Coping with grief: How to manage emotions while planning a funeral

Dec 06, 2019
Planning a funeral is an emotional time, but there are ways to make the process easier. Source: Getty

Shock, sadness, anger – these are all emotions you may feel when your loved one passes away. Add to this to the stress of planning a funeral and it could become quite difficult.

Grief is a natural response to the death of someone close to you, and everyone goes through the process at their own pace. Some may experience shock, feel sick or find it difficult to control their reactions, while others might lose their appetite and have trouble sleeping.

While it’s never easy saying goodbye to a loved one, a funeral should be a celebration of their life, filled with love. There are ways to lessen the stress involved with planning a funeral and avoid any potential family disagreements that could make the situation all that more difficult.

Take care of your health

The relationship between physical exercise and mental health is well-documented. A simple daily walk can help to clear the mind and relieve symptoms of grief.

If you’re up for a more intense workout, then go for it! But according to research published in The American Journal of Psychiatry less grueling exercise is equally beneficial for your mental health.

The study found that undertaking regular leisurely exercise was associated with reduced incidence of depression in the future.

“It may be that the most effective public health measures are those that encourage and facilitate increased levels of everyday activities such as walking or cycling,” the study read.

Share responsibilities

Sharing funeral planning tasks will help to relieve any stress you may experience, so try to avoid taking on everything if possible. Perhaps you could sit down with the family and divvy up tasks for everyone so one person isn’t over-loaded with all of the responsibilities.

If someone appears to be struggling with making decisions, give them some assistance.

Acknowledge feelings

Grief is different for everyone. You may grieve for weeks, months, or even years. This is why you shouldn’t judge yourself or others for their reactions to death.

Elisabeth Shaw, chief executive officer of Relationships Australia NSW, says you need to respect how everyone processes the loss of a loved one.

“It’s very easy to judge how someone appears to be managing,” she says. “Some go into event planning mode and get very practical, others are so encompassed by sadness that they find it difficult to make any decisions.

“There is going to be a range of feelings – try to be tolerant.”

If you find yourself struggling though, don’t be afraid to ask for help from your support network or seek out professional help.

Beyond Blue offers support 24 hours a day and also have an online chat forum which is available from 3pm to 12am, seven days a week. There is also a community forum on the website where you can chat to others who may be experiencing similar feelings as you.

Don’t get caught up in family drama

Even the most supportive families can face difficulties following a loved one’s death, as you try to accommodate everyone’s views and what they would like for the funeral. But if there’s already some tension among family members, funeral planning can lead to arguments.

Shaw says often the case is people will try to overtake organising duties and claim they know best, while for some families, it might bring up old arguments.

“It’s important to remember that some of the tensions that you might experience are historical and can’t be resolved in the middle of funeral planning,” Shaw says. “This isn’t the time to unravel further disagreements.

“Sometimes you have to let it play out and avoid starting arguments. You should take your own time out to remember your loved one.”

If possible, Shaw suggests speaking to your loved one prior to their death about their funeral wishes. If you were unable to before they passed, then get together with your family members and discuss the things you know your loved one liked and make a list of what to include in their funeral.

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