If you are planning a funeral, you may be feeling overwhelmed. Many decisions must be made in a timely fashion. Many people must be notified. Your natural and necessary feelings of grief make these tasks even more difficult. Focus on what is really important-what is essential-about the funeral you are planning. Make the funeral about a celebration of life not about death. Personalizing a funeral can pay an everlasting final tribute to your loved one.
As you begin to think about personalizing the funeral, turn your thoughts into memories of the decedent. Think about his / her qualities and what he / she meant to others. Consider passions, hobbies, pastimes, likes and dislikes.
Make a list of the following:
• special memories to share and reminisce
• important people to include somehow
• attributes or passions of the person who passed
• achievements of the person who is no longer with us
Personalize the elements of ceremony
Once you’ve given thought to the unique life and personality of the decedent, it’s time to incorporate those memories into the funeral plan. Be creative. Share your thoughts with your friends and family as well as the funeral director. Many times the funeral director will suggest personalization ideas to the bereaved family that otherwise would not have been thought of.
A good way to personalize the funeral is to personalize the common elements of funeral ceremonies:
• the visitation
• the eulogy
• the music
• the readings
• the procession
• the committal service
• the gathering or reception
Each of these elements can be personalized in many ways. If you’re having a visitation, for example, you could set up a display of photos, memorabilia, collections or artwork. You could do the same at the gathering following the ceremony. Choose music that was meaningful to the person who passed away or to your family. Select poetry and other readings that speak to the life of this unique person. Ask the people who were closest to the decedent to participate by playing music, giving readings, being pallbearers, making food for the gathering-whatever suits their own unique talents.
The eulogy is especially important
When personalized, the eulogy is perhaps the most memorable and healing element of the funeral ceremony. It can also be called the remembrance. A eulogy is the speech during the funeral ceremony that talks about the life and character of the person remembered. The eulogy acknowledges the unique life and affirms the significance of that life for all who shared in it. The eulogy can be delivered by a clergyperson, a family member or a friend. Instead of a traditional eulogy delivered by one person, you may choose to ask several people to speak and share their memories. There is a growing trend toward having people attending the funeral stand up and share a memory special to them.
More ideas for personalizing a funeral service
The funeral service you have should be as meaningful as the life you will be remembering. Here are a few more ideas:
- Write a personalized obituary. Some newspapers allow you to express a little more than the usual who/what/why/where/when. Appoint a creative “word” person in the family to handle this task.
- Create a column in the guest book for people to jot down a memory after they sign their name.
- Display personal items or hobby paraphernalia on a table at the visitation, the ceremony and/or the gathering afterwards.
- Have more than one person deliver the eulogy. Ask several people to share memories and talk about different aspects of the decedent’s life.
- Choose clothing for the decedent that reflects his / her life, interests, passions, etc. The clothing needn’t be formal or somber. Just make sure the clothing fits your loved one’s personality.
- Create a personalized program for the ceremony. You can include photos, poems, music-whatever you’d like.
- Show a videotape or slide show of the person’s life during the funeral. Pictures sometimes mean more than words can say.
- Ask children if they would like to write a letter or draw a picture. Their “goodbyes” can then be placed in the casket.
- Select the decedent’s favorite flowers. A simple arrangement of freshly-cut lilacs, for example, might be perfect.
- At the funeral, invite people to write down a memory to share about the decedent. Appoint someone to gather and read the memories aloud.
- Create a funeral that captures the personality of the person who passed. If he was zany, don’t be afraid to use humor. If she was affectionate, have everyone stand up and hug the person next to them during the ceremony.
- Display photos of the person during the visitation, the ceremony and/or the gathering. In fact, putting together a photo collage can be a very healing experience for the family in the days before the funeral.
- Use lots of music, especially if music was meaningful to the decedent or is to your family. Music can be played at the visitation, the committal service and the gathering as well as the funeral service itself.
- Create a personalized grave marker. Include a poem, a drawing or a short phrase that defines your loved one.
A final word
I hope you have been encouraged in the efforts to create a personalized funeral ceremony. While it may seem overwhelming right now, I promise you this: a well-planned, inclusive, personalized funeral will touch your family, the friends of the person who passed away and you yourself deeply. A funeral can be looked back upon warmly for many years to come. The funeral will help you begin to heal and will provide you with great comfort and satisfaction in the months and years to come.