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Meaningful Funerals

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What Do Funeral Directors Do?

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With a loved one in hospice care, it’s possible that you may be planning a final tribute sometime in the near future. But what exactly do funeral directors do, and how can they help you? To most people, funeral service is a bit of a mystery. That’s because a vast majority of people have never had to plan a funeral. Let’s look at some of the main ways funeral directors serve grieving families during a time of loss.

Funeral directors are event planners, caregivers, and administrators. Often, they are also embalmers, caring for a loved one’s body. In many ways, funeral directors are guides to families during a very confusing and difficult time. For instance, funeral directors are there to offer comfort, advice, guidance, and insight to families during the entire funeral planning process. Here’s a look at what funeral directors do every day to serve families.

To show the faces of funeral directors

Creating a Healing and Meaningful Funeral or Memorial Service

Primarily, a funeral director’s role is to help the family create a personalized and meaningful funeral experience. A good funeral service brings healing to the grieving while honoring the final wishes of the person who has died. So, a funeral director’s main job is to help the family grieve the loss of a loved one while also ensuring that the deceased’s body is cared for with dignity and respect.

The following list covers the eight primary duties that funeral directors perform every day with great dedication and attention to detail.

1. Care for and prepare the body of the deceased for final disposition

Firstly, the funeral director will coordinate the transfer of the deceased into the care of the funeral home, day or night. Then, they will direct and supervise the work of embalmers, funeral attendants, death certificate clerks, cosmetologists, or other staff.

Preparation and care of the body may include all of the following:

    • Washing of the body
    • Embalming preparation
    • Restorative art
    • Dressing
    • Hairdressing
    • Cosmetology
    • Casketing

If cremation is chosen, the funeral director will oversee the cremation and return the cremated remains to the family. In cases where the body must be transferred out of state, the funeral director will coordinate the transfer of the body to the final place of rest, in accordance with the applicable laws and regulations.

Finally, the funeral director will offer the family options for caskets, urns, burial liner/vault, and cemetery space, as applicable.

To show a couple discussing plans with a funeral director

2. Plan the funeral with the family

Next, the funeral director will meet with the family for the arrangement conference. During this time, the funeral director can get to know the family and educate them on how to plan a healing and meaningful service.

To create a personalized service, funeral directors listen to the family and offer ideas, insights, and advice. During this time, the funeral director will share the elements of a meaningful funeral and offer suggestions for visitations, gatherings, readings, music, eulogies, symbols, and healing actions.

In addition, funeral directors incorporate funeral customs based on the family’s preferences. Personalization may include traditions of faith groups and/or civic organizations, military honors, or cultural rites and rituals.

Most funeral directors are able to offer a variety of options to suit the family’s needs. Funeral directors are there to answer any questions the family may have and help them make choices that are right for them. That way, the funeral or memorial service brings comfort and peace to all who mourn the loss.

3. Coordinate all the details behind the scenes

In addition to helping the family plan the funeral experience, funeral directors perform various duties behind the scenes. For example, funeral directors usually:

  • Prepare and submit obituary information to media outlets as needed
  • Help the family coordinate with clergy or celebrants, a venue for the service, and musicians
  • Ensure that clergy or celebrant and musicians know where to be when and that they receive an honorarium for their time
  • Help order funeral sprays and other flower arrangements as the family wishes
  • Ensure that the funeral, memorial, and/or graveside service venues are properly prepared
  • Coordinate any cremation or burial processes
  • Make sure that the funeral service is streamed live or digitally recorded, if the family wishes
  • Provide additional memorialization products; for example, a register book, prayer cards, acknowledgment cards, and funeral folders
  • Coordinate a police escort for the funeral procession
  • Handle all memorial contributions presented to the family

To illustrate cemetery needs

4. Take care of permanent memorialization needs

Next, the funeral director helps the family consider permanent memorialization needs. For instance, they may discuss options such as a cemetery plot, columbarium niche, plaque, grave marker, deciding on where to scatter ashes, and more. As part of their role, the funeral director will help you review your options and choose what fits best for your family. Then, they will help with the details. A funeral director will:

  • Schedule the opening and closing of the grave with cemetery personnel
  • Help the family choose a casket, urn, burial vault, and cemetery plot
  • If scattering is chosen, they will offer location options and suggestions
  • For a graveside service, they will:
    • Provide transportation for the remains, primary mourners, and flowers between sites
    • Coordinate with the cemetery to prepare and decorate the site for the service
  • Make sure gravestones or grave markers are ordered and placed in the cemetery

5. Assist with legal documentation

After losing a loved one, there are a lot of legal documents to complete and file with the state or federal government. However, the funeral director will take the lead on some of this documentation, ensuring that everything is taken care of as needed. For instance, the funeral director will:

  • Submit documentation for an official death certificate
  • Help the family obtain certified copies of the death certificate
  • Request cremation or burial authorization documents and permits
  • Explain the benefits available through Social Security or the Veteran’s Administration
  • Assist with submitting claims for prepaid burial plans, insurance policies, or annuities on behalf of surviving family members
  • Stay informed on any policies, regulations, or laws to ensure that funeral service operations are in compliance

Show someone completing legal documentation

6. Share grief resources

After the funeral or memorial service, the funeral director may continue to check in with the grieving family to see how they are doing. As the funeral director listens to and assesses the family’s needs, they may:

  • Provide grief assistance and grief resources
  • Connect the families and friends with local grief counselors
  • Share support group activities in the area

7. Help families plan ahead

While most of a funeral director’s responsibilities occur after a loss, not all do. For instance, they do often help families record funeral wishes ahead of time. Planning ahead for funeral wishes can be extremely helpful to loved ones. The more your family knows about your final wishes, the easier the funeral planning process will be after you’re gone. At the time of loss, many families are plagued by the question, “Did we do the right thing?” It would be so much easier if they knew exactly what you wanted. This is why funeral directors actively work with families to create a written plan that will benefit surviving family members. The funeral director will:

  • Ask questions about your wishes
  • Determine whether you prefer cremation or burial
  • Review casket, urn, and grave liner/vault options
  • Go over permanent memorial options
  • Share the benefits of having a healing and meaningful service
  • Brainstorm ways to personalize the funeral or memorial service
  • Gather vital statistics information
  • Review veterans’ burial benefits, if applicable
  • Discuss payment options (if you would like to pay in advance to save your family from the expense in the future)
  • And more!

Show funeral director helping couple through the planning process

8. Run a small business

Lastly, a number of funeral homes are family-run businesses, and funeral directors may need to wear a few different hats. When they aren’t assisting families, the funeral director may need to:

  • Work with various vendors such as florists, caterers, and cemeteries to fulfill the family’s wishes
  • Submit death certificates to the state
  • File necessary documentation and permits
  • Complete billing, bookkeeping, and payroll duties
  • Keep accurate records of inventory
  • See to any last-minute details for the family
  • Other duties to keep a small business running

As you can see, funeral directors do quite a lot. While there may be some things you’d like to do yourself, the professionals are there to take care of you! They know exactly what is needed and can make everything a little easier.

*NOTE: This article seeks to list the vast majority of the responsibilities of a funeral director, but it’s not comprehensive.

Woman standing next to casket while holding white lilies

Simple Ways to Personalize the 7 Elements of a Funeral

By Meaningful Funerals No Comments

With a loved on in hospice care, you may feel a little overwhelmed with the idea of planning a funeral or memorial service. That’s okay. So many of us have never planned a funeral before and simply don’t know where to start. To help grieving families, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief author and educator, has identified 7 elements that create a meaningful and healing funeral or memorial service: music, readings, viewing/visitation, eulogy, symbols, gathering, and actions. When you personalize these elements, you can create a funeral experience that will touch hearts and meaningfully celebrate someone loved 

Grandmother hugging grandson, both smiling

The most important thing to remember is that personalization is key. The more personal a funeral or memorial service is, the more healing and meaningful it will be. Dr. Wolfelt says, “Focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral you are planning.  What is essential is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends.  To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.”  

Let’s review the 7 elements and discuss ideas for personalizing each one.

Man playing piano, focus on hands

Music 

First of all, music sets the tone of a funeral or memorial service and brings emotions to the forefront. In fact, one of the purposes of a funeral is to allow mourners to grieve together, and in many ways, music says what words cannot. We often shy away from our emotions, but don’t be afraid to invite people to express their grief. Consider using music as an avenue to bring out what people are thinking and feeling. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Choose songs that were significant to your loved one, no matter their musical genre 
  • Consider whether you want music performed live or if you prefer to use recordings 
  • If you have musical family members, you might ask them to play a tribute song 
  • For those who are religious, choose appropriate hymns or praise songs 

For a few more ideas, please read Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral CeremonyTop 10 Songs for a Funeral CeremonyTop 12 Country Songs for a Celebration of Life Service, and Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?  

Person wearing dark shirt and holding open book

Readings

Second, readings add another facet to a meaningful service. They are another way to invite mourners to express their emotions while also honoring the unique spirit of your loved one. Have you ever heard a poem, lyrics, or movie quote that really spoke to you? These can easily be used as a reading and can add a deeper dimension to the service.  

How to Personalize: 

  • Use quotes from favorite books, plays, movies, or TV shows 
  • For a person of faith, read passages from an appropriate holy book 
  • Consider reading special poems or quotations 
  • Read a letter you have written to your loved one
  • You could use your loved one’s own writing or incorporate catchphrases they were known for 
  • If you are planning aheadconsider writing a message ahead of time to be read at the service 

For additional ideas, check out How Do Readings Enhance the Funeral Experience or Top 10 Poems for a Funeral Ceremony. 

Woman standing next to casket while holding white lilies

Viewing/Visitation 

Third, the viewing or visitation is a time for family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors to gather and express support and sympathy. If you choose, a viewing creates an opportunity for mourners to see this special person one last time and begin to acknowledge the reality of their death. For many, as part of the grieving process, it is important to physically see the body. The viewing offers this opportunity. However, a family can choose to simply have a visitation, which is a set aside time to gather and receive support from caring friends and family without the body present.  

The viewing and/or visitation offers a special time for personalization. Whether the body is present or not, this is a time to tell a story – the story of a lifetime. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Display photos, mementos, or items associated with a hobby or interest (books, artwork, ceramics, model planes, etc.)  
  • Invite guests to write down a memory on provided notecards (the family can enjoy them later) 
  • Provide a keepsake token to take home (a book, a favorite recipe, etc.) 
  • Create a memorial work of art, like a thumbprint tree 
  • Bring a photo book or your loved one’s favorite book and ask people to write notes inside 
  • Create a slideshow to play during the event 

Man in dark suit speaking into microphone

Eulogy 

Fourth, the eulogy may be the single most important aspect of a funeral service. It’s important to take care and spend concentrated time deciding what you want to say. After all, the eulogy is the time to acknowledge and affirm the significance of the life lived. The eulogy, sometimes called the “remembrance” or the “homily,” can be delivered by a clergy person, a family member, or even by a series of people. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Share memories, quotes, or even a loved one’s favorite jokes 
  • Tell a significant and meaningful story about the person who has died 
  • Bring visual aids (like an item the person carried or were known to cherish 
  • Share something the person taught you and how they impacted your life and the lives of others 

For more helpful ideas, please read What is a Eulogy and Crafting a Eulogy 

flower arrangement with purple and yellow flowers

Symbols 

Fifth, symbols are an important aspect of a funeral because they convey love and comfort, facilitate expression, and offer a focus point for the grieving. For instance, we send flowers or bake casseroles to convey the love we feel and the support we offer.   

For one grieving family, an appropriate symbol was the quilts their grandmother made. Before her death, she made a quilt for every child and grandchild, and at her final tribute, the quilts were displayed on the pews – a representation of her love and impact on her family. Common symbols are an appropriate religious symbol, flowers, dark clothing, and candles, but you can use whatever feels best to honor your loved one 

How to Personalize: 

  • If appropriate, ask everyone to wear your loved one’s favorite color to the funeral 
  • With traditional burial, the body and casket are the ultimate symbol or focal point 
  • With cremation, a symbol might be an urn, a portrait, or some other appropriate item 
  • If they were a person of faith, include religious symbols to offer comfort 
  • If they were known for something (like quilts), turn those items into a symbol 

Woman wiping away tears with a handkerchief

Gathering 

Sixth, the gathering is an opportunity for friends and family to come together after the funeral service to share stories and to support each other. This event may occur at the funeral home, an event center, someone’s home, or even a local restaurant. The point of a gathering is to bring people together directly following the service to share stories, remember a loved one, and connect (or reconnect) with people. 

In many ways, the gathering is another excellent place for personalization because you may have more time and a lot of space to work with.  

How to Personalize: 

  • Have the gathering at your loved one’s favorite restaurant 
  • Choose a venue that means something (for example, a church, local country club, beach, park, etc.) 
  • Serve your loved one’s favorite foods 
  • Display photos, cherished possessions, and mementos 
  • Decorate with your loved one’s favorite colors 
  • Include a set aside time when friends or family can publicly share special memories 
  • Create a memorial work of art together or plant a memorial tree 

Grieving woman laying flowers on a loved one's grave

Actions  

And finally, by inviting others into action at the funeral service, you engage mourners and invite them to put their grief into motion. Simply put, mourning is the outward expression of our inward grief. To move others toward healing, it is important to invite them to act. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Participate in a release ceremony (biodegradable balloons or lanterns, doves, etc.) 
  • Incorporate keepsake items 
  • Invite mourners to write down memories on note cards
  • Ask family and friends to bring photos they have of your loved one to add to a group collage 
  • Set a theme that invites attendees to wear your loved one’s favorite color or style of clothing (i.e. Hawaiian shirts, sports jerseys, etc.)
  • Light candles of remembrance 
  • Ask people to take part in the service as eulogists, readers, singers, musicians, or pallbearers 

Hopefully, these thoughts will spark ideas of your ownUltimately, planning a funeral or memorial service that accurately reflects your loved one’s life, passions, values, and beliefs creates an opportunity to specifically and meaningfully remember, honor, and celebrate their life.  

As you consider how you can incorporate these 7 elements into a funeral or memorial service, remember that you aren’t on your own in this. The funeral home has caring and experienced staff ready to help you with all your questions and concerns as you create a moment in time that can bring peace and comfort for years to come.

Cemetery images with beautifully manicured graves to illustrate other interment options

Understanding Your Interment Options

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Whether you’ve entered hospice care and want to put your final wishes in writing, or you’re planning a meaningful service for a loved one, the ins and outs of funeral planning can be unfamiliar and confusing. You don’t know where to start or even what all of your options are. As you do your research, you may come across unfamiliar terms, like interment, columbarium, mausoleum, crypt, vault, niche, and more. This article will explain what these terms mean and give you a better idea of what’s included with each.

Older husband and wife sitting on couch at home, looking at document and reviewing interment options

Definition

First of all, let’s define interment. Usually, the term refers to burial, typically with funeral rites. However, over time, the definition has changed and now means “final resting place,” whether for burial or cremation.

Interment Options for Burial of the Body

If you choose burial of the body as your preference, you have many options available for both in-ground or above-ground burial. However, not all options are available everywhere, so check with a local funeral professional to determine which ones are available in your area.

Traditional Burial

With traditional burial, the body remains intact and is usually embalmed to allow for a viewing or visitation prior to the funeral and committal services. Prior to burial, the grave is excavated at the cemetery and either a grave liner or burial vault is placed in the grave (the family decides which one). Later, after the committal service, the cemetery grounds crew will lower the casket and fill the grave with soil. Eventually, a grave marker with epitaph is added to the location as a memorial.

Light wood casket with white lilies and greenery to illustrate traditional burial

Lawn Crypt

Essentially, a lawn crypt is a type of underground mausoleum. It’s built deeper into the ground and can house multiple caskets. Often made of concrete, a lawn crypt possesses a drainage system, which protects the grave’s contents from the elements. In some cases, families are all buried together, but it’s not a requirement. Make sure to ask a cemetery representative if they use individual grave markers or just one for everyone buried in the lawn crypt.

Mausoleum

A mausoleum is an above-ground memorial building for housing casketed remains. They offer personal ways to commemorate your loved one, including name carvings, plaques, and vases for flowers. A mausoleum typically offers single or companion crypts and protects the remains from the elements. Both community and private mausoleums exist. In most cases, a private mausoleum is much more expensive. A mausoleum is a great option for families who want to be interred together.

Large stone structure to illustrate a mausoleum

Natural (or Green) Burial

Another option for full-body interment is natural or green burial. The main idea behind green and natural burials is to allow the decomposition process to occur naturally. The main differences are two-fold: 1) Green burial excludes any type of embalming, and the cemetery grounds are specifically sanctioned for green burial; 2) While green burials must occur on very specific plots of land, a natural burial can take place on private land (subject to regulations) or in any cemetery that allows it.

Interment Options for the Cremated Body

Columbarium

Moving into interment options for the cremated body, a columbarium is a popular option. Columbaria consist of many small compartments, called niches, that each hold an individual urn. Each niche typically includes a memorial plaque that acts as a grave marker, identifying the names, dates of life, and an epitaph (if the family wishes). All columbaria are communal, though a family can purchase a family-sized niche to allow multiple urns to be placed together.

Columbarium wall with plaques and flowers

Urn Burial

It is also possible to bury an urn rather than to place it in a columbarium niche. Some cemeteries have landscaped urn gardens while others offer burial plots similar to those for traditional burial. A traditional plot can hold the cremated bodies of multiple people or may even hold a casket and an urn, depending on the cemetery regulations. As with traditional burial, urn burial requires an outer burial container. A third option for urn burial is green burial. You can place a biodegradable urn in a green burial ground without an outer burial container.

Scattering

With scattering, take the cremated body to a special place (remember to check the laws and regulations for that place) or use a scattering garden, which is a designated, beautiful space often attached to a cemetery. With a scattering garden, the cemetery often provides a means of adding a permanent physical marker so that family and friends feel more connected to their lost loved one. If you decide to scatter all of the ashes, take time to prepare yourself emotionally. For some, it can come as a shock that all that was left of a loved one’s body is suddenly gone.

Cemetery images with beautifully manicured graves to illustrate other interment options

Other Interment Options

A few lesser-used interment options are:

As you can see, there are several interment options available to you. All you have to do is choose the one that best fits your wishes and your family’s needs. No matter which option you choose, remember that it’s important to designate a final resting place so that friends, family, and future generations have a place to visit, remember, and honor the life that has been lived.

Selecting the Right Funeral Home for Your Family’s Needs

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With a loved one entering hospice care, you will need a team of people to help you in the coming days, weeks, and months. One person you should consider including on your support team is a caring and compassionate funeral professional from a reputable funeral home. They will help you and your loved one create a final tribute that is meaningful, personalized, and perfectly tailored to mark the significance and beauty of your loved one’s life.

Right now, you may feel like avoiding the topic altogether. That’s completely understandable. However, while it will be difficult in the moment, there is a peace that comes from knowing exactly what your loved one wants and balancing their wants with your family’s need to grieve.

To help you select a funeral planning partner that will best meet your family’s needs and desires, consider these 10 characteristics as you review and compare your options.

Five star wooden pieces laid on a blue background to indicate a good reputation

1. Possesses a Good Reputation

We all know of a place (whether it be a restaurant, movie theater, retail store, or funeral home) that has a bad reputation. What do we instinctively do when we know a place has a bad reputation? We avoid it. We read the online reviews, we listen to other people’s stories, and we value our own experience.

Particularly when selecting a funeral home, find an establishment that possesses a good reputation so you can be confident in the care and service you will receive. Ask your friends for recommendations or read online reviews of the funeral homes in your area.

2. Employs Caring and Compassionate Staff

As with any business you frequent, you should expect to be treated with kindness. However, this attitude should be especially true of funeral home staff since families are facing an emotionally difficult time in their lives. Excellent customer service and authentic sincerity constitute a large part of a funeral home’s reputation, which is one reason these two qualities are very important to funeral directors and their staff. Make a short list of funeral homes you are considering and give them a call. You can learn a lot about the quality of a person from a simple phone call. The staff will treat you well and with consummate professionalism. If they don’t, move on.

Two people sitting together, one person holding the other person's hand in comfort

3. Communicates a Commitment to the Families It Serves

No matter where you go, you should have confidence in the funeral home’s commitment to you. If a funeral home has a good reputation and employs kind and caring staff, then they will likely show great commitment to the families they serve. However, it is still good practice to read a funeral home’s mission statement and history. These two pieces of information can give you a better understanding of a funeral home’s values and commitments. You should be a top priority.

4. Is Willing to Create a Unique and Meaningful Experience for You or Your Loved One

Renowned grief counselor, author, and educator, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, says, “What is essential [when planning a funeral] is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends. To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.

As you consider a funeral home, ask yourself, “Will this funeral home help me create a service unique to my needs and values?” Personalized funerals and memorials are on the rise in the United States. Families and friends are looking for unique and personal ways to honor lost loved ones, and a good funeral home will work with you to create a meaningful and healing experience. Is the funeral director listening to you carefully and willing to educate you in areas where you lack knowledge? Is the funeral director offering helpful options and explaining the benefits and pitfalls of each option?

Pushpins tacked into a map, showing locations

5. Offers a Good Location, Facility, and Services

First, whenever possible, choose a convenient location. You will be in frequent contact with the funeral home as you plan a funeral, so a convenient location will be helpful for your preparations.

Second, consider the funeral home facility critically. Is it clean and well-kept? Do they have a chapel, space for a visitation, viewing, or reception (if your plans require such spaces)? Is the décor to your liking? Is the space flexible – can you adjust it to meet your specific needs? Consider the elements you want to be a part of the funeral service and choose a funeral home that meets those desires.

Finally, confirm that the funeral home offers the services you need. Do they offer transportation services, embalming, cremation, etc.? Some funeral homes now offer child-friendly spaces – is that something that’s important to you? No matter what your wishes, only commit to a funeral home that can accomplish them.

6. Accommodates Religious or Cultural Needs

In the United States, the population has always been a mix of religions and culture. As it becomes even more diverse, it’s important for funeral homes to meet the changing needs. With this in mind, no matter what your background, you should look for a funeral home that will help you honor your loved one in the way that you deem appropriate for your cultural background and religious beliefs. For some people, their origins and beliefs make up the fabric of who they are. It’s important that these core values are evident in the funeral or memorial service. No two people are the same, and because of our individual uniqueness, no two funerals should be the same either.

Older couple sitting at home with funeral director, looking at documents, options, and pricing

7. Values Transparency about Costs and Descriptions

Almost everyone values a transparent fee structure. With that in mind, partner with a funeral home that values openness and transparency with you. In case you aren’t aware, funeral homes are required to follow the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule. This law stipulates that, when asked, a funeral home:

  • Must provide any consumer with a general price list
  • Should inform the consumer that they have the right to choose the funeral goods and services they want (with some exceptions)
  • Must disclose, on the general price list, whether any particular item is required by state or local law
  • May not refuse or charge a fee to handle a casket bought elsewhere
  • Must offer alternative containers (if cremation is chosen, alternative containers must be offered)

Ask for an itemized list that includes all expenses with nothing left out. This will help you determine what’s best for your budget – no surprises! And remember, you get what you pay for. Cheapest isn’t always best in every case. By doing things ahead of time, without the stress of time constraints, a family can save hundreds of dollars.

In short, look for a funeral home that is considerate of your needs and your budget. Is the funeral home transparent about funeral service costs? Is the package pricing clear? Have they offered you a general price list and helped you plan a service within your budget?

8. Offers Grief Resources

An important question to ask yourself is, “Does this funeral home provide services beyond the funeral itself?” A good funeral home will be there for you even after the funeral is over. Look for an establishment that offers grief counseling services, post funeral newsletters and education, grief support groups or materials, in-home “check in” visits and phone calls, or hosts holiday commemoration services, to name a few options. Your grief journey is important, and the right funeral home can help you on the road toward healing.

live stream words written on a button and a hand is pushing the button

9. Utilizes Up-to-Date Technology

The funeral industry is often accused of being behind the times, but this is not entirely true. Yes, some funeral homes may be slow to change, but there are new, exciting technological advances available. More and more funeral homes are cultivating a social media presence, creating and updating their websites, helping families create memorial videos, or offering livestream services. Some are even providing online funeral planning services. If these services are important to you, look for a funeral home that uses up-to-date technology to enhance its services.

10. Engages the Community with Education Programs

Finally, a good funeral home and its staff engages the community before, during, and after the funeral. Does the funeral home host education programs about estate planning and the importance of getting your affairs together? Do they offer Lunch & Learns to share the importance of funeral preplanning or offer tours of the funeral home facilities? Do they offer hospice continuing education or engage in community events? The funeral home should be an advocate of information. Death inevitably comes to us all, and we cannot change that. But education and preparation can be our ally, but that only happens if a funeral home engages with its community.

Armed with these 10 characteristics to look for, may you find just the right funeral care partner to help you create meaningful moments that are special, beautiful, and just what your family needs to grieve well and honor your loved one.

Two roses and music sheets laying on piano keys

Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral or Memorial Service

By Meaningful Funerals No Comments

Whether you’re in hospice care yourself or are with a loved one receiving care, an important conversation to have is how to honor life and legacy through a personalized and meaningful service. By doing this, you can balance the personal wishes of the person who is dying with the emotional needs of the family, creating a service that will bring healing and honor legacy.

Two roses and music sheets laying on piano keys

Music is an important element of a funeral ceremony because it helps us to process feelings that are difficult to put into words. Dr. Alan Wolfelt tells us that music imprints itself on our hearts more than any other experience in life. For people of faith, these feelings are often best expressed in hymns, which are songs of devotion or praise to God. If you are looking for timeless songs of faith to honor include in a final tribute, you may want to consider using one of these 10 beautiful hymns.

10. It is Well With My Soul (written by Horatio Gates Spafford, 1873)

“When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Spafford’s devout hymn was composed in the midst of great tragedy. After sending his family ahead of him on a boat to England, he received a telegram from his wife informing him that their ship had sunk in the Atlantic and that his four daughters had all passed away. In the aftermath of the event, Spafford wrote one of the most memorable of all hymns. Devoid of bitterness, the song is a testament to the level of Spafford’s faith even in the worst of times. His firm belief in the return of the Lord, vividly described as a day when the clouds will be “rolled back as a scroll,” is a beautiful sentiment that reminds Christian believers of their true home.

9. Great is Thy Faithfulness (written by Thomas O. Chisolm, 1923)

“‘Great is Thy faithfulness!’ ‘Great is Thy faithfulness!’
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
‘Great is Thy faithfulness,’ Lord, unto me!”

After the loss of a loved one, people often experience disorientation and confusion. How do we respond to loss, and how do we find a way to continue to live our lives? So much changes when a loved one passes away, and the natural response is to look for something to cling to. The words of this 20th century hymn provide a reminder of the things that are constant in the world. People of faith will find great comfort in singing, “Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not, / As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.” While nothing can take away the pain of loss, this hymn reminds the mourner that some things in life always stay the same.

8. I Need Thee (written by Annie Hawks and Robert Lowry, 1872)

“I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior!
I come to Thee.”

“Every hour I need thee.” Not monthly, weekly, or daily. Hourly. The speaker requires the assistance of the Lord in every activity and situation to see it through to completion. Every step of the journey is difficult and requires the presence of God. A cry of devotion in times of hardship, this 19th century favorite touches on themes of perseverance, faith, suffering, and comfort. For funeral attendees, it can be viewed as a request for God’s guidance through every stage of the grief journey. The knowledge of God’s presence is an encouragement to mourners as they prepare for a new way of life and set out on the road to healing.

7. Abide With Me (written by Henry Francis Lyte, 1847)

“Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.”

Faced with tuberculosis and the knowledge of his impending death, the 54-year-old Henry Francis Lyte used his time of trial as an opportunity to write one of the most beautiful and well-loved of all hymns. Not surprisingly, it has become a popular choice for spiritual funerals. The fact that Lyte was so close to death’s door makes this reflection on mortality and his personal relationship with God all the more powerful. But the song appeals not only to those nearing the end of their lives, but also to mourners who are facing the end of a certain way of life: life with their loved one. Funeral audiences can identify with Lyte’s heartfelt request for God to stay with him as “the darkness deepens.”

6. ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus (written by Louisa Stead, 1882)

“‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word;
Just to rest upon His promise;
…to know, Thus saith the Lord.”

Like most of the hymns on this list, this 19th century classic gives mourners a source of stability, a rock to lean on in times of hardship. Funeral guests can find peace of mind in the knowledge that the stress, fear, and doubt that often accompanies a loss are in the hands of a higher power. Stead suggests that there is no need to hold on to anything or to assume a heavy burden. Our sole responsibility is “Just from Jesus simply taking, / life, and rest, and joy, and peace.” While this assurance does not eradicate the pain of loss, it does provide some comfort and can serve to alleviate the irrational guilt, frustration, and stress that people often wrestle with on the road to recovery.

5. Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer (written by William Williams, 1745)

“Guide me, O thou great redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty,
Hold me with thy powerful hand.”

William Williams frames his most famous hymn in terms of a journey. Throughout all three stanzas, he asks God to guide him on his course. In the first stanza, he is a pilgrim wandering through a barren land. In the second, he uses imagery from Exodus 13, asking God to bring fire and a pillar of cloud to lead the way. And in the third, he is traveling across the Jordan to get to the land of Canaan. All three images correlate to the path that the mourner takes on his grief journey. Williams’ steadfast reliance on God during times of painful and frightening transition is relatable to mourners, making this three-and-a-half-century-old hymn as timely and relevant today as the day it was written.

4. In the Sweet By and By (written by Sanford Fillmore Bennett, 1868)

“There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way
To prepare us a dwelling place there.”

An obvious choice for inclusion in any collection of comforting hymns, this hopeful and faith-driven song communicates a sense of peace to the listener by drawing upon imagery of another, happier land. For mourners, the song’s use of the image of a faraway shore implies that loved ones are at peace with the Lord. While this knowledge doesn’t take away the pain that mourners feel, it offers some light during a difficult time. Bennett claims that after death, “our spirits shall sorrow no more, / Not a sigh for the blessing of rest.” This emphasis on rest and peace encourages loved ones and provides them with inner strength as they work through their grief.

3. Amazing Grace (written by John Newton, 1779)

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.”

Probably the most famous of all hymns, this song of redemption penned by a slave-trader-turned-abolitionist has captured the hearts of countless Christians. While certain stanzas dealing with sin and repentance may seem less suited to a funeral, the song’s reputation as a sort of anthem of Christianity makes it a great choice for any religious event. And there’s no doubt that the final stanza, with its beautiful depiction of the afterlife, will speak directly to the concerns of mourners. Amazing Grace taps into the essence of what it means to believe in God, and the universal love that believers bestow on it indicate that it is a powerful representation of the faith. For a funeral ceremony, you may want to consider singing at least a few stanzas of this masterpiece.

2. I’ll Fly Away (written by Albert E. Brumley, 1929)

“Just a few more weary days and then,
I’ll fly away;
To a land where joy shall never end,
I’ll fly away.”

This extremely popular gospel song speaks to our desire for peace. Brumley views death as a time of joy and rest, as opposed to this life, which he describes as “shadows,” “prison bars,” and “weary days.” By framing life’s transience in a positive light, the song encourages us to see the full scope of the drama, the larger picture. The troubles and pains of this life are but a tiny moment in time compared to the eternal land that awaits.

The upbeat melody conveys not only joy and peace but also confidence and steadfastness. “I’ll fly away” is not spoken as a mere possibility to be entertained, but as a reality that the speaker is fixated upon with absolute conviction. To sing this familiar gospel song in a funeral setting is to feel the pain of absence while simultaneously receiving the assurance that the spirit of a loved one has “flown away” to be with the Lord.

 1. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms (written by Anthony J. Showalter and Elisha Hoffman, 1887)

“What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.”

When it comes to comforting hymns, this beautiful song of surrender is unmatched. These three stanzas, accompanied by a simple refrain, contain everything that you could want in a song for a religious funeral: a gorgeous melody, a modest length, and reassuring words of peace. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms is a perfect lyrical distillation of the human soul’s devotion to God. For mourners faced with the emotional exhaustion that accompanies the loss of a loved one, it’s a blessing to hear that one can lean on the everlasting arms of God and rest “safe and secure from all alarms.” The theme of security applies equally well to those who are living and to those who have passed on. God’s love and peace is available in the here and now, as well as in the hereafter.

To listen to the entire playlist of hymns, click here.

Urn in prominent place, surrounded by greenery, with mourners standing nearby

Understanding the 6 Purposes of a Funeral

By Meaningful Funerals No Comments

Now that your loved one has entered hospice care, it’s time to start talking to them about their funeral wishes, if you haven’t already done so. The conversation may feel awkward or difficult, but in order to honor your loved one’s legacy and wishes, you have to know what they are. And on top of that, as human beings, we have an innate need to honor, respect, and remember those we love who have died. Funerals, as a ritual, don’t exist simply to exist. They have purpose and intentionality and meaning.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, respected grief counselor, author, and educator, has done extensive research into the purposes of a funeral and why we, as people, need them. He says, “The funeral ritual…is a public, traditional and symbolic means of expressing our beliefs, thoughts and feelings about the death of someone loved.  Rich in history and rife with symbolism, the funeral ceremony helps us acknowledge the reality of the death, gives testimony to the life of the deceased, encourages the expression of grief in a way consistent with the culture’s values, provides support to mourners, allows for the embracing of faith and beliefs about life and death, and offers continuity and hope for the living.

In Dr. Wolfelt’s experience, if a funeral meets these 6 purposes, then it is often meaningful and healing. Let’s review these 6 purposes of a funeral in detail, so that we fully understand why funerals are so necessary and how they help us in our grief journeys.

The 6 Purposes of a Funeral

Urn in prominent place, surrounded by greenery, with mourners standing nearby

1. Reality

When someone we love dies, our minds and hearts rebel against it at first. We don’t want to accept that the person we love is gone. The first purpose of a funeral is to help us accept the reality of the death. In order to heal and grieve, we must first accept what has happened. At a healing and meaningful funeral, mourners have the chance to confront reality and begin processing their grief. The funeral is not the end of the grief journey – it is the beginning. We must learn to come to grips with our new reality – one without the physical presence of our loved one.

Man standing near podium, hands folded, ready to share memories

2. Recall

One of the key components of a funeral is remembering the person who has died. We see this remembrance happen in the eulogy, in the tribute video (if there is one), in the songs or readings chosen, as well as in the gathering of friends and family following the service. By recalling and sharing about our relationship with a loved one, we help ourselves transition. We begin the process of moving our relationship with the person who has died to one of memory rather than presence. We must go backward into our memories before we can move forward in the grief journey.

Man and woman standing together, looking at memorial candles, his hand on her shoulder as he offers support

3. Support

A third purpose of the funeral is to activate support. At a funeral, we gather with other people who knew our loved one. We can share our memories, give voice to our feelings, and find support in others. When a funeral includes a visitation or a gathering, mourners have the opportunity to come together and offer a listening ear and a caring hug. When no service is held, friends may keep their distance, thinking that the family wants to grieve privately. But with a public (delayed, if necessary) funeral, friends and neighbors can offer their caring support during a trying time.

Man and woman wearing black standing in cemetery, hugging and expressing their grief

4. Expression

As human beings, we are wired to feel. When we feel deeply but actively suppress our emotions, those feelings can become overwhelming and begin to fester. Funerals are meant to act as a safe place for us to get our thoughts and emotions out. By putting our thoughts and feelings into action, we begin the journey toward healing. You may need to talk, cry, or just sit quietly with a person who cares. Whatever you may need, expression is an important purpose of a funeral. Through expression, we begin to put our grief in motion and create forward movement in the grief journey.

Person holding small lit candle in their hands, representing a loved one's life and meaning

5. Meaning

When someone we love dies, many questions begin to surface. Did the person I love live a good life? Why did they die? Why do any of us die? While there are no simple answers to these questions, a funeral gives us time and opportunity to ask them and begin to find our way to answers that give us peace. By searching for meaning and allowing ourselves to find peace, we find purpose in our continued living and can work toward reconciling ourselves to the loss we have suffered.

Older woman standing in her home, sipping on a cup of tea, finding a way to move forward and heal

6. Transcendence

The final purpose of a funeral is transcendence. This happens in two ways. First, the funeral helps us find a new self-identity. Funerals help us publicly mark a change in status. For example, someone who has lost their spouse goes from someone who is married to someone who is single. A funeral allows everyone to publicly acknowledge this change and begin offering the mourner support in their new status. Second, funerals often wake us up and make us think about our lives and how we want to spend our remaining days.

Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way:

“People who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life. They strengthen bonds with family members and friends… [and] emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”

Two red roses lying on top of a dark marble grave markerof

As a Whole

These purposes are not necessarily distinct steps and may happen in any order, but they are intertwined. The funeral experience as a whole is like a rite of passage. We emerge transformed, with a new identity, a new relationship with our lost loved one, and a new relationship with our community.

Unfortunately, not all funerals are successful in helping us heal. This is because we have lost part of our understanding of why funerals matter and how to create a meaningful and healing funeral ceremony that will give us a good start on the healing process. But it’s not too late to learn. For more information on funerals, their purpose, and how to create a personalized, meaningful, and healing ceremony, check out the articles below:

Do Funerals Still Matter?

Should a Funeral Be Efficient or Effective?

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

5 Meaningful Actions to Personalize a Funeral

Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony

5 Unique Venues for a Celebration of Life Service

Focus on woman's hands as she signs documents on a clipboard

How to Prepare for a Funeral Arrangement Conference

By Meaningful Funerals No Comments

Are you facing the imminent loss of a loved one in hospice care? When the time comes, the emotions of grief may hit you hard. These feelings vary from person to person and may include sadness, shock, anger, or anxiety. It is during this time of emotional distress that an arrangement conference takes place and a funeral is planned, unless funeral arrangements were taken care of ahead of time. Whether the funeral was planned in advance or you will be planning a final tribute soon, the funeral home will ask for certain vital statistics about your loved one.

Why does the funeral home need these vital statistics?

Throughout the funeral planning process, the funeral home staff acts as your representative in many ways. They coordinate between third parties, like the florist, clergy, musicians, Veterans Affairs, etc. Also, with the vital information provided, they obtain permits for burial or cremation; in some cases, help prepare the obituary; and submit a request for a death certificate to the county. And if your loved one was a veteran, they coordinate with the Armed Forces for any military honors you may request for your loved one. These are just a few of the details they take care of, but to accomplish these, the funeral home staff needs to know your loved one’s pertinent information.

Focus on woman's hands as she signs documents on a clipboard

What vital statistics should I bring with me to the arrangement conference?

If possible, it’s best to prepare this information before you attend the arrangement conference. By doing so, you will make the arrangement conference much smoother and more efficient for yourself and your loved ones.

Be sure to bring these vital statistics to the funeral arrangement conference for your loved one:

  • Full legal name
  • Address
  • Race and gender
  • Date of birth
  • Date of death
  • Place of death (city and county)
  • Age
  • Social Security Number
  • Occupation (kind of business or industry)
  • Marital status
  • Spouse’s name (if applicable)
  • Maiden name (if applicable)
  • Father’s name
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • Education information
  • Armed Forces information (including DD-214)
  • Name of surviving spouse and family members

Middle-aged man sitting at table, signing documents, tablet lays nearby

Is there anything else I should bring?

It is always helpful to come prepared with obituary information (or an already written draft of the obituary). Additionally, the more you think about the service details, the easier the conversation will go. So, consider what kind of service you want for your loved one, what personalized touches you will add to make the ceremony unique to your loved one, and where will you lay them to rest permanently.

The more information you take with you to the arrangement conference, the better. But no matter what, the funeral home staff will work with you to make sure that, together, you create a ceremony that is healing, meaningful, and uniquely tailored to your loved one’s life and spirit.

If you would like more information on planning a funeral, the following articles may be helpful to you:

Funeral Planning Checklist

Quick Start Resource Guide: Planning a Funeral

What Are My Burial Options?

What Should I Know When Considering Cremation?

Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral

Two men in uniform folding the American flag

Requesting Military Honors

By Meaningful Funerals No Comments

If you or a loved one are a veteran in hospice care, then you may be wondering about the process for requesting military honors at the funeral or memorial.

The Department of Defense, through a program called “Honoring Those Who Served,” is responsible for providing military funeral honors. In most cases, the military personnel who participate do so on a volunteer basis. Keep in mind, you must request military honors, so talk to the funeral director about making an official request.

Two men in uniform folding the American flag

Military funeral honors vary. A few factors that affect military honors are whether your loved one was active duty, retired, or a veteran; their rank; and the place of burial. For veterans buried in national cemeteries, the honors will have an added element of formality and include additional elements, such as a horse-drawn caisson for commissioned officers buried at Arlington Cemetery. Veterans buried in private cemeteries will be less formal and include fewer elements.

For now, let’s review the most common ceremonial elements and why they are significant to our veterans.

The Main Elements

Honor Guard

If you request military honors, at least two honor guards will attend the funeral. One of these honor guards is currently serving in the same branch as the veteran who has died. Depending on availability and the rank of the veteran, the honor guard may consist of more members. The honor guard will carry out the requested honors with precision and respect.

Flag-draped casket sitting on raised area, mourners standing nearby

Flag-Draped Casket/Urn

The flag-draped casket or urn is a prominent feature of a military funeral that dates back to the Napoleonic Wars in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At that time, it was tradition to cover the dead with a flag before removal from the battlefield. Today, the tradition continues to remind the living of that person’s service and sacrifice. With the American flag, the blue field spreads at the head, over the left shoulder of the casket. After services conclude, the honor guard folds the flag and presents it to the next of kin.

Folding of the Flag

The honor guard at the funeral will also fold and present the flag. It takes 13 individual folding movements to create the ceremonial triangle, which is intended to represent the tricorn hats worn by George Washington and his men at the foundation of our country. After the flag is folded, the service member representing the veteran’s branch of service will present the flag to the next of kin and say:

On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard), and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

Majority of bugle visible against the backdrop of an American flag

Playing of Taps

In 1862, during the Civil War, General Daniel Butterfield, with the help of bugler Oliver Norton, revised an earlier bugle call into what is now known as “Taps.” Previously, the song signaled to troops that it was time to put out the lights and go to sleep. However, shortly after Butterfield’s revisions, captain-in-charge John Tidnall presided over a funeral. He asked his men to play Taps rather than firing the customary three volleys. At the time, three volleys conveyed to the enemy an intention to begin fighting again. To avoid sending this message, the bugler simply played Taps. Since that time, the song has been associated with military funerals.

At funerals today, if a bugler is available, Taps will be played live. However, if no bugler is available, a recording of the song will always be played.

Additional Elements

To review, the honor guard, draping of the casket, folding and presentation of the flag, and the playing of taps are the core elements of a military funeral. Depending on availability, you can request to incorporate other symbolic actions.

These elements include:

  • Three-volley salute
  • Color guard
  • Pallbearers
  • Horse-drawn caisson
  • Military flyover

Military personnel holding American flag over urn, getting ready to fold flag

Know Your Veterans’ Benefits

In addition to the performance of these time-honored, symbolic actions, eligible veterans also receive other burial benefits. The VA offers burial benefits for eligible veterans, their spouses, and their dependent children. For instance, eligible veterans receive a burial space in a national cemetery where there is space available. This is at no cost to the family. Additionally, certain state cemeteries offer burial spaces to veterans, at no cost to the family. A veteran buried in a national cemetery is also eligible to receive opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a government headstone or marker, one burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and a grave liner, at no cost to the family.

To learn more about your veterans’ benefits, visit www.benefits.va.gov.

For additional information on how to plan a personalized and meaningful service, take a moment to read 7 Building Blocks for a Meaningful Funeral Service.

Woman wearing black and holding red rose as she stands beside a dark wood casket covered in flowers

7 Building Blocks for a Meaningful Funeral Service

By Meaningful Funerals 2 Comments

“People who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life…strengthen bonds with family members and friends. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

With a loved one in hospice care, it’s hard to face the fact that, sometime soon, your family will need to plan a final tribute for someone you love. Even though you wish things were different, wouldn’t it be good to create a service that truly reflects your loved one’s life and legacy?

Woman wearing black and holding red rose as she stands beside a dark wood casket covered in flowers

Over his years of counseling families, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally renowned grief counselor and educator, has found that there are several tried and true elements you should consider incorporating in a final tribute. Dr. Wolfelt tells us that these elements are necessary to facilitate the six needs that a funeral fulfills: 1) acknowledging the reality of the death, 2) embracing the pain of the loss, 3) remembering the person who died, 4) developing a new self-identity, 5) searching for meaning, and 6) receiving ongoing support from others.

As you create a personalized and meaningful tribute, give thoughtful consideration to how you can implement these healing and meaningful elements.

Music

First of all, music sets the tone of a funeral and brings emotions to the forefront. In fact, one of the purposes of a funeral is to allow mourners to grieve together, and in many ways, music says what words cannot. Don’t be afraid to invite people to express grief. Consider using music that was significant to your loved one.

Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?

Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral Ceremony

Top 10 Songs for a Funeral Ceremony

Two red roses laying across top of dark marble grave marker in cemetery

Readings

Second, readings add another facet to a meaningful service. They are another way to not only invite mourners to express their emotions, but readings bring the unique spirit of the one who has died to life. Did they have a favorite book? Poem? Were they a person of faith who would want passages read?

How do Readings Enhance the Funeral Experience?

Top 10 Poems for a Funeral Ceremony

Viewing/Visitation/Reception

Third, the viewing or visitation is a time for family, friends, coworkers and neighbors to gather and express support and sympathy. If it is decided to have a viewing, it is an opportunity for mourners to see this special person one last time and begin to acknowledge the reality of their death. For many, as part of the grieving process, it is important to physically see the body. The viewing offers this opportunity.

Why Have a Visitation?

Why Should the Body Be Present?

Mourners standing together and looking at a silver urn surrounded by greenery

Eulogy/Remembrance

Fourth, the eulogy may be the single most important aspect of a funeral service. It is the time to acknowledge and affirm the significance of the life lived. With that in mind, take time to share treasured memories, quotes, or even the lost loved one’s favorite jokes. The eulogy (or remembrance/homily) can be delivered by a clergy person, family member, or even by a series of people.

What is a Eulogy?

Crafting a Eulogy

Symbols

Fifth, symbols, or symbolic acts, offer a focus point for the bereaved as well as a sense of comfort. Common symbols are a cross (or another appropriate religious symbol), flowers, and candles. For example, the act of lighting a candle, planting a memorial tree, and wearing dark clothing are all symbols we utilize.

The Importance of Symbols

Man and woman wearing black, serious faces, man's hand on woman's shoulder

Gathering

Sixth, the gathering is an opportunity for friends and family to come together after the funeral service to share stories and to support each other. While you consider the benefits of a gathering, take a few moments to read the article below.

What is a Gathering?

Actions

And finally, by inviting others into action at the funeral service, you engage mourners and invite them to put their grief into motion. Simply put, mourning is the outward expression of our inward grief. To move others toward healing, it is important to invite them to act.

How Do Actions Help us Heal?

Using these elements as a guide will help you create a sweet, meaningful, and healing experience. Those who come to mourn will leave feeling like they have honored a life lived and have taken the first healthy step on their grief journey.

Parents and two teenagers wearing black and carrying funeral roses

How to Personalize the 7 Elements of a Funeral

By Meaningful Funerals No Comments

If you are caring for a loved one in hospice, you may be wondering…how can I honor my loved one’s life and memory? How can I make the celebration of life memorable and unique? With these tips on how to personalize a funeral, you can create a memorable service that will honor your loved one’s life in a way that is personal, meaningful, and healing.

Parents and two teenagers wearing black and carrying funeral roses

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief author and educator, has identified 7 elements that create a meaningful and healing funeral or memorial service: music, readings, viewing/visitation, eulogy, symbols, gathering, and actions. When you personalize these elements, you can create a funeral experience that touches hearts and meaningfully celebrates someone loved.

The most important thing to remember is that personalization is key. The more personal a funeral or memorial service is, the more healing and meaningful it will be. Dr. Wolfelt says, “Focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral you are planning.  What is essential is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends.  To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.”

Let’s review the 7 elements and discuss ideas for personalizing each one.

Music

First of all, music sets the tone of a funeral or memorial service and brings emotions to the forefront. In fact, one of the purposes of a funeral is to allow mourners to grieve together, and in many ways, music says what words cannot. We often shy away from our emotions, but don’t be afraid to invite people to express their grief. Consider using music as an avenue to bring out what people are thinking and feeling.

Person playing piano, focus on hands

How to Personalize:

  • Choose songs that were significant to your loved one, no matter their musical genre
  • Consider whether to have music performed live or if you prefer to use recordings
  • If you have musical family members, you might ask them to play/sing a song
  • For those who are religious, choose appropriate hymns or praise songs

For a few more ideas, please read Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral CeremonyTop 10 Songs for a Funeral CeremonyTop 12 Country Songs for a Celebration of Life Service, and Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?

Readings

Second, readings add another facet to a meaningful service. They are another way to invite mourners to express their emotions while also honoring the unique spirit of the one who has died. Have you ever heard a poem, lyrics, or movie quote that really spoke to you? These can easily be used as a reading and can add a deeper dimension to the service.

Books lined up as if on a bookshelf

How to Personalize:

  • Use quotes from favorite books, plays, movies, or TV shows
  • For a person of faith, read passages from an appropriate holy book
  • Consider reading special poems or quotations
  • Read a letter you have written to your loved one
  • You could use your loved one’s own personal writing or incorporate catchphrases they are known for

For additional ideas, check out How Do Readings Enhance the Funeral Experience or Top 10 Poems for a Funeral Ceremony.

Viewing/Visitation

Third, the viewing or visitation is a time for family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors to gather and express support and sympathy. If you choose, a viewing creates an opportunity for mourners to see your loved one a final time and begin to acknowledge the reality of their death. For many, as part of the grieving process, it is important to physically see the body. The viewing offers this opportunity. However, a family can choose to simply have a visitation, which is a set aside time to gather and receive support from caring friends and family without the body present.

Woman standing next to casket, one hand touching top of casket and the other hand holding white lilies

The viewing and/or visitation offers a special time for personalization. Whether the body is present or not, this is a time to tell a story – your loved one’s story.

How to Personalize:

  • Display photos, mementos, or items associated with a hobby or interest (books, artwork, ceramics, model planes, etc.)
  • Invite guests to write down a memory on provided notecards (the family can enjoy them later)
  • Provide a keepsake token to take home (a book, a favorite recipe, etc.)
  • Create a memorial work of art, like a thumbprint tree
  • Bring a photo book or your loved one’s favorite book and ask people to write notes inside
  • Create a slideshow to play during the event

Eulogy

Fourth, the eulogy may be the single most important aspect of a funeral service. It’s important to carefully consider what you want to say. After all, the eulogy is the time to acknowledge and affirm the significance of the life lived. The eulogy, sometimes called the “remembrance” or the “homily,” can be delivered by a clergy person, a family member, or even by a series of people.

Young woman speaking into microphone

How to Personalize:

  • Share memories, quotes, or even a loved one’s favorite jokes
  • Tell a significant and meaningful story about the person who has died
  • Bring visual aids (like an item the person carried or was known to cherish)
  • Share something the person taught you and how they impacted your life and the lives of others

For more helpful ideas, please read What is a Eulogy and Crafting a Eulogy.

Symbols

Fifth, symbols are an important aspect of a funeral because they convey love and comfort, facilitate expression, and offer a focus point for the bereaved. For instance, people often send flowers, make memorial donations, or bake casseroles to convey the love they feel and the support they offer.

Green urn sitting in a prominent location, surrounded by yellow and red flowers

For one grieving family, an appropriate symbol was the quilts their grandmother made. Before her death, she made a quilt for every child and grandchild, and at her final tribute, the quilts were displayed on the pews – a representation of her love and impact on her family. Common symbols are an appropriate religious symbol, flowers, dark clothing, and candles, but you can use whatever feels best to honor your loved one.

How to Personalize:

  • If appropriate, ask everyone to wear your loved one’s favorite color to the funeral
  • With traditional burial, the body and casket are the ultimate symbol or focal point
  • With cremation, a symbol might be an urn, a portrait, or some other appropriate item
  • If they were a person of faith, include religious symbols to offer comfort
  • If they were known for something (like quilts), turn those items into a symbol

Gathering

Sixth, the gathering is an opportunity for friends and family to come together after the funeral service to share stories and to support each other. This event may occur at the funeral home, an event center, someone’s home, or even a local restaurant. The point of a gathering is to bring people together directly following the service to share stories, remember a loved one, and connect (or reconnect) with people.

In many ways, the gathering is another excellent place for personalization because you may have more time and a lot of space to work with.

Waiter preparing a reserved table for a gathering

How to Personalize:

  • Have the gathering at your lost loved one’s favorite restaurant
  • Choose a venue that meant something to the person who has died (for example, a church, local country club, beach, park, etc.)
  • Serve your loved one’s favorite foods
  • Display photos, cherished possessions, and mementos
  • Decorate with your loved one’s favorite colors
  • Include a set aside time when friends or family can publicly share special memories
  • Create a memorial work of art together or plant a memorial tree

Actions

And finally, by inviting others into action at the funeral service, you engage mourners and invite them to put their grief into motion. Simply put, mourning is the outward expression of our inward grief. To move others toward healing, it is important to invite them to act.

Pallbearers carrying light-colored casket with funeral spray with white roses on top

How to Personalize:

  • Participate in a release ceremony (biodegradable balloons or lanterns, doves, etc.)
  • Incorporate keepsake items
  • Invite mourners to write down memories on note cards
  • Ask family and friends to bring photos they have of your loved one to add to a group collage
  • Set a theme that invites attendees to wear your loved one’s favorite color or style of clothing (i.e. Hawaiian shirts, sports jerseys, etc.)
  • Light candles of remembrance
  • Ask people to take part in the service as eulogists, readers, singers, musicians, or pallbearers

Hopefully, these thoughts will spark ideas of your own. Ultimately, planning a funeral or memorial service that lovingly reflects your loved one’s life, passions, values, and beliefs creates an opportunity to specifically and meaningfully remember, honor, and celebrate their life.

As you consider how you can incorporate these 7 elements into a funeral or memorial service, remember that you aren’t on your own in this. The funeral home has caring and experienced staff ready to help you with all your questions and concerns as you create a moment in time that can bring peace and comfort for years to come.