Ways to Cope with a Difficult Time
Although no one likes to think about it, some day you may be called on to make the final arrangements when someone you love dies. Of course, being prepared - having as many details as possible prearranged - will ease the stress of this difficult time and allow you to devote your energies to the emotional needs of your family and yourself.
The grieving process is a complex cycle of emotions. Some experts have divided the grieving process into stages:
Denial. The initial sense of shock may cause you to doubt—or refuse to believe—a loved one is gone. You may feel numb and may have physical side effects, such as insomnia, loss of appetite and a racing heartbeat.
Anger. You may feel cheated or abandoned and take out your anger on friends, family or those who cared for your loved one.
Depression. Often the longest and most difficult stage. Symptoms include feelings of sadness, despair and/or disorientation and other psychological and physical conditions.
Acceptance. You come to grips with the death and begin to move on with your life.
People don’t necessarily move through the grieving process in consecutive stages. You may go back and forth or be in more than one stage at a time and experience a wide range of emotions—guilt, fear, sadness. The healing process is different for everyone and there is no timetable. Even after you’ve begun to come to terms with your loss, don’t be surprised if grief revisits you. Love for a person doesn’t end when they die.
If you find you’re having suicidal thoughts or are relying on alcohol or drugs to numb your pain, seek professional help. If you are having problems working through your grief, share your thoughts and feelings with another person—it will help. You may want to join a support group or seek professional help. Local sources of help include hospitals, churches and health and social service agencies. There may also be employee assistance programs where you work. See For More Information below.
Thinking about good times shared with your loved one can sometimes be comforting. It’s also helpful to take extra good care of yourself at this time—get enough sleep, eat properly and exercise regularly. And remember, at some time or another, everyone experiences similar feelings. There is nothing wrong with asking for help.
There are a few details that need to be addressed right away so that you can proceed with the funeral and/or memorial service. If you feel unable to cope with these tasks yourself, enlist the help of a family member or close friend.
The Death Certificate
This is a legal document needed to finalize almost every aspect of your loved one's affairs—now and in the future. In fact, in some states, the body can't be moved without it. Later, you will need it to start the probate process, if applicable, and obtain any life insurance benefits. Most funeral directors will obtain the death certificate for you as part of their services. You can usually request additional copies from the local records division listed in your telephone book under "Government and Community Services."
Funeral or Memorial Service Arrangements
Many people make their own funeral arrangements in advance—either with the help of a lawyer or a family member or friend. If your loved one has died without having made specific funeral plans, try to locate any written instructions that could serve as a guide. Funerals and memorial services bring family and friends together to comfort and support each other, to show respect for the deceased, and to observe religious customs. They are a very important aspect of the grieving process. You should keep in mind, though, that memorial services and funerals, in particular, can be costly. Funeral homes can provide a dignified service to accommodate most budgets. Before you sign any final agreement, figure out how much you can spend. Then be firm about the amount—don’t let your emotions affect your decision. If you need an objective point of view, ask a friend or family member to join you when you finalize the plans.
Under the “Funeral Rule” of the Federal Trade Commission, funeral directors are required to give you itemized prices either in person, or if you ask, over the phone. There is other information they must provide as well. If you make the funeral arrangements in person, you must be given a written price list to keep, detailing the merchandise and services the funeral home offers. Some funeral providers offer “packages” that include all the goods and services needed for a funeral. You do not have to accept a package, though, since it may include goods or services you don’t want. You have the right to choose the specific merchandise and services you want.
After you make your choices, the funeral provider must give you an itemized statement, including fees, of all the services you select—before you sign an agreement. Prices are not regulated and will vary, but most funerals average around $6,000.
Immediate Care of the Body
If the deceased has made provisions for organ donation, this must be done immediately—before any procedures are carried out on the body. If the entire body has been donated to medical research, it must go to the specified medical center immediately. If the body has not been donated, you will need to decide whether to have the body embalmed. Embalming is a chemical process that preserves bodies for a short period of time. It is usually done if the family needs time to make arrangements and to travel, if the body has to be transported, or if the casket is to be open for viewing. You do not have to have the body embalmed, however, unless your state requires it. In fact, some religions prohibit embalming.
Final Care of the Body
Your options include burial, cremation or entombment in a mausoleum. Cremation is usually the least expensive. The wishes and religious beliefs of the deceased will, of course, be the first consideration. Unless the deceased has prearranged these details, you will need to consider:
- Should the casket be open or closed?
- Do you have appropriate clothing for your loved one to be buried in?
- Should you have a formal service or a graveside service?
- Who will conduct the service—a religious leader, a friend or the funeral home?
- Who will speak at the service?
- Are pallbearers required?
- Will you need the services of a driver or limousine?
- Do you prefer flowers or charitable donations as a way to honor the deceased?
- Who will write the obituary? Which paper(s) should it be sent to? What are the costs?
- Do you want to arrange for family and close friends to gather after the service or burial to reflect and reminisce?
After the death of a loved one, family members are often faced with the important task of finalizing the financial affairs of the deceased. At a time when they are least prepared to deal with practical matters, the countless details, arrangements and planning can seem confusing and—sometimes—insurmountable. Depending on the size and type of estate, it can be a complex—and expensive—process.
The deceased may have appointed an executor. An executor has specific legal responsibilities, and is the person responsible for settling a person’s estate. The duties include distributing assets, settling debts and paying taxes. If the deceased didn’t appoint an executor, the task will probably be carried out by a family member. If you are the executor and feel overwhelmed by the task, it is probably wise to consult a lawyer if you can afford it, or at least find a comprehensive reference book to help you. Careful attention to financial matters can help a family deal with the future and can ensure that they receive all benefits to which they are entitled. See For More Information below.
Some important things that will need to be done:
Contact the Social Security Administration regarding any benefits that the deceased may have been receiving and any benefits that survivors may be eligible for.
Notify your loved one’s insurance company. Ask for claim forms and instructions on how to file for life insurance proceeds. To facilitate this process, an insurance company is likely to need the following information: a statement of claim, with the full name and address of the beneficiary or the person making the claim; a certified death certificate showing the date, place and cause of death; and the actual insurance policy or certificate if available. Many insurance companies will pay insurance proceeds into an interest-bearing account. This can give the beneficiary time to make well thought-out decisions regarding the use of the money.
Notify the deceased’s employer. If the deceased was employed, you or other family members may be entitled to benefits.
Submit outstanding medical claims to the proper insurer.
Notify banks at which the deceased had accounts.
Determine what taxes are due and file tax returns.
If the deceased ever served in the uniformed services, his or her spouse and minor children may be eligible for certain benefits. For more information, contact the nearest Department of Veterans Affairs.
by Granger E. Westberg
Published by Augsburg Fortress Publishers
Living When a Loved One Has Died
by Earl A. Grollman
Published by Beacon Press
The quarterly Consumer Information Center Catalog lists more than 200 helpful federal government publications. Obtain a free copy by calling 888-8-PUEBLO, on the Internet at www.pueblo.gsa.gov/ or by writing:
Consumer Information Catalog
Pueblo, CO 81009
Helpful Web Sites
Advice and guidance provided by the Federal Trade Commission. Includes a list of consumer resources, a glossary and a planning checklist.
Web site of the American Association of Retired Persons. Free
information on all aspects of grief and loss, as well as dealing
with the practical matters associated with death.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Benefits
The Internal Revenue Service
Specific information on how to obtain records, birth, death, marriage or divorce certificates; link to states.
A support group for parents who experience miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death.
The Social Security Administration
This article is provided to you for informational purposes only and does not intend to cover all aspects of your specific circumstances. MetLife nor any of its affiliates, employees or representatives provide specific tax or legal advice. Please consult an attorney regarding your own personal situation.