Meeting the family

In the earliest stages of coming to terms with a death, families are looking to plan a funeral that remembers the unique life of the person who died. It’s also a time for grief, for saying goodbye, and finding comfort and hope. The research gave valuable insights about balancing these needs in a Church of England funeral.

Families want funerals to celebrate the life of someone they knew and loved and need to include personal touches that acknowledge a unique life. But in a time of shock and distress, families also need space to express their own grief, something that may get overlooked. Good communication between the church and the Funeral Director is crucial at this stage to help with balancing these needs. As soon as possible after speaking to the Funeral Director, the minister who is going to take the funeral will make contact with the family, and usually arrange a visit.

On the phone

  • A phone call soon after the death, which comes with sympathy, understanding and assurance that the church will be for them at every step, will make the family feel cared for and reassured.
  • Check names at this point and if choices have already been made through the Funeral Director, affirm them.
  • Explain the purpose of coming to see them and ask when the most convenient time is for visiting.

At the visit
This is the opportunity to:

  • Offer personal sympathies again.
  • Listen. Talking about the circumstances of the death is often therapeutic for the family – listen to the story of what happened if they seem to want to talk about it.
  • Show care and interest in the unique life of the person who died. Always refer to the person who died by their name, never ‘the deceased’ or ‘your loved one’, as this comes across as impersonal. Ask if they were known by a nickname or abbreviated name, and whether it would be appropriate to use it at the funeral.
  • Talk through the service, helping them to make choices as appropriate. Many families will make traditional choices, but be as flexible as you can. Explain what a funeral is for – to say goodbye, to give thanks, to commend someone into God’s care. Helping the family feel they have contributed to the service is really key.
  • Affirm their choices – whether about coffins, location, flowers music and/or hymns. This all helps to make the service reflect the unique person whom God loved and created.
  • Talk about the eulogy and/or talk – telling their story, telling God’s story, offering help with choosing Bible readings as well as others, as appropriate.
  • Learn about the person who died. If a family member wants to do the eulogy, still gather an outline of the person’s life and interests so that links can be made which make the service very personal in the prayers and at other times. Hobbies, interests, personality quirks, anecdotes, things that were important to them, will all help.
  • Tell the family about the funeral pages on the Church of England website to help them with making choices about the service if they need it. It also offers information about attending a funeral, so the family may wish to know let others know about the website too. The website also offers a way to pray at home with a virtual ‘Light a candle’ tool. It’s possible to share the virtual lit candle with others on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Share practical insights and information, perhaps about what others have done.
  • Tell the family their church is praying for them
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    Offer to pray with them and leave a prayer card. Read more about the significance of this.