So, what do I do after I've been to talk to the family?
The first thing is to type up my notes from the visit - often not an easy task as I have difficulties in reading my own handwriting! If the visit has been the usual mixture of tears and laughter I won't have been exactly careful how I write and the information will be in a very haphazard order. I need to get the notes sorted as soon as possible if I am to make any sense of them.
Then I have to contact anyone else who needs to be on board. If the service is to be at a crematorium this isn't difficult - I just tell the Funeral Director the hymns and any special instruction and s/he does the rest. If it's in church I have to check that no-one else will be doing things in church at the same time eg organ tuners or flower arrangers. I need to find an organist. The churchwardens need to know what is happening so they can make sure that there will be a verger or sidesmen and indeed that the church will be unlocked. Cleaners need to know so the church will be at its best - dead or dying flowers never improved any service. Heating may be needed. If the burial is to be in a churchyard the plot needs to be allocated and marked ready for the gravedigger. This is quite a long list and as I am no longer "the vicar" of the churches where I conduct funerals I have to be extra careful to make sure that everyone is on-board..
But it is in my study that the real work of preparing a funeral is done. I do a lot of funerals but I care deeply about each one. I know that there is a family missing a much loved member. No funeral is ever routine. I am to thank God for a life which was unique and to speak on behalf of his/her family. It is there in front of my computer screen that my hardest job is done. Often I have listened to deeply moving stories and my own emotions may be in turmoil. I need to pray not just for the families but for myself, that I may say helpful things.
The day of the funeral I make sure I have nothing to do before the funeral and these days, preferably nothing else to do all day. That's a luxury I couldn't have before I retired. I wear robes to take the service but I also make sure that my day clothes are suitable for that particular funeral - for example if a woman died of breast cancer the family may have decided to wear pink so I wear a pink clerical shirt in case I am expected to go to the reception afterwards. I try and be at least three quarters of an hour early at church (or twenty minutes early at a crematorium) to make sure everything is ready and to give myself time to talk to mourners.
Most funerals take between twenty and thirty minutes - at a crematorium the time is very strictly regulated but there is more leeway for a service in church. Some families want to read poems or read tributes and I have to keep an eye on the time at a crematorium chapel and may need to speed up the rest of the service. I also need to keep everything suitably respectful without being "heavy".
After the service I go to the reception or wake if asked. I always print out the text of my address or eulogy and give this to the family. This is usually appreciated but I give it in an envelope so if they want to they can bin it unread.
The family will be in my prayers for quite a while after the funeral and I'll usually try and visit after the funeral and at the first anniversary of the death.