Organizing the events after a loss of life

No one likes to think about losing loved ones, but unfortunately it can be a reality. The website has an extremely helpful set of downloadable PDF files that you can print to aid in organizing all of the events after a loved one has passed.

The Death, Dying, and Bereavement Guides include six forms to help plan the events after a death: compare funeral/burial/cremation options, information for writing a eulogy, data needed for an obituary and death notices, and flowers and donations thank you note wording suggestions.

This is one of those times when I hope that you never have to use this information from our website.

16 Comments for “Organizing the events after a loss of life”

  1. posted by Egirl on

    Contrary to your last paragraph, I hope people WILL use the information here because it’s invaluable, and death is inevitable — for everyone. Yes, it’s a difficult topic, but being really organized in this situation will save you. Preserve time and energy — you’ll need plenty of both to deal effectively with all that comes your way as a survivor, including grief.

  2. posted by Anita on

    @Egirl: I think Erin’s point was that she hopes her readers won’t need to organize a funeral/burial/cremation. Death is inevitable, but having to be the one responsible for organizing all of the events after it isn’t.

    But I also hope that, if/when the time comes, people will use this excellent resource.

  3. posted by Catherine Cantieri, Sorted on

    I was thinking that it might not be a bad idea to fill out what forms can be filled out while you’re alive, then put them in a safety deposit box or other fireproof location in a folder called “In the Event of My Death” (or maybe something less Faulkner-ish).

    Maybe I’m being too zealous about planning ahead, but I figure if I can spare my loved ones some work during their bereavement, that’s kind of like my last gift to them.

  4. posted by Peter (a different one) on

    In the spirit of the month, I intend to haunt my friends and family after my demise : )

  5. posted by Carol on

    Excellent information presented here. thank you.
    One comment: Putting papers about funeral wishes into your safe deposit box is not a good idea, as upon your death, your box will not be accessible to anyone else unless they are co-owners.

  6. posted by Lose That Girl on

    When life turns upside down, that’s when you need organizational help the most. I think these guides will be very useful. Thanks for featuring them, Erin.

  7. posted by mibsphil on

    Helpful ideas, yes, but this is a classic case of shutting the barn door after the horse is gone. I just lost my husband in July; for the past several years we have known that his condition was not curable and we spent a lot of time preparing and planning. Do all of this before you need it, because when the time comes you will be in no shape to deal with all this stuff. A few years ago we made appointments and visited three or four funeral homes. We asked questions, got prices, etc. Then my husband chose the one where he felt most comfortable and we went back there and got all the details taken care of. Then we bought a cemetery plot and marker. We had wills, living wills, health care proxies, etc. drawn up. When my husband died, all I needed to do was tell the nurse in the hospital what funeral home to call, and that was it. Believe me, during the initial grief you do not want to be making these kinds of big decisions. Getting all of this done ahead of time gave us an incredible peace of mind. The grief is overwhelming but at least the logistics and details don’t have to be.

  8. posted by Mletta on

    I totally agree with you on this. Our mother was in a hospice for six months, “recovered” to the point of being moved to an ALF and then died five weeks later. On my last visit to see her, about 7 weeks before her passing, she would discuss very little. In the past, however, I had gotten some broadstrokes and the most important details.)

    had I not been “prepared” (You’re never prepared for a death, but you can be prepared for the details.) ahead of time for this possibility, it would have been even more difficult. You are right, in the middle of it, your head is not all there. And you often do not think clearly. Not to mention the “pressure” from well-meaning but stressed friends and family.

    You have no idea how quickly you have to move (In the same breath that the hospice nurse informed me of my mother’s death, she then asked: What funeral home should we call as the body has to be picked up RIGHT NOW? Now was 11 p.m. on Christmas last year. )

    My brother was in Florida (I’m in NYC) but totally unable to deal with anything. I was far away but had planned ahead (I chose a local, family run funeral home that was literally a half-mile from the ALF. They’d been in business for years and were there in a half-hour. FYI: Who knew that a body had to be immediately removed from an ALF? Hospitals at least give you a few hours for the family to come in. Fortunately, my brother was able to get to the ALF and stay with my mother. )

    There are so many things you need to think about in advance, and most important, let people know about. If you don’t, you have no idea how difficult it can be. (Things you would think would be simple, like getting an obit published in a timely fashion; like getting a death certificate, etc. Not so simple. My close friend’s husband died on the same day as our mother, CHristmas, and she didn’t even have his ashes in time for his life celebration in the first week of January! Cremation can, literally, take weeks.)

    If people love their families, they will want to make their passing easier on them by expressing their wishes and by easing the burden of their passing by dealing with issues that should be dealt with in advance.

    And that means details. Our mother wanted to be cremated, for example, but she never said anything about disposition of the ashes (Well, she joked about a bingo parlor, but seriously, we can’t do that). My brother wouldn’t even go to pick them up and he did not want them. They were shipped to me. And I’m still struggeling about where they should go. (Not to mention that my mother was catholic and the church really wants you to bury them in a grave on sacred ground. Hello. We don’t have the money for that.)

    When the time comes, as it will for all of us, our greatest gift is to ease the burdens on all levels for those we love. Talk about any type of service you’d like and what you want. This is especially important because families of all sizes can end up disagreeing about these issues and causing huge rifts and pain at a time when they really need to comfort each other, not fight.

    I live alone and have compiled a “briefing book” for the three friends I have asked to handle the details–it has letters to them about my wishes, my will, living will, power of attorney, healthcare proxy, lists of passwords, and details on where stuff is and a list of all my accounts, passwords, etc. It’s amazing how much information you need to put together on a practical level when you live alone and have no reliable family to depend on (but even they need information, like passwords to access computers,where information is stored; how to pay bills; where things are, etc.)

    It’s amazing how many people don’t do any planning, with the thought that, “oh, well, when I’m gone, let others do whatever.”

    That’s really selfish, IMHO. Why would you want your friends and family, who are in pain, to have to scramble and second-guess and be troubled by not knowing what you wanted (even if they can’t do it exactly)?

    It will be time-consuming enough to empty my apartment and dispose of my stuff–not to mention all the other work (notifying companies of your death; turning off services; having to produce copies of death certificates, accessing financial institutions, etc.). The least I can do is make it easy for those I love to handle this.

    By the way, you should do this NOW because the real issue isn’t your death–it’s if you become temporarily or permanently disabled or unable to communicate your wishes.

    THAT is the worst-case scenario and you seriously don’t want that to happen without having planned ahead.

  9. posted by Beverly D on

    I am a hospice Nurse Practitioner working in an inpatient unit. In these units, as well as ALFs and nursing homes, there are no “morgue” facilities. When someone dies, we have only a few hours before we must get the person to a funeral home where there is a cold room. These are health laws. The nurses in my unit get funeral information at the time of admission, or as close to that as possible, so that when the time comes it’s not a problem. It is a huge relief for families not to have to deal with this at the time of death, and to know that the nursing staff are taking care of these details. But you do have to make the decisions ahead of time, and the more you do up front in terms of funeral planning (or cremation) and completing living will and health care proxy, the better.

  10. posted by dutchmarbel on

    Be aware that these kinds of lists and options are country/culture specific. My B-i-L died almost two weeks ago (quite unexpectedly after only 5 weeks of illness). In the Netherlands you have to bury/cremate someone between 36 hours and 5 days after they died. So we have a rather ‘hurried’ approach and checklists.

    My Brother in Law was English and died in Belgium, in the hospital. My in-Laws didn’t call the undertaker till day three, could spend the first 2 days visiting him in the hospital morgue. Much better than our Dutch system, imho.

    I wanted to send cards, as is the custom in the Netherlands, with the details about the ceremony and such. English people are less inclined to do so, they are more used to calling people and telling them everything they need to know.

    None of these things matter much, but they do have an impact on your preparations and on the to do lists you should follow. I found many differences between the Dutch, the Belgian and the English system that I had never thought about.+

  11. posted by Johanna on

    This is an important post. My husband died suddenly 3 weeks ago. My sister-in-law, God bless her, took care of everything, but didn’t ask ME what we wanted. So, he was almost buried the same day, without notifying his children so that his ex-wife wouldn’t be at the funeral.

    I said DEFINITELY NOT! Not until all his children are here to say goodbye. I didn´t care if the ex was there. Besides, at one time she cared for him, and the children needed their mother. All I can say is that I earned kudos with the kids and their mom for letting them know and be part of the ceremony.

    It’s very important to be clear about what you want. My husband wanted to be cremated… he ended up being buried with his mom and dad. And the worst thing is that my sister-in-law didn’t know my last name(maiden) and put the EX’s name on the death certificate as his widow!

    Here in Mexico correcting mistakes like that are expensive and time consuming, involving lawyers and courts… I can’t apply for pension benefits or such, or inherit property… at least for now. It’s a nightmare. I’m getting all my affairs in order so that no detail is left unanswered. Please do it NOW.

  12. posted by May on

    Erin and team, Please continue to publish information like this. You will help a lot more people than you think. Another stressful topic after the death of a loved one that is related to organizing is how to handle their mementos, clothing and their favorite things. When and how do you get rid of some things and how do you decide what to keep? Could you do a post on that topic, unless it has been covered already?

    My husband died 6 years ago, and the only way I was able to get rid of his clothing was to pack up the house and move to a different state this summer. I donated all of his clothes and my old clothes to charity.

    I expect that my sisters and I will be organizing events after the loss of our parents at some point in the next few years.

  13. posted by Jeri Dansky on

    I totally agree with everyone who says to plan ahead – not just for a death, but also for becoming disabled. There are legal documents to make your wishes known, but there’s so much more – as the commenters have noted.

    For those who want help pulling all this information together, there are a number of fill-in-the-information guides: and are just two of many.

  14. posted by sue kruskopf on

    You may want to check out our free site where you can not only plan your own funeral, but leave letters to loved ones, let them know where your “stuff” is etc…It is truly a gift for your survivors and we developed the site based on our personal experiences.

  15. posted by Cas from Angie's List on

    The Angie’s List Magazine featured estate planning this month to help organize before and after a loss. You can read a few articles on the topic at

  16. posted by Mary on

    Sorry, but I’m unable to find thank you note wording suggestions. Did I miss something? thanks

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