Grief Support

Grief is a natural reaction to loss and yet people can sometimes be surprised by their feelings following a death. We all process grief differently, but being able to work through your emotions and manage your feelings is an important part of the healing process. There is a wealth of information about the stages of grief and various support resources online for those who prefer to independently explore their options. Many communities also have local groups that may be a good choice if you are looking for in-person support or to meet people who are experiencing similar feelings. 


We have collected a few helpful tips for you to remember while working through the grief process yourself and considerations for others who may also be experiencing loss. 


Self-Care and Supporting Yourself During Grief


As the airplane safety briefings remind us, you have to secure your own oxygen mask first before you can adequately take care of other people. The same is true when managing grief; you have to ensure your own needs are met while you are managing all of the details that arise after a death.

Here are some important things to remember: 

Understand That Your Feelings Are Okay

You may encounter a range of emotions while you are working through the grief process. Do not be surprised if you experience a variety of reactions, both mentally and physically. It is not uncommon to have symptoms of grief including fatigue, changes to your sleep patterns, appetite changes, moodiness or irritability, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate, or sadness. 


It is important to process your feelings and allow yourself to experience a wide range of emotions, even when that may be difficult. You should also know that people often feel disconnected from their grief, especially the early days following a death when they feel consumed with tasks to complete. It is okay if you do not feel a strong reaction or overwhelming feelings of sadness, or even feel a sense of relief. Many caregivers have said they feel more at peace after a death, especially following long illnesses where the deceased had been in pain or ready to move on. Grieving is a personal process and you cannot always predict how you are going to react. 


Give Yourself Adequate Time To Grieve

There is no “normal” timeframe for grieving and everyone must go through the steps in their own personal way. Be patient and give yourself some grace in those times when you may be struggling with working through your feelings. It can sometimes take months or even years for people to navigate their stages of grief. Also remember to give yourself space and don’t overcommit with responsibilities beyond your limitations. You are allowed to take time to rest and heal after experiencing a loss. 


Take Care Of Your Physical Needs

People can very easily forget about their physical needs while they are grieving, however it is important to ensure you’re remembering your basic self-care. Simple things like taking a shower, eating healthy meals, getting adequate sleep, and prioritizing physical activity can work wonders in helping you feel better. It may seem difficult to focus on these things for yourself when you feel overwhelmed, but establishing consistent routines can make a world of difference in the way you feel. The time following a death can be challenging, so take the steps you need to in order to best support yourself and your family. 


Ask For and Accept Help

Grief can be exhausting and overwhelming for many people, especially after losing a close loved one. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it, and accept offers of help from those who provide it. Simple things like meal preparation, house cleaning, transporting children, yardwork, and other daily activities can feel daunting while you are grieving. People are usually eager to help support you after a death, they may just need some guidance on the ways they can be most effective. You should also know that professional support and help is available if you need more guidance during your grieving process. 


Supporting Friends and Extended Family


Knowing what to say and how to support someone who is grieving can often be intimidating. People frequently feel uncertain about how to best support loved ones during this time. Fear of saying the wrong thing can make people feel hesitant to reach out when they truly want to provide support. The most important thing to remember is to be compassionate, understanding, and honestly communicate your desire to help. 


Check In With Them

Taking a moment to check in with a friend who is grieving can be very meaningful, even if it feels like a simple thing. A quick phone call, text message, card, or visit can provide support during a hard time.



Another important reminder is to give the person time to speak and listen to them. Allow for times of silence and be okay with the discomfort as you give them space to share their thoughts and feelings. 


Help with Daily Tasks

Sometimes the most help comes from the simplest things. Stepping in to help with tasks like grocery shopping, yard care, cleaning, transporting kids to school and activities, or helping care for pets can be the most impactful during times of grief. Relieving the mental load of the grieving person goes a long way to giving them the time and space to work through their emotions and healing. 


Recognize Significant Dates

Remember special events like birthdays and anniversaries and reach out during those times. Holidays can also be hard after experiencing a death, so try to include those who are grieving in plans or activities when possible. 


Don’t Be Afraid To Talk About The Person They’ve Lost

It may seem uncomfortable to speak about a person after they’ve died but sharing stories and memories of the deceased can provide a lot of comfort during grief. Remembering their life and sharing special moments can bring cheer and remind a grieving person how much their loved one meant to people. 


Supporting Children Through Grief


Children usually understand the idea of death from a very young age, but actually handling grief and loss first hand may be a new experience for them. It is important to understand that children may react to death differently than adults. Do not think that a child is not experiencing feelings related to the loss just because their reaction doesn’t appear to be what you’d expect. It is normal for children to go through a range of feelings after a loss, including depression, guilt, anxiety, or feeling angry with the person who died. 


You should encourage children to express their emotions and feelings, whatever they may be. Some children may be reluctant to talk about their feelings or unable to express them. Sometimes these conversations can be made easier by reading books, telling stories, or looking at pictures to help them work through their feelings and process their emotions. Also take into consideration the child’s age and don’t expect them to be understanding the situation beyond what is developmentally appropriate for them. Some children may also experience regression and start behaving like a younger child when they are struggling with trauma or loss. 


Attending a funeral can be a helpful step in the grieving process for some people, but the decision of whether a child should attend is very personal and specific to that child. If the child had a close relationship with the deceased and is of an appropriate age to understand what is happening, attending the funeral may be helpful for closure and grieving. However, you should always ask whether the child wants to attend and if so, prepare them in advance for what to expect. This is especially important if there will be a casket present. If you decide that it is not appropriate for the child to attend the funeral, you might consider having an alternative ceremony that provides meaning for the child. Some people choose to plant a tree, get a special keepsake, or do another event that is symbolic of the person you are remembering. 


Following your typical routines and schedules is very helpful and comforting for children. You may be working through your own grief while also trying to provide comfort to your child, so do not be afraid to ask for help if there are people who can give you additional support during this time. Remember that it is okay to show emotions and grief as you process your feelings, but try to avoid teaching your children any unhealthy ways of managing these feelings. Some children benefit from speaking to a therapist or grief counselor, so it may be a good idea to reach out for more help if you feel your child seems unable to cope with their feelings or is overwhelmingly upset. 


Animals and Grief


We sometimes forget that animals experience grief just as humans do, even though it may not look the same. Losing someone can be tough on all members of the family and pets have their own way of grieving. Animals find comfort in stability and depend on their packs for a sense of safety. When something changes to disrupt that group, such as a death in the family, you may notice changes in your pet’s behavior. It is not uncommon for animals to show increased anxiety or signs of distress following a death. These sometimes manifest as behavioral problems that weren’t present before. Our pets may also sense our own grief and respond to that change in similar ways. 


There are a few common signs that your pet may be grieving after a loss. Changes in habits and routine are typical and sometimes include sleeping more than usual, hiding, pacing, or sulking. You may notice your pet becomes withdrawn or doesn’t want to play as much as normal. Changes in bathroom or grooming habits are also frequently seen, so do not be frustrated if you see more accidents during this time. Your pet may have changes in vocalization such as barking, whining, or meowing, either increased or decreased, depending on the animal. You may also notice them continually seeking out the person they’ve lost. 


Try to be patient and give the animal time to adjust to the new situation. Be sensitive to their emotions and grief and remember to manage your own emotions as much as possible while you are around them. Your pet may try to console you and try to help comfort them as much as possible, as well. Try to spend quality time with the animal and don’t forget to follow traditional routines as much as you can. A daily walk or play time may make you all feel better while you adjust to life without the person you’ve lost. 

Funeral Etiquette

For most of us, attending a funeral is something we rarely do and it is not uncommon for people to be uncertain about the right things to do or say. While people generally want to provide comfort, offer words of support, and show their love for the person who passed away, navigating the social expectations of a funeral or other end of life ceremonies can be awkward. 


While each funeral or memorial service is unique, here are some basic guidelines that may be helpful to you. Although attending a funeral may be uncomfortable regardless of how prepared you feel, these tips may help you feel more at ease while you remember the deceased and take time to say a final goodbye. It is also a good idea to check the obituary for any details or special requests regarding funeral attendees.


What Should I Say?

It is always appropriate to offer your condolences to the grieving family, share fond memories or stories of the deceased, and express your sympathy. Try to keep it simple and heartfelt, such as “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “They will be deeply missed.” These relatively small words can mean a lot to those suffering from a recent loss and help prevent the common issue of speaking too much and potentially offending anyone unintentionally. You may also consider offering support or help to the family during this time, depending on your relationship with them. Letting people know you are there to help them is a wonderful way to provide comfort during an emotional time. 


What Should I Avoid Saying?

Be mindful of your words and try to avoid any statements that may come off as insensitive, hurtful, or rude to a grieving family. Do not ask how the person died and avoid using platitudes like “they’re in a better place” or “it was their time to go”, as these statements may cause more harm than good. Avoid making the death about yourself or being too dismissive of the situation. Making inappropriate jokes or being too casual should also be avoided. It is always a good idea to play it safe and err on the side of caution. Be respectful of the situation and those who are mourning, and offer genuine condolences and support to the bereaved. 


Clothing Choices

Choosing what to wear to a funeral or memorial service will depend on the type of service being held and whether it is a formal or more casual event. For traditional funeral ceremonies in a church or at a funeral home, you generally want to dress in a more conservative manner. Typically muted and subtle colors like grays, blues, browns, and black are appropriate. One good suggestion is to dress as you would for a job interview. Avoid clothing that is brightly colored or too flashy, unless the family specifically requests cheerful bright colors. 


A memorial service or celebration of life is usually a less formal event, especially if being held outdoors. While you may be able to dress a little less conservatively for these services, you should still avoid being overly casual and dress in a respectful manner, avoiding t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops. 


Also take into consideration any religious or cultural customs which might influence the clothing choices at a funeral or memorial service. The obituary may also list specific requests made by the family regarding any preferences for clothing at the event. 


Be Mindful of Time

If the family is holding a visitation or viewing, they will typically form a line to greet attendees. This is a time to share your condolences with the family, but your words should be brief. It is not appropriate to have a lengthy conversation as the family may be very emotional and they are trying to greet other attendees. There is usually additional time to speak with family members following the visitation or during a reception held after the funeral or memorial service. You should also be aware of other visitors and avoid spending too much time holding up the line or saying your goodbyes at the casket. Take a few moments to express your sympathy to the family and pay your respects to the deceased. 


Also be aware of the time the service begins and do your best to be punctual (or a few minutes early.) You do not want to interrupt the service or disturb other mourners by arriving after a service has begun. In the event that you are running late, try to enter as quietly as possible and select a seat in the back of the room. There may be ushers to help you find an appropriate seat, but typically the first few rows are reserved for family and close friends. Other attendees are generally free to choose any available seat in the remaining rows, usually located toward the back of the facility. 


Phone Usage

Using your phone during a funeral or memorial service is one of the biggest etiquette issues that frequently arises. Ideally all cell phones will be completely turned off or left in the car, but at the very least they should be silenced. If you must have your phone with you during the service, avoid checking it unnecessarily or letting it become a distraction. A funeral or memorial service is also not an appropriate event to be shared on social media out of respect for the deceased and the family. If you need to use your phone to take or return a phone call or check a message, please excuse yourself to another room before doing so. 


Visiting The Family

The family is likely feeling overwhelmed and emotional after a death, so they may not be ready for visitors immediately. Depending on your relationship to the deceased and level of comfort with the family, you may choose to wait on visiting until they’ve had more time to process and handle the urgent things that arise after someone passes away. Many people appreciate help with basic daily tasks such as grocery shopping, meal preparation, caring for pets or children, housework, and yard work. If you have a close relationship with the family, you may also offer to help coordinate the service, stay at the house to help them receive visitors, or keep track of any flowers and gifts received. 


In some situations it may be better to wait a few weeks after a funeral service to check in and offer your support to the family. They may appreciate you asking in advance prior to stopping by to visit to allow more time to prepare. Try to stay connected to the family even after the funeral, and don’t forget that significant holidays and special dates can be hard. You may want to offer additional support and help during these times, such as including them in events, sending cards, or simply calling to see how they are. 



The decision of whether to include a child in a funeral or memorial service is personal and depends on the situation. Attending a funeral and saying a final goodbye to a family member or loved one is sometimes helpful in helping a child process their grief. However, you should always consider the significance of the relationship with the deceased and the age of the child. Very young children may not be able to emotionally handle a funeral or have the maturity to understand what is happening. For older children, it can be helpful to have a conversation with them about whether they want to attend the funeral and if so, talk to them in advance about what to expect. Preparing them in advance for situations involving a viewing or open casket can help some children feel more comfortable and put them in a better position to emotionally process the situation. 


Gifts and Flowers

People often want to offer their support by sending a gift or flowers to the family after a death. Cards are a meaningful gesture to share your condolences and give the family a keepsake to remember their loved one. Gifts of food or acts of service such as helping out around the house or with other tasks are also greatly appreciated by most people experiencing a loss. These simple things can sometimes feel overwhelming in the early days following a death, and families are generally grateful for the support. 


Sending flowers is a very traditional gesture when someone has experienced a loss. Flowers may be sent to the funeral home to be included as part of the service or directly to the family at their home. Families may make specific requests for donations or charitable contributions in lieu of flowers, so always make sure to check the obituary before sending anything. Different religious and cultural standards may also make sending flowers inappropriate, so be sure to do some research on different traditions in those situations. 

Immediate Questions After a Death

Making plans and decisions regarding end of life care can sometimes be uncomfortable, but it is incredibly helpful to have the conversation about final wishes in advance, if possible. Having a solid plan before a death occurs can provide peace of mind that your choices or those of a loved one will be honored after death. It can also be helpful to have a conversation about whether there is life insurance or other funding available to help cover any expenses that may arise after someone passes away. 

Typically the most time sensitive issues immediately following a death are choice of final disposition (most commonly burial or cremation) and preparing for unexpected expenses, such as funeral costs. Here is some information about options for treatment of remains, as well as helpful tips about life insurance coverage for funeral expenses. 


Ask The Important Questions

Thinking about your final wishes or those of a loved one in advance can help relieve the emotional toll and stress that often occurs in the first few days following a death. While most people don’t like to think about the details of managing the care of their remains after they pass away, having a conversation with your family and friends or documenting your wishes can be a huge blessing to those people who will be responsible for handling those details. The most time-sensitive question after a death is about handling care of the remains. Here is a little information about the different options available. Your local funeral home can also provide you with details on the services they offer and help you make a decision about what is right for you. 

What Is Your Preference for Final Disposition?

Final disposition refers to the treatment of a person’s remains after they die. In-ground burial and traditional cremation are the most common choices, but we’ve provided information about some other alternatives, as well. 



In-ground burial is a very traditional choice for laying a person to rest. Many families appreciate the opportunity to have a symbolic location to visit when they want to visit their loved one and spend time remembering them. Remains are typically embalmed and then buried in a wood or metal casket at the cemetery of your choice, however there are different options you may want to consider. 


Some cemeteries provide above ground structures for entombment, such as a mausoleum or lawn crypt. Mausoleums are structures designed to hold a casket and can be public or private depending on the location and the wishes of the family. A lawn crypt is another above ground option, however they generally only have space for one or two caskets. 


Many people prefer a more sustainable option and are choosing a natural or “green” burial as an alternative to a more traditional burial. Depending on the requirements and laws in your area, natural burials do not involve embalming or any kind of chemical treatment to the remains. Some people choose to be laid to rest directly in the earth (sometimes wrapped in a cotton shroud) or may select a biodegradable casket, frequently made of bamboo, cork, teak, or another compostable material. Your local funeral home can help you determine what options are available if you would like to consider a green burial. 


Burial at sea is another choice for both cremated and non-cremated remains. Sea burials are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency under the federal Clean Water Act and require a permit before the burial can take place. In addition, there are guidelines regarding the location, depth, and method of burial. Your local funeral home can assist you if you would like more information about burial at sea. 


For people who want an economical and simple option, a direct or immediate burial may be a good choice. Direct burial does not involve many of the services you typically include with a traditional burial, such as a viewing or funeral service. Remains are usually placed in a simple container instead of a more expensive casket and are generally not embalmed prior to burial. Some families choose to hold a memorial service at a later date, although no formal services are required. Direct burial is usually the least expensive option offered by funeral homes and a good alternative for those working with a limited budget. 



Cremation uses a flame-based process to reduce the body to “cremains” which are primarily composed of ashes and bone fragments. This is done in a cremation chamber and may be witnessed by family members in some cases, if preferred. Cremation containers range from simple cardboard boxes to full caskets, and remains can either be embalmed or not, depending on the wishes of the deceased and the family. 


There is a common misconception that choosing cremation limits your options for other services, however you may still have a viewing, traditional funeral service, or even bury cremated remains in a burial plot as you would with casketed remains. Cremated remains may also be placed in an above ground columbarium, similar to a mausoleum for a casket. Many families choose to scatter cremated remains in a symbolic or meaningful place, either with or without an accompanying ceremony. There are a variety of scattering urn options available if that is something you would like to consider. 


For those people wishing to have a keepsake or retain cremated remains, there are countless choices for full sized urns, smaller keepsake urns, memorial items, or even jewelry pieces designed to hold a portion of the remains. These items can usually be customized with engraving or personalization that makes them a treasured memento for your loved ones. 



Aquamation is an alternative to a traditional flame-based cremation involving a water-based process called alkaline hydrolysis. This process breaks down organic materials using a combination of gentle water flow, temperature, and alkalinity. The family still receives remains following an aquamation. Similar to a traditional cremation, you may choose from a full array of funeral or memorial services if you choose aquamation, including a viewing. Remains can either be embalmed or not, depending on your preferences. The cost of aquamation is typically similar to that of a flame-based cremation. Your funeral home can help you with more information and details regarding aquamation options in your area. 



Terramation is relatively new and is still gaining approval across the United States. The process involves transforming human remains into live-giving soil through composting as the organic material naturally breaks down. Terramation generally takes about 60 days and the family receives fertile soil that can be used for planting and returned to the earth. This is a wonderful choice for those seeking a more environmentally conscious option to reduce their carbon footprint after death. 


What Is Your Preference for Funeral or Memorial Services? 

Another important question is regarding the type of funeral or memorial service your or your loved one would like. Services are very customizable and can be personalized to a variety of preferences, religious, or cultural customs. The funeral home you choose to work with should be experienced with a wide range of families and be able to help create a special and memorable service to truly honor you or the person who has passed. Here are some questions you may want to consider: 


Where Do You Want to Be Laid to Rest?

Choosing where to be laid to rest or where to lay a loved one to rest is an important decision. You may already have a family plot or cemetery selected where you can be close to loved ones. Perhaps you’ve decided to be cremated and wish to have your remains scattered in a meaningful location. Whatever your preference, be sure to document or share those wishes with your family and friends. If you do not have a preference or a pre-selected site, your funeral home can help make that decision and provide you with options to consider. 


Is There Life Insurance to Cover Funeral Expenses? 

If the deceased had life insurance in place prior to their death, that policy may have a death benefit that can be paid out when they pass. However, these benefits are generally intended to cover lost income and pay any debts or final expenses of the deceased and may not be designed to cover funeral expenses. Make sure to check whether there are any burial insurance or pre-paid funeral expenses policies after someone dies, as those plans are intended to cover costs associated with a funeral. 


With most traditional life insurance plans without a burial insurance option, families may need to pre-pay any funeral and burial expenses to the funeral home and then seek reimbursement from the life insurance afterward. These payouts can take time as the life insurance company will likely need to review the death certificate and may choose to investigate the claim. This process may take weeks or months to complete if there are any complications arising from the situation. 


Because many people are unprepared to pay funeral expenses out of pocket, most funeral homes allow a beneficiary to assign a life insurance benefit to the funeral home for reimbursement once the proceeds are distributed. There are some important questions when determining if a life insurance policy may be an option for helping cover funeral expenses:


Is There a Life Insurance Policy? 

The most important question regarding life insurance after a death is whether there is actually a policy in place. Ideally, the existence and location of a policy has been communicated or documented in advance so that family members or friends know where to locate the information. If a policy cannot be located in the deceased’s files or paperwork, it can be helpful to look through bank and credit card statements to see if any payments have been made to life insurance companies. You may also search for any policies by using this online search tool.


You may also want to check with the deceased’s employer if they were still working at the time of their death and possibly had an employer sponsored life insurance policy. This is also a good time to ask if there are any other potential death benefits available to help cover funeral or burial expenses. 


One other important question is whether the life insurance policy is current, both with the premiums being paid and any updated beneficiary information. The insurance company should be able to provide you with this information if you contact them and help you with the next steps for submitting a claim, provided you are a beneficiary or have other authority to do so. 


Who Is The Beneficiary?

Most people will know in advance if they have been listed as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy, however this is not always the case. If you know there is a policy but do not have a copy of it, you can contact the life insurance company to get more information about beneficiaries. Insurance companies will occasionally contact beneficiaries about a policy if they receive notice of the death and have not already been contacted by the beneficiary or beneficiaries. 


Power of Attorney and Executor Considerations

It is common for a power of attorney (POA) to be in place when a person dies when they are at the end of life or the death was expected. This document allows a representative to make certain financial and business decisions (and sometimes medical decisions) for the person granting that power, including buying a life insurance policy and changing beneficiary designation. If you have a POA for the deceased, you should check that document or with the applicable legal representative to answer any questions you may have about its scope and authority. A standard POA automatically terminates upon the death of the grantor, so keep that in mind when handling any post-death arrangements. If you have a healthcare POA, that generally allows for the person to make final disposition choices in the event of death.  


If there is a will that names an executor of the estate, that person should have the authority to make any decisions regarding the deceased’s estate and finances after death. Check with the appropriate document (if there is one) or reach out to the attorney who created the will for help and clarification, if necessary.

Planning Ahead

Nobody likes to think about death and what is going to happen after they die, but planning ahead for your end of life care is important for several reasons. Preplanning can provide peace of mind and help alleviate stress for loved ones during a difficult time. It also allows for personal preferences and wishes to be honored, can ensure funeral costs are covered, and may simplify the funeral planning process for surviving family members. 

Here are some of the key benefits for preplanning your funeral or other end of life arrangements: 


You may also consider pre-funding some of your funeral expenses. Take the time to do your research and fully understand the options available in your area. Some people choose a “preneed” funeral policy or to make advance arrangements with their funeral home of choice. You may also consider setting up a simple savings account, a Payable on Death Account, or a life insurance policy that provides coverage for funeral expenses. With any of these options, ensure you understand the terms of the agreement and what will happen if you have a change of plans after making the arrangements.

Planning ahead can make a world of difference for both your own peace of mind and that of your family. Having arrangements and finances in place means your loved ones will not have to worry about making decisions and adding additional stress after you die. They will be able to focus on their grief and healing while remembering you and celebrating your life. 

Veterans Benefits

Our veterans deserve to be honored and recognized for their sacrifices. This is especially true after they pass away, whether that death was service related or not. Veterans and their families may be able to receive monetary allowances to reimburse certain burial related expenses, honorary tributes as part of a funeral or memorial service, and special memorial and keepsake items. These benefits are intended to help honor the veteran’s life and express gratitude for their contributions to our nation. 


Establishing Veteran Eligibility

Veteran eligibility is typically verified using a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, commonly known as DD Form 214. Prior to 1950, several similar forms were used by different branches of the military to document military service and separation periods. If the DD Form 214 is not available, any document showing end of service terms other than dishonorable discharge may be used to confirm benefit eligibility. You may also request a replacement DD Form 214 by following the instructions from the Department of Veterans Affairs provided on their website


Eligibility Requirements

A veteran must be eligible to receive burial benefits, death benefits, and memorial items. Eligibility may vary based on the specific benefit being applied for, however it is generally based on the following criteria: 


Generally those veterans who are not eligible include: 


Veterans Burial Allowance

A burial allowance, also sometimes called a “veterans death benefit”, may be available to help offset any burial, funeral, and transportation costs related to a veteran’s death. You will need to pay for these services in advance and then apply for the allowance, however it is an option if these expenses are not being reimbursed by another agency or the veteran’s employer. 

The amount of a burial allowance varies based on the veteran’s date of death and whether the death was service related. There is also an additional allowance amount for a headstone or marker. Your funeral director can help you determine eligibility and the amount of any potential allowances. You can also find more information regarding burial allowances here


Military Funeral Honors

All eligible veterans are entitled to standard Military Funeral Honors (MFH) during their funeral or memorial service. This ceremony includes traditions for military honors that are deeply meaningful and symbolic to our service members and their loved ones. The elements of the standard MFH ceremony typically include the following components: 


For a service with an urn, the flag will already be folded and carried next to the urn in a manner similar to ceremonies involving casketed remains. When the urn comes to its place of rest, the flag will be unfolded and ceremoniously held over the urn. It will then be folded again before the next part of the service. 

Once the flag is folded, it will be presented to the family or other representative of the Veteran. The flag is intended to be a keepsake for the family and a long lasting tribute to remember the sacrifices made by the Veteran and their family. Many families choose to display the flag in a special flag case. There are also flag case urns designed to hold cremated remains while protecting the flag. 

In addition to the standard MFH, some veterans may qualify for additional honors based on their rank. Full MFH may include elements such as a military flyover, color guard, and a rifle salute. To receive Military Funeral Honors, the required documentation must be submitted as soon as possible to provide sufficient time to organize resources. Your funeral home or funeral director can help with completing the correct forms and getting them submitted to the correct agency. You can also reach out to the Department of Defense with questions regarding the Military Funeral Honors program on their website

Burial Flag

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides a United States flag at no cost to the next-of-kin of a deceased veteran. The flag is provided as a keepsake designed to honor the memory of the veteran. It is typically used during the funeral or memorial service during the flag folding and presentation ceremony detailed above before being presented to the family or next-of-kin. 

Family members or close friends of the veteran may apply for a burial flag if the veteran meets one of the following eligibility requirements: 

Who Can Receive a Burial Flag and How Do You Apply?

Burial flags are usually presented to the family or next-of-kin of the veteran following the flag ceremony during a funeral or memorial service. If there is no next-of-kin to receive the flag, it will be given to whoever submits the application requesting the flag, generally a friend or non-family member. 

To receive a burial flag, you need to complete and submit the Application for a United States Flag for Burial Purposes, the VA Form 27-2008. You may take the completed form to your funeral director, the regional VA office in your area, or any United States Post Office. It is recommended that you call ahead to confirm your local post office has burial flags on hand; otherwise they can direct you to a location that does. 

Suggestions for Burial Flag Display and Care

The VA is only able to supply one flag per veteran and replacement flags are not available. Some veterans organizations or groups may be able to help you acquire a new flag if the original one is lost, damaged, or destroyed, but you should take care to protect the original flag as much as possible. Burial flags are intended to be a symbolic keepsake and not meant to be displayed outside long term. Once the flag is used in the funeral ceremony, it should be left in the folded state and protected in an inside location. 

Most families choose to display the flag in a safe place where it can serve as a memento and keepsake to help preserve the memory of the veteran. A flag case or urn designed to hold ashes while displaying the flag can be a very meaningful keepsake for many people. Some families choose to donate their flag to the Avenue of Flags program at their local national cemetery where it will be flown on patriotic holidays in honor of all deceased veterans.  

The burial flag application listed above provides more comprehensive information about applying for a burial flag, who is eligible to receive a flag, and guidelines for use and care of the flag. 


Veterans Headstones

The VA will provide a free Government headstone or marker for any unmarked grave of an eligible veteran at any cemetery around the world, regardless of their date of death. For eligible veterans who passed away on or after November 1, 1990, a headstone or marker can be provided even if there is a private headstone or marker already in place. Headstones and markers are generally made of granite, marble, or bronze and the applicant can select the type of marker they’d prefer, whether flat or upright. Depending on the cemetery or place of burial, there may be specific restrictions and requirements for any headstones or markers that must be followed. For veterans choosing to be cremated, the VA can also provide a niche marker designed to accompany cremated remains placed in a columbarium. 

For burials occurring in a national cemetery, state veteran’s cemetery, or at a military base or post cemetery, any headstones or markers will be ordered by the cemetery officials based on information provided by the next of kin or other representative of the veteran. Headstones and markers are not provided for the spouse or children of the veteran unless those family members are being buried with the veteran in a national cemetery, state Veteran’s cemetery, or on a military base or post. 

The veteran’s family may be responsible for any fees associated with or charges incurred from placing the headstone or marker in a private cemetery, such as setting fees or cemetery expenses. 


Presidential Certificate

A Presidential Memorial Certificate is an engraved paper certificate signed by the current president, intended to honor the memory of the veteran. Certificates are available for eligible veterans, and also any family members and close friends who request one. For veterans buried in a national cemetery, a certificate will be automatically presented to the family. 

You can request a certificate by completing the required form and submitting it along with copies of the appropriate discharge documents and a copy of the death certificate. The funeral home you are working with can also help you with this process. 


Burial in a National Cemetery

Eligible veterans may be entitled to burial in a VA national cemetery, along with their surviving spouse and children of the veteran in certain situations. Cremated remains may still be buried or interred in a VA national cemetery in the same manner as a traditional casketed burial, including any honors that may be rendered during the service. 

The following benefits are included with burial in a VA national cemetery and are provided at no cost to the family of the veteran: 

VA cemeteries only allow arrangements to be made at the time of death and therefore you may not reserve a space in advance. However, you can apply for and obtain a Certificate of Eligibility to inform the state of any intentions to be buried in a VA cemetery within that state. While specific plots cannot be reserved, you are able to reserve a space adjacent to the plot for burial of a spouse or minor child next to the veteran. Also be aware that there are frequently waiting periods before a burial in a VA cemetery can take place, as the VA needs time to confirm a decedent’s eligibility. This process can be helped by making sure the family has all of the necessary documentation and by obtaining pre-need burial eligibility confirmation when possible. 

When a Death Occurs

When a Death Occurs at Home

If a person dies at home unexpectedly without home health care or hospice in place, the first call should be to your local authorities or emergency services. Let the first responders know if there is an advanced directive or do-not-resuscitate (DNR) in place when they arrive. The medical professionals will likely confirm that the person has passed and contact the local coroner or medical examiner to officially declare the death. If your loved one had home services for end of life care, contact that agency to provide an update and get instructions on your next steps. These services can generally confirm a death at home without the involvement of other authorities. 

If you have already selected the funeral home you prefer to work with, you may contact them to arrange transportation into their care. In some situations the coroner may need additional time to complete an investigation regarding the cause of death. If so, they will instruct you on what to expect during that time. If you have not pre-selected a funeral home, you may choose to take a few days to make that decision. 

It is important that you do not try to move your loved one or change anything around the home while you are waiting for first responders to arrive. You may choose to take a little time to say goodbye to the person before they are transported to the mortuary or coroner’s office. You should take care to lock up the home to secure any valuables and property after the authorities leave. Please make arrangements for the immediate care of any pets, if necessary. 


When a Death Occurs at a Hospital or Care Facility

When someone dies in a hospital or other facility, the caregivers and staff will help coordinate the discharge process. You may need to clarify whether the facility will be notifying your funeral home of choice of the death or if you need to contact them. The time frame for your loved one being released into the funeral home’s care may vary, but the staff should keep you updated throughout the process. Most hospice facilities will pre-arrange end of life plans and coordinate all of the details for you after a death occurs. 


When a Death Occurs Away From Home

If a person passes away while away from home, first responders or other   authorities need to confirm a cause of death before releasing the deceased to a funeral home. You will need to select a funeral home near your location to handle the immediate arrangements and transport the person home, if desired. The local funeral home will work with your hometown funeral home to coordinate transportation of your loved one into their care or make other arrangements, as necessary.