Red Tape and a “Black Binder of Death”

There are many things associated to the death of a loved one that many don’t think about or are never told, let’s tackle the morbid topic of red tape.

When my husband died, before I even left the hospital (in a state of utter shock), I had to decide where to send his body. My husband was only 42 when he passed away, and this was something for which I was not prepared. Something I had never thought about, and something I had not researched. (If you know me, you know that I research EVERYTHING) I had made no calls, run no internet searches, and hadn’t even contacted funeral homes. I was immediately put on the spot, at least that is how I felt. What to do with the body? Well, I just blurted out the name of a local funeral home that I had driven passed on many occasions. I guessed I would call them to warn them once I arrived at home. That was the first of many decisions I had to make in the after death process.

I am not certain how long it was before I reached out to the funeral home that first day, but when I called they had already been notified by the hospital and were arranging transport to their location. Things began to move really quickly, at least that is how I felt. My heart goes out to those in the funeral industry. They have to deal with people who are sometimes at their worst. I am sure I was a wreck on Day 2 when I walked in for my appointment. Thankfully I had family there to assist me because I was in a daze for sure. The first thing the funeral director did, after introducing himself and escorting us to an office, was hand me a black leather binder. From here on out, this will forever be affectionately know as “The Black Binder of Death.” (I tend to deal with most stressful circumstances with a healthy dose of sarcasm.) This binder became my guidebook to funeral and postmortem planning. There were checklists, resources, suggestions for the funeral, etc. Some things to think about:

  1. How many death certificates will you need, you will invariably need more that the county provides, ordering through the funeral home is easier and saves you time an money later. We settled on 28 in total, how we came up with that number is beyond me.
  2. What church/pastor and type of service would you be having and where? We settled on no visitation/viewing. A church service, held at the church, a catered luncheon to be held in my HOA clubhouse, and a small family-only interment.
  3. There are of course the obvious funeral decisions, burial or cremation? Casket or urn? Where will the interment take place? This was an easier decision for me, as it was the one thing my husband and I had previously discussed, years prior. He expressed that whenever it came down to it, he wanted to be cremated. So there was one decision I didn’t have to make. I, however, needed to decide on the simple urn and where it would be placed. We chose an outside mausoleum on the top of a hill in the cemetery adjacent to the funeral home, in the town in which we lived.

All of these things seem not so difficult on the surface, right? But then they get more detailed, minute, and complicated from here on out.

  1. I was blessed to have a friend and colleague that led the marketing department where I worked. She was gracious enough to help write the obituary and set up a memorial page with the American Heart Association in lieu of flowers. This was a tremendous burden lifted. (A.E., I owe you big time! And please don’t correct my punctuation and grammar on this blog.)
  2. I still had to collect photos for a memorial slideshow, choose a menu for the luncheon, shop for funeral clothes because neither I nor my daughter had anything suitable, make calls to family and friends to communicate the news and deliver the details for the service. (This is one time I appreciate social media) Do you know how hard it is to tell your story of loss over and over again, multiple times a day? I am thankful my family members helped me with that phone tree.
  3. Then there were the details of the service:
    • Who would play music, would there be a singer, and what songs would we choose?
    • What bible readings would we select? Since it was the church I was a member of at the time, we held a full Catholic mass. We needed something from the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Gospel. And who would we chose to read them?
    • There was a questionnaire for the church to assist the pastor in developing a personal homily/sermon. What were my husband’s passions, what were his favorite bible passages or books, what was important for people to know about him?
    • And lastly, a letter from my 8 y.o. daughter to her father, that would be read at the service.

All of this, and we really haven’t even touched on the actual RED TAPE yet.

  1. Follow-up with Social Security office to be certain the death was reported and what benefits you are entitled to (if any).
  2. Transfer bill/services to your name if applicable (utilities for example)
  3. Notify husbands creditors, and any other services that will need to be canceled. (cell phone, credit cards, gym memberships, etc)
  4. Determine if you have insurance death claims to be filed, notify health insurance, mortgage company, university (my husband was finishing up his degree), and any other shared property.
  5. If there is no will, you must petition the probate court system to be the administrator of any estate.
  6. Sell his car, as there is no use having two vehicles.
  7. Establish a new will for myself.

All of these tasks can be stressful on a good day, now let’s lump them all together and work through them while grieving through an incomprehensible loss. I am not sure how I managed to get through all of the tasks, but I sure am thankful for the “Black Binder of Death”, it made me think about things I would have not thought about otherwise. Even with my binder, things popped up for many years after his death. In fact, I have since moved, and to this day, still receive mail for my late husband.

**I know this post may seem morbid and less personal than some of my others, however, the topic is one I think people should be prepared for, something to give thought to. Don’t be caught off-guard like I was, have some idea of what will be required BEFORE you someone puts a Black Binder of Death in your hands.

Published by jenr8ion widow

I am a mother of a teenager. I am a career woman. I am a remarried widow. I am struggling everyday to hold it all together, raise talented and gifted child, and come out a better person in the long run. This is a chronicle or rant of my journey. Many will judge, many will criticize, but not many can say they walked in my shoes.

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