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The loss of a life close to you is a painful, emotional experience that requires time to grieve, accept and heal. So, if you are tasked with planning their funeral, it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed. Neil Ferguson, Director of Flaura Funerals in Somerset West, and Ken Swanson of Tygerberg Funeral Directors provide insight to guide you in the process.

At the time of death

The first step depends largely on the circumstances surrounding the death. If a loved one passes away at home, Neil advises there's no need to rush to call a funeral home, and in fact, it's common for loved ones to remain in the home for up to 24 hours, if the family wishes. ‘My advice is to take as much time as you need to come to terms with the loss and only when you are ready do you call the undertaker. This time is your opportunity to bid farewell to your loved one in peaceful surroundings.’

Natural causes at home

  • Call the undertaker - they will take the deceased to a mortuary.
  • A doctor will complete a Notice of Death there.
  • Should you have a doctor who was treating your loved one (and gave you permission to call them in the event of their death), you can ask them to come and confirm the death.

Unnatural causes

  • Contact the police. In this case, the deceased would have to be taken to the state mortuary.

The paperwork

The undertaker, says Ken, handles all of this, as well as advising on the various options available for the funeral.

  • The Notice of Death, filled out by the doctor who confirmed the death, has to be signed by you as well as the undertaker.
  • This document is required for Home Affairs to issue a death certificate.
  • You also need to produce the deceased’s ID as well as your own.

Working out a budget

Depending on what you want for the funeral, Ken says the average costs range from R10 000 to R25 000, although they can be much more when on a larger scale and requiring additional equipment such as marquees, busses and more.

  • Many funeral directors ask for money upfront. Make arrangements to have any existing funeral policies paid out.
  • Close friends and family members may also wish to contribute to the funeral. Provide details for a single account to manage all payments.
  • Funeral homes usually offer packages to suit different budgets, but they can tailor to service to your specific needs.

The funeral

If possible, Neil suggests asking the dying person what their wishes are. ‘In the majority of natural deaths, there is time to have this difficult but very necessary discussion,’ he says.

Among the decisions, Ken advises that you need to establish the following:

  • When will the funeral happen? Depending on your culture or religion, you might want to allow time for family to travel from afar.
  • Will it be a cremation or burial?
  • Where will the service be held?
  • Will it be a memorial or will a coffin/ashes be present?
  • What will the deceased be dressed in and will there be a viewing?
  • Who will officiate?
  • Will there be hymns or other music?

The finishing touches

  • Choose a casket or urn.
  • Find a picture of the person and compile a funeral programme.
  • Select a flower arrangement.
  • Notify family and friends of the service.
  • Food is an important consideration and will depend largely on the family’s culture. Arrange catering or ask friends and family for their help or contribution. 

Keep in mind

  • Ken says if your friend or family member is suffering from a terminal illness, talk to their doctor and get in touch with an undertaker before their passing so that many of the arrangements can be made beforehand (and with their input if possible).
  • Neil suggests that families consider before, at or very shortly after the time of death, whether their loved one wanted their organs donated as there is only a limited window of opportunity to harvest organs after death. The undertaker must be informed as soon as possible.
  • Neil also advises that you should feel comfortable to ask for a quote from the undertaker before the deceased is removed as prices can vary. He adds that you choose a funeral director you feel comfortable with.

Funerals can be costly; for peace of mind, invest in funeral cover. From just R99 per month, Vodacom’s Family Funeral Cover provides for up to 22 family members on one policy and includes funeral assist benefits.  Vodacom Siyakha subscribers receive free funeral cover up to R10 000. 

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