Preparing burial arrangements is especially important for those in the LGBTQ community, who may face issues with acceptance by family, be it personally or with regard to a surviving partner or spouse. This can lead to a push and pull for control of the deceased’s remains and last wishes.

In talking to a local funeral director, qnotes was able to learn how to navigate this difficult path with fewer problems.

Pre-need is always the best way of going about the issue. It allows the person who will avail of the services to decide how he/she wishes for that final step in life to be handled. To begin with, having all of the necessary documentation ready and available for a funeral home makes the process smoother. Sitting down with a licensed funeral director and spelling out what is wanted and not wanted is essential, especially when someone is sick. This may include the choice of burial or cremation, where the interment will take place or the ashes scattered and the size and type of service, among other logistical issues. In pre-need, a person signs an authorization for cremation and the disposition of his/her remains. This includes whether or not the person will allow survivors to cancel the cremation and make other arrangements or to allow only specific named persons to do so.

However handled, taking time out of the day to honor the dead and pay respects to the family and friends is key. It can be a celebration, a traditional service or candlelight vigil. All of this will vary by culture or character.

For instance, Jewish tradition holds that after burial, the family sits shiva which can be from one to seven days depending upon the customs of the community and family. Catholics may hold a mass in the deceased person’s memory. Other cultures and faiths will have their own traditions which can be followed.

Song choices could include ones like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or others that were significant to the deceased person’s life.

It is important that all arrangements are on paper with a funeral director. There must be documentation of the burial location (if a plot needs to be secured, then that has to be arranged for upon death, if this has not be handled previously). The individuals who are legally able to have right of disposition are (in order) a spouse, child, parent and siblings, followed by a power of attorney or legal guardian (court appointed or other). And, it is advisable for bank accounts be in both names with regard to a couple or trusted person so that money can be obtained to get a death certificate from the person’s assets.

If a person is to be cremated, there has to be documentation with a medical advanced directive with right of final disposition. And, if a person is to be buried, the owner of the plot has the right to say who is buried there and has right of ownership. So making arrangements prior to death clears the path if this might be an issue.

At the time of death, the family or friends will provide a special outfit in which the deceased will be buried. Or special items may be placed in an urn (photos, rings, etc.)

Also, a funeral director will need the following in a pre-need arrangement: statistical information, place of birth and city, social security number, occupation and industry.

Pre-payment for arrangements is recommended and can be facilitated through a payment plan if provided for by the funeral home.

Cremation is more affordable. In Charlotte, N.C., the rate for all post-death final remains handling is at 60 percent of all arrangements with cremation. The cost of cremation is about half of that of burial. And, younger people look for an eco-friendly option.

Most people assume that everyone’s death is announced through an obituary published in newspapers. This is not true. It is up to the survivors and the person who died to determine whether that practice will occur. Some choose to forego fanfare and others want to “go out with a bang.” For public figures, an obituary may already be partially prepared in advance. An interview is suggested and the person whose obituary will be published could be asked what they want to be remembered for.

If a person was in the military (and this is extremely important for transgender servicemembers in a Trump world), evidence of a DD214 discharge must be obtained if the person is to have a military service and flag.

The funeral director shared a story of a gay couple where one was prior military and one was not. The survivor was tasked with having his partner’s cremated remains buried in Arlington Cemetery. He had to get signatures from the next of kin before the government would inter, as same-sex partners are not recognized, but same-sex married couples are. All of the regulations changed when same-sex marriage became legal.

In today’s world, acceptance of those from the LGBTQ community is becoming more prevalent. However, as in the past, a gay couple may have one or both partners who are not out to their family. It is tricky to navigate the “roommate” issue.

The funeral director recounted some individuals he encountered during his career and how this played out with regard to their deaths. As previously mentioned, “roommates” became a tricky subject.

A woman chose not to tell her mother of her “proclivities” but came out to others.

For those who are transgender, the next of kin may be a sticky point over the issue or not. In years past, a person known as Sherry/Jerry came to mind for the funeral director. Jerry and wife were not legally divorced. However, Jerry lived as a cross-dresser called Sherry. At the time of death, Sherry/Jerry’s wife had the right to make final decisions. So, getting a divorce may be wise if one does not want a surviving spouse to handle the arrangements contrary to one’s wishes.

More prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s during the AIDS epidemic, the cause of death was often a difficult situation as family may or may not have been aware of the deceased person’s circumstances. This was sensitive to ask.

Whatever one’s situation is, planning in advance is recommended to avoid conflicts during a time of grief and loss.

Things have changed over the last number of years and there are innovative and lasting ways to honor those lost. Some of those are: cremated ashes being made into a diamond; ashes being transformed into a coral reef; scattering ashes at sea; and the body being buried in Israel/Holy Land.

A creative way to memorialize someone is to have their cremated remains buried in a biodegradable urn that grows into a living tree. This is a perfect option for those who want to preserve the environment while honoring their loved one.

For a more costly option, someone’s cremated remains in symbolic portion can be shot into space and returned to earth to preserve as a keepsake. Or, they can orbit the earth and become part of the “final frontier;” orbit or become a part of the moon’s surface; or be catapulted into deep space on a permanent “celestial journey.” Prior to launch, memories are shared in a service and preserved on a video or DVD. This truly could be a “somewhere over the rainbow” experience for everyone involved.

And, finally, someone can be forever memorialized by providing their DNA sample for generations to come. Learning about lineage, medical issues and genealogical connections helps keep the person’s memory alive and serves as a legacy.

Lainey Millen

Lainey Millen was formerly QNotes' associate editor, special assignments writer, N.C. and U.S./World News Notes columnist and production director from 2001-2019 when she retired.

One reply on “Finding ways to honor those lost”

  1. This is good advice but I also recommend that people call around , go to the cremation or funeral home office. Direct cremation pricing ranges from $695.00 to well over $4000.00 in the Charlotte and surrounding areas. Ask questions and don’t be pressured. Steer clear of internet services if they can’t give you an address for the office . There are probably not compliant with NC Board of Funeral Services.

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