Helping Your Family Personalize the Funeral

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

If you are in the midst of planning a funeral, you may be feeling overwhelmed right now. Many details must be attended to. Many people must be contacted. Many decisions must be made. Your natural and necessary feelings of grief make these tasks even more difficult.

Still, I encourage you to slow down, take a deep breath and 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.

Consider the unique life of the person who died

As you begin to think about personalizing the funeral, turn your thoughts to your memories of the person who died. Think about his or her qualities and what he or she meant to others. Consider his or her passions, hobbies, pastimes, likes, dislikes.

You might try making a list of the following:

Personalize the elements of ceremony

Once you've given thought to the unique life and personality of the person who died, it's time to incorporate those memories into the funeral plan. Be creative as you, together with your family, friends, funeral director and the person who will lead the service, brainstorm how to remember and honor this special person.

A good way to personalize the funeral is to personalize the common elements of funeral ceremonies:

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 died 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 person who died 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 (pronounced EWE-luh-jee) is perhaps the most memorable and healing element of the funeral ceremony. Also called the remembrance, the eulogy is the speech during the funeral ceremony that talks about the life and character of the person who died. The eulogy acknowledges the unique life of the person who died 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 of the person who died. Instead of a traditional eulogy delivered by one person, you may choose to ask several people to speak and share their memories. There is also a growing trend toward having people attending the funeral stand up and share a memory of the person who died.

More ideas for personalizing a funeral service

The funeral service you have should be as special as the life you will be remembering. Here are a few more ideas:

A final word

I hope you have been encouraged in your 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 died and you yourself deeply. The funeral will help you begin to heal and will provide you with great comfort and satisfaction in the months and years to come.

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