All special events use the same planning process - Even the sad ones

I write today’s blog with a heavy heart.  This week my wife’s cousin died of complications from cancer surgery.  Richie was only 31 years old.  Immediately, the family entered into a period of mourning.  However, while mourning, they were also responsible for planning a celebration of Richie’s life.

When somebody dies unexpectedly you begin researching various venues to host the “service”.  For Catholics, this typically means finding a funeral home for the wake, a church for the funeral and a cemetery for the final resting place.  While securing venues is the first step there are many subsequent steps to planning your loved ones final send off.

As my wife’s family all worked diligently to plan a beautiful service it became very clear to me that organizing the services for the death of a loved one is planning a special event.  While the content matter is heavy and extremely emotional the steps of the process are no different than any other special event.

  • An “Invitation” needs to be sent to alert people about the event, i.e. the obituary
  •  Flowers are ordered
  •  Prayer cards are designed and printed
  •  Travel arrangements and hotel accommodations are coordinated for out of town mourners
  •  Luncheon details are confirmed including venue selection and appropriate menu. (There are many special considerations when planning a meal for a large group of people for example, this luncheon was held on a Friday during Lent and many Catholics refrain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent.  There are also dietary restrictions because of the large mix of people in attendance.) 
  • "Decorations” are created, i.e. memory boards with pictures of family and the deceased
  • Driving directions are communicated, i.e. funeral home to church to cemetery to luncheon
  • Guest sign-in book is displayed
  • Thank you cards are ordered and will be written out and mailed post ceremony
  • Budgets are established and adhered to

While the reason for this special event is very sad, the organization and management of it is all very similar to the many special events that are designed and planned all over Chicago every day.  Funeral Directors use the exact same event planning processes that we use to plan “FUN” events.  They just apply the process to a very personal and emotional event in a family’s life.  The one caveat is that typically the timeline to plan a "FUN" event is at least six months, in this case the family and the Funeral Director have less than a week to organize the services.

I’m doubtful many students sign up for “Special Events Planning” in the hopes of one day organizing wakes, funerals and memorial services, but if you truly enjoy planning events and find yourself to be a sympathetic, caring and patient person there is a market out there for Funeral Directors.

In the end, a highly organized, creative and well intended funeral director can be a family’s saving grace during a very difficult time.  My hat goes off to these very special event coordinators.

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