Planning a funeral or memorial service is a gift of love. If you’re planning a service for a friend or relative, your efforts are a gift not only to the deceased, but also to the other survivors who will gather to draw comfort and strength from each other. Or perhaps you are planning the service that will be held in your memory when you die; this, too, is a gift of love to your survivors, as you relieve them of the stress of planning at a time when they will be lost in their own grief.
More and more people today are planning personalized funeral and memorial services. If your service will be religious in nature, there may be specific prayers and rituals required by your faith tradition. Even if the service will be religious, however, you can follow the prescribed ritual with a less formal and more personal service. The choice is yours.
Funeral or Memorial Service?
The first decision point in planning your service is whether it will be a funeral or memorial. The chief difference between the two is that a funeral is always conducted with the body present, and therefore held soon after the death – typically within a few days. Also, a funeral is typically more expensive than a memorial, as it requires the services of a funeral director and use of funeral home facilities, as well as transportation of the body to the church and cemetery or crematorium.
Because a memorial service is held without the body present, it can take place anywhere and at any time – soon after the death, or weeks or even months later. One reason people may opt for a memorial service is to allow distant friends and relatives to make travel arrangements to attend the service. Memorial services also tend to offer more opportunities for personalization, although many funeral directors today are extremely flexible in allowing families to plan the kind of funeral they want.
Choose a Location
Funerals are traditionally held in a funeral home or a church, but home funerals are growing in popularity and many funeral directors are open to helping families arrange a funeral in the family home of the deceased. A memorial service, on the other hand, can take place anywhere you choose, from a funeral home, church, or the family home to a park, beach, or other setting that has special significance for the deceased and the family.
Make It Meaningful
There are many ways to personalize a memorial service, limited only by your imagination. Thoughtful selection of songs and readings make each service unique, while the creation of a memorial wall or table can add a very special touch indeed. The memorial wall or table is a place where you can display photographs and other items that tell the story of your loved one’s life.
Music is an important part of a funeral or memorial service, stirring memories and emotions. If a friend or family member is a talented vocalist or musician, consider asking that person to perform during the service; otherwise, ask someone you know – perhaps your pastor or funeral director – to recommend a good soloist.
As much as possible, involve the people who were closest to the deceased. Work with family members to determine who should serve as pallbearers (in the case of a funeral) and deliver the eulogy or read scriptures or poems. Ask willing friends and relatives to assist by greeting and seating guests, decorating the place where the service will be held, or preparing food to be served after the service.
Another way to personalize the service is to print a program or booklet that will serve as a memorial keepsake. Guests will appreciate the ability to refer to the songs and readings at a later date.
Feed the Hungry
Cultures throughout history have shared food as part of their bereavement rituals. Serving food will allow your guests to linger and share their stories and memories of the deceased. Tears and laughter are likely to flow, and that’s a good thing.
Depending on where you live or worship, it may be customary for people in your church or neighborhood to bring food to share. Some families choose light fare, such as finger foods, while others serve a full, catered meal. Here again, anything the family wants is acceptable. One very important point to consider is whether or not alcohol will be served. A little alcohol can help relieve tensions, but overindulging can lead to problems. If you choose to serve alcohol, think about ways to control the flow.
What Are Your Thoughts?
Do you have ideas for your own funeral or memorial service? Have you attend a particularly memorable service for a loved one? Please share your ideas on planning and personalizing a funeral or memorial service.