WHAT TO DO WHEN ARRANGING A FUNERAL

Generally speaking there are two types of funeral arrangement interviews. One is when people approach the funeral director if their choice after a death has occurred within the family circle for the purpose of arranging a funeral service for the immediate future. The not so obvious alternative is when people decide to see a funeral director for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not arrangements for a funeral may be undertaken and held in abeyance for a time in the future. The latter situation is often dictated by either a family being aware of a serious illness which might bring about death of a loved one, or sometimes by the fact that some members of a family may have been involved in either participating in or attending a funeral of a deceased relative or close friend. This often brings about an awareness that funeral arrangements may, in fact, be advantageously considered and discussed well ahead of time when the participants are calm and collected and have specific points of view to express.

In the situation however, when arranging a funeral service, the first most important consideration to assess is:-

1. if a death takes place in a hospital or nursing home;

2. if a death is due to unexpected causes such as an accident or a seizure;

3. if a death takes place at home.

Dependent upon the place of death and the manner in which death has taken place, there will be different formalities to be observed and different statutory requirements to be considered.

1. In the event of a death taking place in a hospital, most of the formalities required for the issuing of death and other certificates are normally undertaken by the hospital administration. It is important that the family instruct the hospital that the remains are to be either buried or cremated. In this event the most immediate step for the family is to select a funeral director of its choice and instruct him in detail for the services expected from him.

2. In the event that death was due to unexpected causes or an accident, an authority to issue a permit for the final disposition of the remains has to come from the Coroner. In this event the death will have been reported, through a police station, to the Coroner and the Department of Forensic Medicine would then be required to make certain examinations, normally referred to as Post Mortem examination. The Coroner, having then examined the findings of such an examination, would decide whether or not to issue the required permit. In this event the family will not be given a death certificate (as it is commonly understood when a doctor attends a patient in the normal course of an illness).

There are occasions when the authority of the Coroner is misunderstood by the general public. As an indication of when the Coroner is required to attend to the formalities of a death, it is pointed out that in all cases where -

* death is unexpected.

* death occurs from other than natural causes.

* death is due to an accident.

* death has taken place without there having been any recent consultation with a medical practitioner.

the Coroner has final authority. In these circumstances the deceased's body must not be moved or disturbed in any way without permission of the Coroner or the police.

The original notification to the police or Coroner would have been made either at the time of the accident by interested parties, onlookers, or whoever was involved, or by the doctor or hospital which may have been required to certify the victim dead. In these circumstances a police officer would advise the family of the occurrence and would then require a member of the family to accompany him to a Mortuary where formal identification of the remains will be officially made for the purposes of Coroner identification.

In this context, therefore, the family will be required to advise the funeral director of its wishes in relation to the funeral service, but the arrangements for the funeral will have to be kept in abeyance until such time as the funeral director obtains all the necessary permits and legal clearances from the Coroner. As in all other cases, the family is free to select a funeral director of its own choice even though a 'police' or 'Government' contractor may have been required by the authorities to handle the deceased's remains in the first instance.

3) In the event that the death takes place at home the family's first requirements is to immediately call the doctor. It is strongly suggested that the second call be made to the funeral director so that the family's instructions can be recorded and put into effect and transport the remains from the place of death (the home) to his mortuary for preparation and laying out.

It is often very good practice to next contact the family's church or pastor to advise of the death. For families who have a commitment with a church or pastor this step is a very obvious one. To those who may not have a close commitment then it is suggested that the funeral director be asked to make the contact for them. In this way it is often found that the funeral service conducted by a clergyman or lay preacher who has had the opportunity to discuss family matters relating to the deceased ahead of the service, would render the funeral service more meaningful than would otherwise have been the case.

The bereaved family is strongly advised to nominate one of its members as spokesman, preferably at the outset, when contact with a funeral director is made. When this is done it will be found that the funeral director'' expertise would be an invaluable guide to the family in all matters that have to be attended to.

If you require more detailed information about the Coroner and Coronial System in NSW ask for the pamphlet entitled "Information about the Coroners Court". Available from your local FDS of NSW member or send a stamped self addressed envelope (22cm x 11cm) to the Association PO Box 254 Cherrybrook 2126 for a free copy.