful.
We live where <1% of our state are members.