When someone we love dies, it’s hard to see through the pain surrounding us to know who to call, and what we need to do.

“I’ve never done this before. I don’t really know what to do.”

This is the confused, often tearful call we hear all the time. And that’s OK. Looking after making the final arrangements for someone we love isn’t something we want anyone to have to do, but when you do, there are a lot of people there to support you when you need it.

As funeral directors, we have done this before, and we do know what to do. We know that it’s harder to contemplate this when it is someone close to you and we want to do everything we can to make it easier.

There are some things you will need to do, and I want to make it a bit more clear here what you have to do, what you can choose to do, and what you can leave until you are ready.

Firstly, you will have to choose a funeral home. I know it’s hard to think about phoning around, getting quotes, and figuring things out, but the most important thing is to feel comfortable with the people, company and funeral home you are dealing with. You are entrusting them with the care of your loved one and they should respect and honour this when they are talking to and meeting with you.

Sometimes you’re loved one will have already pre-arranged their funeral with a certain funeral director and that will help with this decision.

While it’s hard to think about the money, let’s be honest, your loved one would not have wanted you to be financially strapped to give them a funeral you can’t afford. Nor do we as a funeral director want to be chasing you for payment of your account – that makes all of us feel awful.

So when you are talking to a funeral director, they should be nice to you, and try to figure out in their discussion with you what you want and what your budget is. Not an easy ask when you are already in a emotionally raw way, but we’ll do our best.

What we will do, is absolutely everything we can to lighten your load. We’ll liaise with hospitals, doctors, and coroners. Basically whoever we need to speak to in order to get your loved one cared for appropriately, that’s who we’ll talk to.

We’ll complete all the paperwork we can for the cremation or burial, the registration of the death, and we’ll even do as much as we can to help you with celebrants or clergy to conduct the service, memorial cards, photo tributes, the works.

You can choose what sort of farewell you want. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to do things a certain way. While there may be religious and cultural requirements, and you should talk to your priest or cultural leader about this. But if you want something small and private, or a large and boisterous farewell, it’s your choice.

What we as the funeral home can’t do is let everyone know. This is often the hardest job. How do you tell your siblings that mum has passed away? Obviously there will be people you will have to tell yourself. It might be best to make a quick list to put them in order of priority. You’ll probably need to take a break between telling people. That’s okay. You need to look after yourself too. Once you have told a couple of people, you might be able to get them to call others. Do what you can to lighten the load. As they say, a burden shared is a burden halved.

After the funeral service, whatever type you have, is often the hardest. What do I do now? While there are lots of practical things that will need to be done, and I’ll talk about some of that in another post, there will be varying degrees of urgency to those things. With regards to your loved one, I always encourage a family to take their time to do what is right for you.

If you’ve opted for cremation, what do you do with the ashes? Unless you know already from discussions with your loved one what they wanted to happen, there is no harm in waiting. Wait until the right time to scatter, wait until the right time to have the ashes interred in a memorial site, wait until you see the perfect urn to place the ashes in. You will know when the time is right.

For those of you who have chosen burial, again there is no rush to arrange anything with the gravesite until you are ready. Whether you have a full monumental headstone erected, or just a simple plaque, these things can take time to make, so you won’t have them on the grave the week after the funeral anyway. Make sure the words are right, decide if you want a picture, monuments are even more involved, and you are spending a lot of money on these. Make sure it’s right, when you are ready to. You can still visit the grave and put some flowers there until you do.

So while there are things to do right away, don’t fee that you have to do it all right now. Take the time you need when you need to, to grieve, to feel regret, anger, sadness, even happiness.

In the end, you’ve taken your first steps on a journey none of us want to take when someone we love dies. And while it’s important to keep taking those steps, there’s nothing that says how long your journey will take or whether you will get to different parts of your journey at the same time as others you know. Each day, each hour, sometimes even each minute, is another step along the path.

The most important thing to remember is that you aren’t doing it on your own.  There will be others to help you at every step along the way. It won’t always be the same person, you won’t always even know they are there, but they are there all the same.

And if you know someone on this journey, don’t think that they are already through it just because they look okay. Be that silent support, even if you don’t know that they need it. Because we all need someone sometimes.