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How to Personalize Symbols at a Funeral

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

The funeral is a time to truly honor and remember a loved one’s life, but how can you personalize the service to reflect that special person’s personality, preferences, interests, and uniqueness? According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally respected grief counselor and author, there are 7 distinct elements to a funeral, and each one can be personalized. Today, let’s talk about how you can use symbols to personalize a loved one’s final tribute and create an event that is truly special and meaningful.

Urn resting in a circle of red roses, acting as a symbol for a gathering of mourners

 First, Why Does Personalization Matter?

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.”  – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

In a world focused on efficiency and getting things done as quickly as possible, the funeral is a moment to slow down and be thoughtful. When we do things too quickly, they can sometimes feel impersonal and hollow. That’s why personalization is key!

A personalized service beautifully and lovingly honors life. It creates a sweet moment of remembrance, a time to say goodbye, a unique acknowledgement that a person’s life mattered in all the big and small ways. Now, let’s talk about symbols and their role in personalizing a funeral or memorial service!

Pallbearers carrying casket into church for funeral service

How to Personalize Symbols at a Funeral

Symbols are an important aspect of a funeral because they convey love and comfort, facilitate expression, and offer a focus point for the bereaved. Common symbols are an appropriate religious symbol, flowers, personal items, candles, or whatever feels best to honor your loved one.

1. Include appropriate religious symbols

For people of faith, consider including religious symbols at the service. At a Catholic or Protestant Christian funeral, this could mean placing the Bible or a cross in a prominent location. For Jewish funerals, perhaps you could include the Star of David or read meaningful passages from the Torah.  Depending on the religion the person followed, there are many possible symbols to incorporate that would honor their beliefs. If the person whose life you want to celebrate wasn’t religious, check out How to Plan a Healing Funeral if You Are Not Religious.

2. Include cultural or traditional elements

Another possible source for symbols is cultural or traditional elements. For example, it’s customary in the United States to place the casket or urn in a place of prominence so that it will be the focal point of a service. Or you could have a funeral procession, which acts as a symbol of respect and final rest. Drape a flag over a veteran’s casket or urn. Also, consider including cultural elements. For example, in many Asian countries, white is the color of mourning. You may choose to include white flowers or white accents to honor that tradition.

Woman wearing black holding white chrysanthemums

3. Turn special items into symbols

If you’d like an even more personal option, you can turn special items into symbols. 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. You could use a prized record collection, personal artwork, or even bring their Harley-Davidson into the venue.

4. Invite guests to participate

If you’d like to add a much broader symbolic element to a loved one’s final tribute, consider inviting guests to participate. You could ask everyone to wear the deceased’s favorite color. If they were a Harry Potter or Star Wars fan, ask people to wear something in that theme. You could ask guests to bring in a favorite photo to add to a group collage set up near the casket or urn. There are so many ways to include others in adding meaningful symbolism to a funeral service.

Military service member holding a folded American flag

Questions to Help You Brainstorm

If ideas aren’t coming to mind already, here are a few questions to help you brainstorm what kinds of symbols you could include at a service.

  • Are there any traditional funeral elements that bring you comfort?
  • Is there a part of your cultural or religious background that should be included?
  • Did your loved one collect anything?
  • Was your loved one part of any groups that have recognizable symbols?
  • Did their choice of career include any symbols, such as a stethoscope for a doctor?

Hopefully, these questions will trigger some ideas for you and give you a good starting place for choosing symbols that will not only personalize the funeral but add special meaning as well. And if you are stumped, your funeral director can help. They are your advocate and guide throughout the funeral planning process. They can provide much-needed assistance when you just aren’t sure what to do next.

Gold pearl earrings resting on white fabric

What Clothing Do I Need to Provide for a Viewing?

By Educational, Explore Options

While families sometimes choose to skip the viewing, it plays an important role in grieving. A viewing or visitation provides time for those who are grieving to gather together and support each other. And since the body is present at a viewing, family members and friends can see their loved one, say goodbye in person, and accept the reality of the death, which is an essential step in the grieving process.

As you prepare for the viewing, you’ll need to bring clothing, accessories, and makeup for the deceased. While your funeral director can give you more details on what they need, here are a few things to remember.

Clothing

Navy blue suit jacket as a piece of clothing for a viewing

There are plenty of factors to consider when choosing clothing for the viewing. Traditionally, the deceased is often dressed in their “Sunday best” suit or dress, but as times have changed, this aspect of the viewing has become more personalized. If your loved one didn’t express their wishes about the choice of clothing ahead of time, consider their religious and cultural background, favorite pieces of clothing, and interests.

Some religions and cultures have guidelines or traditions surrounding the deceased’s clothing, whether a particular outfit or a specific color. If your loved one was a person of faith, talk with their religious leader about typical funeral customs and requirements for a viewing. Additionally, if your loved one had a strong connection to their culture, you can opt for a traditional garment.

To create a more personal visitation, you can also choose clothing that was meaningful to your loved one. Did they have a favorite sports jersey they always wore? Were they a dancer who had a favorite tuxedo or dress? Did you always see them wearing their favorite leather jacket or sweater? If they were a member of the military, would they want to have their uniform on? These personal touches to your loved one’s outfit can help create a more meaningful experience.

As you gather clothing for your loved one, remember to include undergarments, shoes, and socks. While funeral homes often have these items on hand, providing them will make things easier for your funeral director.

Accessories

Gold pearl earrings resting on white fabric

In addition to clothing, you can provide accessories for the viewing that your loved one typically wore. These small touches can help your loved one look more like themselves. If your loved one always wore glasses, a wig, a hairpiece, or a bowtie, you can include those items when you bring the clothing.

Jewelry is another item to consider. Did your mom have a favorite pair of earrings? Did your dad always wear his class ring? If they were a service member, do they have military decorations you can include? Keep in mind that hanging jewelry, like necklaces or earrings, may look different on someone who is lying down.

After the viewing, you can also request that these items be returned, especially if they are meaningful to your family. Whether you provide your loved one’s favorite watch or the bracelet they always wore, jewelry and other accessories can help make the visitation more meaningful.

Makeup

makeup and eyeshadow palette with brushes and beauty blenders

While funeral homes will typically have their own makeup to use, every person has their own style, shades, and preferences regarding cosmetics. If your loved one regularly wore makeup, you may want to provide the funeral home with your loved one’s products for the mortuary cosmetologist to use while preparing the body for the viewing.

Additionally, it’s important to provide a reference photo of your loved one so the embalmer and the mortuary cosmetologist can accurately recreate your loved one’s hairstyle and makeup. Try to choose a current photo rather than an older one, and let your funeral director know of any specific requests you have.

As you gather the items for the viewing or visitation, consider your loved one’s preferences and talk to your funeral director about what you need to provide. They can give you ideas to make the viewing more personal and ensure no items are forgotten.

Woman kneeling in front of a slant or bevel grave marker

Quick Guide: Selecting and Installing a Grave Marker

By Cemeteries, Explore Options

As human beings, we have an innate desire to remember and be remembered. This is one reason why permanent memorials, such as grave markers and memorial plaques, are so important. They provide a place for family and friends to reflect on and remember a loved one’s life and legacy. Permanent memorials also give future generations a place to anchor themselves to the past and discover their own roots.

Young man and woman wearing black and visiting a loved one's grave

If you are planning for burial, you may have questions about selecting and installing a grave marker. Below are some suggestions to keep in mind as you consider what type of permanent memorial best fits your specific needs. Please note – both caskets and urns can be buried, so even if you choose cremation, a permanent memorial is something to consider.

Look into the specific guidelines and regulations of your cemetery

Before deciding on the material and style of a grave marker, speak with your chosen cemetery. Some cemeteries have certain restrictions about what they do and do not allow. For example, space limitations may prohibit a large grave marker, or they may require a flat plaque to make ground maintenance easier. Contact the cemetery to determine if they have any rules or regulations regarding permanent memorials.

Woman kneeling in front of a slant or bevel grave marker

Select the type of grave marker

When choosing a grave marker, the first thing you will need to select is a type. The grave marker you choose is based on personal preference, unless you must adhere to cemetery regulations.

Here are some common options to consider:

  • Footstone – Generally made of marble, this marker is located at the foot of the grave.
  • Upright Headstone – The traditional style of marker that sits tall in the ground.
  • Flat Marker – Lies flush with the ground and has a minimalist design.
  • Slant Marker – Similar to a flat marker but taller with an upward slant to make reading the inscription easier. Also includes a minimalist design.
  • Bevel Marker – Looks a bit like a pillow; slightly raised off the ground, slanting downwards from the back to the front.
  • Niche Marker – Usually found in a mausoleum, this plaque attaches to the wall outside a niche.
  • Ledger Stone – A large stone that covers the entire space above a grave.

Mature man sitting next to a ledger stone in a cemetery

Choose the grave marker material

In addition to choosing a type of grave marker, you will also need to choose a material. Some grave markers only come in specific materials, so be sure to speak with the monument company about your options.

The following are some common materials to choose from:

  • Granite – Known for its durability, this is a very popular choice. Over the years, granite has become increasingly affordable and is now one of the less expensive options.
  • Marble – Often chosen for aesthetic reasons, marble is a beautiful, smooth material. Unfortunately, it also weathers easily, so the inscription may eventually fade.
  • Stainless Steel – A newer type of grave marker, stainless steel is less susceptible to weathering than most other materials.
  • Bronze – A sturdy and aesthetically pleasing choice, bronze requires very little upkeep. However, it is a more expensive option.
  • Limestone – A traditional, elegant material, limestone is visually pleasing but weak. The softness of this material makes it particularly vulnerable to environmental decay.

Customizing a grave marker with an etched image

Consider adding custom elements to the grave marker

Depending on your chosen cemetery, you may have the option to customize a loved one’s grave marker. This could include adding a photo, personalizing the inscription, or choosing a custom shape, like a heart or a book. You will partner with a monument company to design a loved one’s grave marker, so during that consultation, ask about your custom options and see if anything appeals to you as a way to honor your loved one’s memory. Click here for more information abut personalizing grave markers.

Ask about the cemetery’s installation services

Because installing a grave marker takes skill and knowledge, cemeteries often offer installation services. When you speak with the cemetery personnel, ask about the installation fee and how much it is. In the off chance that they don’t offer installation services, you can pay a local monument installer to set it for you. The cemetery can direct you to a trusted local installer.

Row of veteran grave stones with American flags planted beside each one

Look into your headstone options as a veteran

If you are an eligible veteran or veteran dependent (like a spouse), the Department of Veterans Affairs will provide a free headstone or appropriate marker for your grave. To receive a government-issued headstone, a veteran can be buried in a national cemetery, a state veterans cemetery, a military post or base cemetery, or a private cemetery.

However, a veteran’s dependents aren’t eligible to receive a free headstone if they are buried in a private cemetery. Installation fees at a private cemetery may still apply.

To learn more about your grave marker options with the Department of Veterans Affairs, visit their website.

Get creative with green or natural grave markers

If your family is interested in green or natural burial, you may want to consider planting a tree or a shrub at the gravesite. This option is environmentally friendly and could be particularly meaningful if the deceased was fond of nature. Some green or natural cemeteries will allow you to place a small, flat stone as a marker, but they do not allow the use of standard grave markers. To learn more about green or natural burial, click here.

Wooden heart grave marker resting on a moss-covered tree in a green cemetery

Plan ahead for cemetery needs

After the loss of a loved one, families are often distracted from their grief by all the decisions that must be made. By planning ahead, you can remove many of these funeral planning obstacles ahead of time. Talk to your loved ones about your preferences in advance or work with a local funeral home and cemetery to outline your wishes. When they don’t know a loved one’s preferences, many families agonize over whether or not they made the right funeral choices. With a little advance preparation, you can make a difficult time easier for your surviving family members.

If you have more questions about selecting or installing a grave marker, reach out to your chosen cemetery. They will answer your questions and help you understand your options.

Person wearing black coat and holding white memorial flower

7 Tips for Planning a Memorial Service

By Educational, Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals

Do you know the main difference between a memorial service and a funeral service? At a funeral service, the deceased’s body is present, either in an open or closed casket. However, at a memorial service, the body is not present and a framed portrait or an urn serves as the focal point, instead of a casket.

You can have a memorial service with either burial or cremation; it all depends on whether the body is present at the service or not. Both options will beautifully honor a loved one’s life – it just depends on your family’s preferences.

If you aren’t sure how to proceed, let’s discuss why having a service is important and 7 helpful tips for planning a memorial service.

Person wearing black coat and holding white memorial flower

Does Having a Service Matter?

Having some sort of ceremony or opportunity to mourn the death of someone loved allows you to acknowledge the reality of the situation and serves as a good first step on the road to healing. According to a study conducted among adults aged 40+, “82 percent said that a service was helpful in paying tribute to or commemorating the life of a friend or family member” and “72 percent believed services they attended were an important part of the healing process.”

Memorial services allow for a great deal of flexibility if additional time is needed to gather together as a family. In fact, it is not uncommon for a memorial service to be held a month or more after the death. Whether you decide on a funeral or a memorial service, it’s important to remember the role that memorialization plays in the grieving process. Spend some time thinking about the type of service that would best honor your loved one’s life and spirit.

Young woman wearing black kneeling in a cemetery holding a pink memorial rose

7 Tips for Planning a Memorial Service

If you decide to honor your loved one with a memorial service, there are many important choices you will need to make. Here are some tips for creating a rich and meaningful memorial service.

1. Choose a Fitting Location

Since the body will not be present, you have a lot of freedom regarding where the memorial service takes place. A memorial service can be held at the home of the person who has died or a favorite spot of the deceased. People have also used church buildings, local or national parks, community centers, funeral home chapels, the graveside, and even restaurants to pay their respects. No matter where you choose, remember to include a photo of the deceased or bring the urn so people have a visual reminder and can say goodbye.

Park bench under a large, full tree; location option for a memorial service

2. Select Articulate Speakers

Find a few family members and friends who are good public speakers to deliver a eulogy, read poems or scripture, and tell funny or inspiring stories. Since the memorial service often takes place a few weeks after the death, the speakers will have time to gather their thoughts and could even run their ideas by each other.

3. Consider Music

If you are at a venue that accommodates the playing of music, take advantage of this opportunity. Music is a great way to honor the life of a loved one. It communicates feelings that can be hard to put into words. You might play a loved one’s favorite song or another piece of music that ties to the life in a special way. For additional help choosing custom music for a memorial service, check out “How to Personalize Music at a Funeral.”

Person in yellow sweater playing the guitar and making music

4. Create a Slideshow

If you choose a location that has some technical capability, you could play a slideshow in honor of your loved one’s life journey. Include pictures or videos of important life events, places, and people that shaped your loved one’s life. For more insight into how a slideshow can be a meaningful addition to a final tribute, take a moment to read “The Importance of a Memorial Tribute Video.”

5. Provide Food and Drink

Many memorial services offer some kind of food, although the type of catering varies widely. You could include a full meal or simply offer light snacks and refreshments. Consider the time of day of the service when deciding on food. Also, you might choose foods that reflect your lost loved one’s preferences. If they loved chicken nuggets, get a tray from their favorite spot. For those with a sweet tooth, include an assortment of their favorite cookies or cakes.

Tray with assortment of cookies for a memorial service

6. Create the Guest List

If the memorial service is being held weeks or months after the death, make a list of everyone you would like to have attend and send out invitations to them. Mail invitations well in advance, so that guests who live far away have time to make travel arrangements. You could also post an invitation on your social media channels if that’s the easiest way for you to reach people.

7. Prepare “Thank You” Cards

Whether you choose a formal or informal setting, you’re likely going to need help as you create a meaningful service. For those closely involved in the planning, take time to thank them. Taking this extra step will also keep your support network alive. Stay in contact with the people who mean the most to you and find the people you can lean on as you begin your grief journey. After all, the memorial service is only the beginning of the road to healing.

Man in blue button-down shirt opening a letter in a brown envelope

These 7 tips will help you plan a meaningful memorial service, but remember, you aren’t on your own with this. The funeral home is available to assist you with memorial service plans. They can take on as much of the planning as you wish. Simply reach out to them and discuss what you’d like to do. They will provide options and help you brainstorm through all the possibilities.

Embalming 101: A Beginner’s Guide

By Educational, Explore Options

An ancient process that has evolved greatly over the centuries, embalming is common in our modern world. But what actually is this process, and why is it important?

Embalming is the process of temporarily preserving a body for public viewing or transportation. Preserving the body provides an opportunity for the bereaved family and friends to spend time with the body of a loved one following a loss, which allows them to honor the life of their loved one and say their goodbyes.

Keep reading to learn about the history of embalming, what the modern process looks like, and what laws and regulations affect the practice!

History

photo of a mummy - mummification is similar to embalming

In broad terms, embalming has been around for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians were able to slow the deterioration rate of the body through the process known as mummification. While the Egyptians perfected the mummification process, ancient South American and Asian civilizations also used body preservation techniques. While we no longer use mummification, this historical precedent influenced contemporary embalming practices.

Modern arterial embalming is believed to have originated in England in the 18th century. While the public was initially against arterial embalming, the process gained more acceptance in America during the Civil War. After Colonel Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth, a friend of Abraham Lincoln, died in the war, Dr. Thomas Holmes, a physician from New York who had been experimenting with French embalming methods, treated and transported Ellsworth’s body to his hometown in New York.

As the war continued and soldiers died hundreds of miles from their homes, embalming was used occasionally to preserve bodies for transport back home to their families. However, it was the embalming of Abraham Lincoln’s body for his “lying in state” that really brought the practice to the forefront. After the war, the demand for the practice decreased for several decades. But by the end of the 19th century, embalming was on the rise as the role of the undertaker (today’s funeral director) became more defined.

At the turn of the century, more trained undertakers began establishing funeral parlors. Embalming became more readily available to families, affording them more time and flexibility to gather together for a funeral. Throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, embalming has continued to be a common practice, allowing loved ones more time to plan a meaningful service before burial.

The Process

funeral lilies

Before embalming begins, the embalmer bathes and prepares the body. After that, the arterial embalming process starts. Embalming fluid, often a formaldehyde-based preserving agent, replaces blood and other bodily fluids. Natural oils may also replace chemical fluids. While these oils don’t preserve the body as long as the chemicals, they are worth considering, if you are able to have the funeral or viewing relatively soon after the death.

After the embalming process is complete, the body is dressed and prepared for viewing using restorative art and cosmetology. In cases where the body has undergone trauma or tissue donation, the embalmer can do restorative work to return the body to its former state. In severe cases, embalmers trained in post-mortem reconstructive surgery can be brought in. A skilled embalmer can do an extraordinary job restoring a body.

Embalming and the Grief Journey

Woman placing her hand on a casket during a viewing

After losing a loved one, the first step in the grief journey is acknowledging the reality of the death. Seeing the body is one way for that to happen. Many people feel that without the presence of the body, a vital element of the ceremony is abandoned. Seeing the body allows the fact of death to fully sink in and opens the door to healing. 

By slowing down deterioration and making the body presentable, embalming gives more time for a visitation or funeral service to be scheduled. That means more people can find a little bit of closure and say goodbye to their loved one.

Many people associate the embalming process with traditional burial, but embalming can also be used with cremation. If you’re interested in green or natural burial, you may need to follow stricter guidelines for the embalming process.

Federal and State Embalming Laws

The Funeral Trade Commission includes a section on embalming in the Funeral Rule and makes it clear that, except in special circumstances, embalming is not required by law. No state requires embalming for every death, though some states may require it in certain situations. For instance, embalming may be required to transport a body across state lines or store the body for an extended period before burial or cremation without refrigeration. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your state’s specific laws.

Whether you choose embalming for yourself or a loved one is up to you. Depending on your situation and your family’s needs, you can make the best decision for you. Embalming is simply an option that can provide your family with more flexibility to celebrate and honor a life well-lived.

Read More About Embalming

12 Modern Christian Songs for a Final Tribute

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals

When honoring and remembering a loved one’s life, music plays a pivotal role. It helps mourners recall memories, comforts the soul, and brings tears to the eyes. And the music you select can also be an excellent way to create a truly personalized sendoff for a loved one. If your loved one was a person of faith, consider these 12 modern Christian songs as possible options for their final tribute.

Open Bible with unidentified person resting clasped hands on top

Note: Many Christian songs, like hymns, are centuries old. The songs on this list are all from the 21st century, making them much more modern. May you find just the right song to beautifully honor your loved one’s life and legacy.

1. Heaven Song (Phil Wickham – 2009)

Can’t wait to join the angels and sing
I wanna run on greener pastures
I wanna dance on higher hills

Throughout this calming song, the lyrics tell us that there’s a much better place awaiting those who have submitted their lives to God. The song reminds us that, with Heaven’s greener pastures, higher hills, and sweeter waters, a loved one is now in a place beyond our wildest dreams with a God who dearly loves them. Remembering God’s promise to prepare a place for His children is a strong source of comfort for Christians during a time of loss.

2. Dancing with the Angels (Monk & Neagle – 2014)

Your heart will be heard
In your unspoken words
Through generations to come

With its simple lyrics, this song from Monk & Neagle is a lovely tribute for any Christian. It touches on the sadness that surviving friends and family feel even as they find comfort in the knowledge that a Christian loved one is now in heaven, praising God and dancing with the angels. And even though that person is gone, their impact will be felt for generations to come.

3. Scars in Heaven (Casting Crowns – 2021)

The only scars in Heaven, they won’t belong to me and you
There’ll be no such thing as broken, and all the old will be made new
And the thought that makes me smile now, even as the tears fall down
Is that the only scars in Heaven are on the hands that hold you now

After the loss of a loved one, it’s natural and normal to wish we’d had just one more day, one more moment, with that special person. This soothing song expresses that deep desire we all feel for a little more time. Additionally, it references the beauty of Heaven, where a loved one is standing in the sun without pain, all concerns a million miles away. This song may be particularly meaningful for a Christian who went through a long-term illness or carried deep hurts with a grace-filled attitude.

4. I Will Carry You (Selah – 2009)

Through the coming years
I will carry you
All my life

Composed after the death of the songwriter’s infant daughter, this song addresses the deep pain a parent feels after the loss of a child. Mourning what could have been, all the things that will never be. But with God’s comfort as our companion, we can gladly carry the pain that comes with love and loss. For the family mourning the loss of a child, this comforting Christian song may be a meaningful addition.

5. It is Not Death to Die (Sovereign Grace – 2008)

It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God

Similar to hymns of old in its tempo, this song reminds Christians that there is more beyond this earthly life. For the Christian, death is merely a doorway to true life with God because Jesus conquered the grave. Because of His death and resurrection, it’s possible for us to live in God’s presence as His children. Because of this hope, Christians find comfort in the knowledge that Christian loved ones are not gone forever. There will be a reunion in Heaven one day.

6. There Will Be a Day (Jeremy Camp – 2008)

But I hold on to this hope
And the promise that He brings
That there will be a place with no more suffering

In this up-tempo song, Jeremy Camp reminds listeners that the burdens we carry now will not last forever.  There will be a day when there is no more pain and no more tears. Until then, Christians must hold fast to God through the trials and triumphs of life. Losing a loved one can be devastating, but this song reminds us that we are not alone. God sees our hurt and pain. He will one day banish pain entirely, but until that day comes, He will bring hope into the darkness of grief.

7. Welcome Home (Michael W. Smith – 2010)

I can hear the sound
As angels gather ’round
Saying this is where you belong
Welcome home

Simple yet poignant, this song reminds us that our loved ones are going on to their true home. We will deeply miss them, but they are being welcomed home with joy and gladness. On this side of Heaven, none of us can know just how incredible it will feel to be in the presence of God, to be truly home. The lyrics of this song capture the heartache we may feel after losing a loved one while also offering a gentle comfort in knowing that lost loved ones are well and truly home.

8. When I Get Where I’m Going (Brad Paisley and Dolly Parton – 2005)

Yeah, when I get where I’m going
There’ll be only happy tears
I will shed the sins and struggles
I have carried all these years
And I’ll leave my heart wide open
I will love and have no fear

While this song was released in the country music genre, both musicians are devout Christians, and the lyrics place it firmly into the modern Christian song category. Since its considered a country song, this tune may be the perfect complement for a person who loved country music. With its soothing cadence and focus on remembrance, the song brings cherished moments of our lost loved ones to the surface and helps us mourn.

9. I Will Rise (Chris Tomlin – 2008)

There’s a peace I’ve come to know
Though my heart and flesh may fail
There’s an anchor for my soul
I can say “It is well”

In times of grief, it can feel like everything is out of control. The normal and comforting rhythm of our days is disrupted, and things feel stressful and unknown. This song reminds us that in the difficult moments, the times of grief, we can find an anchor from the storm in God. As we turn to Him, He will give us the strength to make it through this season of loss. That is a true comfort for the grieving, knowing that God is present and close through it all.

10. On My Way Home (The Booth Brothers – 2020)

I’m only passin’ through on my way Home
Heaven is the place where I belong
More than just a feeling or a dream
A land beyond the stars is calling me
When the Savior comes for me, I’ll go
To live forever, finally at Home

With its old-school vibe and soothing vocals, this song will add a soft, comforting feel to any final tribute. With its focus on the temporary nature of our time here on Earth, it lovingly reminds listeners that Heaven is the place where we will find true belonging. If you are planning a service for a Christian who often spoke of looking forward to meeting Jesus face-to-face, this song could be a great way to include that sentiment in their final sendoff.

11. When the Tears Fall (Tim Hughes – 2004)

In the lone hour of my sorrow
Through the darkest night of my soul
You surround me, You sustain me
My defender for ever more

Throughout our lives, we experience uncertainty, pain, grief, fear, anxiety, and so much more. But for the Christian, God is an ever-present help in times of trouble. This beautiful melody encourages us to lean on God during times of struggle and learn how to praise Him even when it’s hard. When tears fall, He’s there to wipe them away. When grief crushes, He’s there to bind the broken-hearted. This song is a poignant reminder that grief is not a journey you must travel alone – it’s walked with God.

12. I Can Only Imagine (MercyMe – 2001)

I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk by Your side
I can only imagine
What my eyes would see
When Your face is before me

Very popular in both Christian and mainstream circles at its release, this beautiful song has stood the test of time and is perfect for any funeral service. With vivid imagery, the lyrics paint a picture of Heaven and the true awe that every Christian will feel in the presence of God. The words paired with the pleasant melody create a song that tugs at the heartstrings – creating a sense of wonder and anticipation. To leave mourners feelings uplifted and encouraged in the face of loss, consider including this song at a loved one’s final tribute.

For more suggestions on songs to include at a funeral service, check out the resources below:

By decade:

Pallbearers carrying casket to burial space

Do You Know About These 8 Cemetery Expenses?

By Cemeteries, Explore Options, Plan Ahead

When you buy a car or plan a vacation or throw a 50th anniversary party, you take time to consider your options and review your budget. If you’re planning to purchase a cemetery burial space – whether now or in the future – it’s always a good idea to follow the same practice. While purchasing a plot or niche may seem straightforward, there are some expenses that you may not know about. Today, let’s talk about 8 cemetery expenses to consider as you financially prepare to purchase a burial space in your chosen cemetery.

Pallbearers carrying casket to burial space

1. Burial Permit

By law, there are certain rules and regulations around the proper care and disposal of a human body. Before a person can be buried, the funeral home must apply for and obtain a burial permit. Without this document, burial cannot take place, so it’s an important step in the process. Your funeral director will apply for the permit on your behalf, so there’s nothing you will need to do. However, the burial permit does come with a fee. The amount will vary from state to state, so if you’d like to know the cost in your state, make sure to ask your funeral director.

Woman wearing black dress holding gray granite urn close in her arms

2. Casket or Urn

This next one is a bit self-explanatory. If you have opted for full-body burial, you will need to purchase a casket. There are many different types available in a variety of price ranges, so you should find something that works for your specific needs. If you’ve opted for cremation, you can either place the cremated remains in a niche or bury them in a plot. Either way, you will need an urn to house the ashes. Speak with a funeral director to get a good sense of the cost of urns and caskets in your area. They can explain the pros and cons of the different materials and types.

Cemetery worker overseeing arrival of an outer burial container

3. Outer Burial Container

When a casket or an urn is buried, it is placed in an outer burial container. This container (often made of concrete) prevents the ground from shifting too much as the dirt around the grave settles. There are long-term benefits to preventing the ground from settling unevenly. For example, the cemetery grounds remain level (fewer tripping hazards), routine maintenance is easier and less expensive, and headstones are less likely to shift and tip over time. Unless it’s a “green” cemetery, most burial grounds require, at a minimum, the use of a grave liner.

There are two types of outer burial containers: grave liners and burial vaults. To learn more about them, read “Grave Liners & Burials Vaults: What’s the Difference?

Wall of cremation niches with flowers

4. Plot or Niche

And here’s another obvious expense – the plot or niche itself. The offerings at every cemetery will be a bit different, and costs will vary depending on where you live. Additionally, certain sections of the cemetery may come with a higher price tag. It’s also likely that if you want a plot close to a water feature, bench, or something similar, the cost may go up. The best way to nail down what a plot or niche costs is to speak with cemeteries that service your area. Then, with the information you’ve gathered, you can select the cemetery and plot option that best fit your specific needs.

Opening of a grave at a cemetery

5. Opening & Closing of the Grave

If you have chosen casket or urn burial for your final disposition, then you will also need to consider the cost of opening and closing the grave. But what does it mean to open and close the grave? This fee includes digging the grave itself, preparing the ground around the site for the graveside service, back-filling the ground once services are complete, and then landscaping the area to restore and preserve the beauty of the burial space. The cemetery employs maintenance and grounds staff to ensure that this necessary function is done well and correctly for each family.

Well-maintained headstones and graves in a cemetery

6. Headstone or Grave Marker

There’s one thing you will always find at any final resting place – a headstone or grave marker. Grave markers come in a variety of types, so there are quite a few options to consider. Do you want a more traditional headstone made of granite? Or do you prefer a flat, bronze marker? Do you need a simple plaque for a cremation niche? Would you like to add custom details to the grave marker, like a gravestone recipe or an inscription or image? The cemetery or funeral home can direct you to a reputable monument company, who will work with you to create a marker that commemorates a loved one’s life for generations to come.

Close-up of red rose resting on a grave marker

7. Headstone Installation

Related to the grave marker, there may be an additional expense to properly install the headstone once it’s complete. When you are speaking with cemetery personnel, make sure to ask if they have an installation fee and if it varies depending on the type of grave marker. For example, it may cost less to install a single grave marker than to install one that includes multiple names. Having this information will help you make decisions regarding what type of headstone you want to commission for a loved one’s grave.

Person pulling weeds around a grave

8. Perpetual Care

One final cemetery expense to consider is perpetual care. But what is perpetual care? Basically, this fee is paid into the cemetery maintenance fund. The fund is then used for groundwork, security, and other tasks like mowing, weeding, or maintaining pathways and signage. In this way, the grave is looked after and cared for regularly for years to come. Sometimes the service includes headstone maintenance, but often, it does not. Generally, perpetual care is a one-time fee that is 5-15% of the burial plot’s price. However, it can vary, so make sure to ask the cemetery for more specifics.

Outdoor mausoleum wall with memorial flowers

What Next?

There’s a lot of information out there about average costs for burial, but it’s best not to rely too much on generalities. It’s true that if you live in Arkansas, your burial costs are going to be lower than if you live in California. However, within California, burial in one area of the state may cost less than another. The best way to figure out average burial costs in your area is to speak with a few cemeteries where you live. That way, you can get a good sense of the average.

Before we go, it’s worth noting that you may want to purchase a cemetery plot early. Planning ahead for funeral and cemetery wishes is an easy process and can save your family hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in the long run. By taking time now to speak with a funeral home and a cemetery, you can remove the burden of planning from your family’s shoulders and ensure that everything meets your wishes and stays within your budget. You can reach out to a trusted funeral home to learn more about the benefits of planning for funeral wishes in advance.

Woman wearing black and holding yellow flowers as she visits a loved one's grave

11 Questions to Ask When Choosing a Cemetery Plot

By Cemeteries, Educational, Explore Options

More than likely, purchasing a cemetery plot is only something you will do once or twice in your lifetime. While choosing a cemetery plot is a personal decision, it can greatly affect others who may want to visit the grave, such as next of kin, extended family, and friends. So, if you are looking to purchase a cemetery plot sometime soon, make sure you consider these 11 questions before you sign off on the official documents.

Bouquet of purple flowers resting on top of a headstone or grave marker

1. Does the cemetery have a good reputation in the community?

As with any purchase, you’ll want to make sure you’re dealing with good people in a reputable business. Look up reviews of the cemetery online. Talk to friends or neighbors about their experiences with local cemeteries. Check the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints about the cemetery. And of course, visit the cemetery yourself and talk to the staff face-to-face. You can learn a lot from a little reconnaissance mission.

2. What types of plots does the cemetery offer?

There are many different types of plots available for purchase. For example, you could choose a single burial space, a double-depth space, a family lot, a crypt, or a mausoleum. However, some cemeteries only offer certain types of plots. Perhaps you are interested in a mausoleum niche, but the cemetery you are considering only offers single or double-depth spaces. Do a little research into which type of plot you want and then discuss the cemetery’s options.

Cemetery with single graves, crypts, family lots, and other types of cemetery plots

3. Does the cemetery have any specific rules or regulations?

Before you commit to a cemetery, ask them if they have any specific rules or regulations. For example, some cemeteries don’t allow families to leave decorations at the gravesite. Or they require that all gravestones have the same appearance, such as a flat grave marker or plaque. Also, most cemeteries require the use of a grave liner or burial vault, which is good to know for budgeting purposes. Every cemetery is different, so to avoid surprises, make sure to ask.

4. Do the cemetery grounds appeal to you aesthetically?

While the way a cemetery looks isn’t ultimately important, it’s nice to know that your (or a loved one’s) final resting place is in a pleasant place. So, take stock of the cemetery. Is it well-maintained? Are the grounds manicured? Are there huge potholes or unsightly, overgrown areas? Depending on where you live, you may not have much choice in which cemetery you use. However, if the look and feel of a place matter to you, that’s valid and shouldn’t be ignored.

Woman wearing black and holding yellow flowers as she visits a loved one's grave

5. Do family and friends have easy access to the cemetery?

Another thing to consider is whether those left behind will have easy access to the gravesite. For many people, visiting the grave of a loved one is a part of the healing journey and can help them feel close to the person who has died. In both movies and real life, it’s not uncommon to see family visiting a lost loved one to share news, to introduce a new spouse or child, or simply to say hello to someone loved. But to do this, the gravesite must be easily accessible. So, as you choose a cemetery, make sure it’s easy to find, is open to visitors, and is relatively close to home.

6. Do you have any preferences for the location of your plot?

The cemetery will have plots available in different locations, and they may vary in price. For example, if you want a plot near a water feature, a pond, or a bench, it may cost a little more. Also, is the plot on elevated or depressed land? The location could matter if you live in an area where water levels rise and fall. Make your preferences known to the cemetery staff. And if you don’t like the options they have to offer, check out the next cemetery on the list.

Pretty pink flowers in foreground with headstone in background

7. Are there any additional costs to consider?

You will, of course, pay for the plot itself, but are there other fees to consider? For example, how much does the opening/closing of the grave cost? Is there a fee for ground maintenance or perpetual care of the gravesite? Is there a headstone installation fee? Sometimes fees can feel like they come out of the woodwork, so ask upfront for a list of total costs. That way, you can plan and budget correctly.

8. What types of personalization does the cemetery allow?

Some families love the clean, polished look that comes with uniformity. Seeing how organized and neat everything is feels right and good for them. For other families, there may be a greater desire to create something unique, such as a gravestone in a particular shape or color. Neither choice is right or wrong – it all boils down to preference. So, as you decide which plot to buy, consider whether personalization at the cemetery matters to you or not.

Wall of cremation or burial niches

9. What are the cemetery’s responsibilities regarding the gravesite?

As you decide on which cemetery to work with, ask them what their responsibilities are toward the gravesite. How often do they maintain the lawns? Will they let you know if the headstone starts to crack or weather? Do they clean the headstones? If there’s a maintenance fee, what does that cover and for how long? It’s always good to know what’s included in any service you purchase so you know exactly what you’re getting.

10. Does the cost estimate fit into your budget?

The cost of a burial plot varies a lot, depending on where you live and what type of plot you want. For example, the same type of plot will cost more in Washington, D.C., than in Arkansas. Additionally, public cemeteries will typically cost less than private cemeteries. When you combine the plot fee with any other fees, it can add up. By asking for a cost estimate, you can determine if everything fits into your budget or if you need to adjust your plans.

Mature man sitting next to a loved one's gravesite, leaving a flower of remembrance

11. Can you pre-purchase a cemetery plot?

In other words, can you purchase a cemetery plot before you need it? Absolutely! In fact, it’s actually a good idea to do so. Planning ahead for funeral wishes can save you money, give you time to consider all the options, and remove the burden of planning from your family’s shoulders. It’s a lot easier to make decisions when you aren’t under pressure, so a little advance planning can make purchasing a cemetery plot a smoother process for you.

Hopefully, you feel better prepared to speak with cemetery personnel about plot options, but just in case, here are a few more resources for you:

Pallbearers carrying a wooden casket with purple flowers resting on top

How to Personalize the Visitation at a Funeral

By Educational, Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

The funeral is a time to truly honor and remember a loved one’s life, but how can you use personalization to reflect that special person’s personality, preferences, interests, and uniqueness? According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally respected grief counselor and author, there are 7 distinct elements to a funeral, and each one can be personalized. Today, let’s talk about how you can personalize the visitation and create an event that is truly special and meaningful.

Pallbearers carrying a wooden casket with purple flowers resting on top

 First, Why Does Personalization Matter?

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.”  – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

In a world focused on efficiency and getting things done as quickly as possible, the funeral is a moment to slow down and be thoughtful. When we do things too quickly, they can sometimes feel impersonal and hollow. That’s why personalization is key!

A personalized service beautifully and lovingly honors life. It creates a sweet moment of remembrance, a time to say goodbye, a unique acknowledgement that a person’s life mattered in all the big and small ways. Now, let’s talk about the visitation and its role in personalizing a funeral or memorial service!

African American man placing his hand on a loved one's casket at a funeral

How to Personalize a Visitation at a Funeral

The viewing or visitation is a time for family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to gather, to express support, to offer sympathy, and to remember someone loved. Plus, it’s the perfect time for personalization – an opportunity to tell the story of a lifetime. But how would you personalize the visitation?

1. Display Special Items

Every life is unique, so by including special items, you can create a one-of-a-kind remembrance event. You could display photos or mementoes from significant events or vacations. Additionally, you could include items associated with an interest or hobby, like books, artwork, ceramics, or model airplanes. What was your loved one interested in? Use those facets of their life to personalize the visitation.

2. Get Guests Involved

Another option for creating a personalized visitation is to provide opportunities for guests to get involved and share their own special memories and experiences with the deceased. For example, you could provide notecards where they can write down a memory. Or you could bring a portrait, photobook, or even a coffee table book and ask people to write notes of remembrance or record cherished moments. Alternatively, you could create a memorial work of art together, like a thumbprint tree. There are so many possibilities to consider.

Person holding a pen and writing a message on a notecard

3. Decorate on Theme

Another meaningful option to consider is using a theme for the visitation. If your loved one loved the color mint, when you put together the service announcement, ask people to wear that color to the visitation. Or include a refreshments table with mints, chocolate mint cookies, and mint-colored photo frames. For some, a color theme wouldn’t make sense, so consider alternative themes, like sports teams, favorite movies or books, country music, or anything else that reflects your loved one’s unique life.

4. Offer a Keepsake Token

A keepsake is something that family and friends can take home as a special reminder of a loved one. For example, if your loved one was a voracious reader, consider taking some of their books to the visitation with a note, saying, “Susan loved to read. Please take and read one of her books in honor of her memory.” You can do this with recipes, seed packets, postcards, collection items – almost anything! In this way, your loved one’s memory lives on in many homes and hearts.

Small pile of postcards

Questions to Help You Brainstorm

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, here are a few questions to help you brainstorm what you can do to personalize the visitation.

  • Did your loved one collect anything?
  • Were they passionate about a particular team, hobby, movie, book, or play?
  • Did they travel? Are there any photos or places they loved?
  • Were they artistic? If so, you could display completed projects.
  • Is there a particular color you associate with them?
  • Did they enjoy baking? Include their family-famous recipes as refreshments.

Hopefully, these questions will trigger some ideas for you and give you a good starting place for identifying ways that you can personalize the visitation to reflect your loved one’s individuality. And if you are feeling overwhelmed, speak with a funeral director. They have personalized many funerals during their career and can offer much-needed assistance when you just aren’t sure what to do next.

Man and woman standing at visitation, honoring a loved one's life

For additional inspiration, here are more articles about personalization that may help:

Man holding an open book

How to Personalize Readings at a Funeral

By Educational, Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

The funeral is a time to truly honor and remember a loved one’s life, but how can you personalize the service to reflect that special person’s personality, preferences, interests, and uniqueness? According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally respected grief counselor and author, there are 7 distinct elements to a funeral, and each one can be personalized. Today, let’s talk about how you can use readings to personalize a loved one’s final tribute and create an event that is truly special and meaningful.  

Open hardback book with blue spine

 First, Why Does Personalization Matter?  

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.”  – Dr. Alan Wolfelt 

In a world focused on efficiency and getting things done as quickly as possible, the funeral is a moment to slow down and be thoughtful. When we do things too quickly, they can sometimes feel impersonal and hollow. That’s why personalization is key!  

A personalized service beautifully and lovingly honors life. It creates a sweet moment of remembrance, a time to say goodbye, a unique acknowledgement that a person’s life mattered in all the big and small ways. Now, let’s talk about readings and their vital role in personalizing a funeral or memorial service 

Man holding an open book

How to Personalize Readings at a Funeral

Readings are a way to invite mourners to express their emotions while also honoring the unique spirit of the one who has died. They add a deeper dimension to the service and allow you to engage together through the power of words. Sometimes, the right words don’t come to mind, but a book, a poem, or a verse can express the heart much more eloquently.

1. Recite quotes from favorite books, plays, poems, movies, or TV shows

When using literary or entertainment sources to personalize a service, consider what your loved one enjoyed. Did they love Emily Dickinson poems? Read a few. Did they regularly quote Star Trek or The Princess Bride? Take those quotes and turn them into a tribute. Is there a poem that has always reminded you of your loved one? Read the poem and share how it reflects that special person’s life or personality.

2. Include select passages from an appropriate holy book

For loved ones who lived out a deep faith, consider including select passages from the holy book they cherished. When a loved one dies, those left behind to mourn sometimes have a crisis of faith. They search for meaning and ask questions like, “What is the meaning of life?” “Should I do things differently?” “What happens next?” Faith can bring comfort when things feel out of control. Plus, including religious quotations can honor and respect that aspect of your loved one’s life.

Person sitting outside, writing on a pad of paper

3. Share something you have written to honor a loved one

If you enjoy writing or feel inspired, consider putting your thoughts and feelings on paper. Whether you compose a letter, a poem, an essay, or a haiku, you can use your own words to honor a loved one’s memory. Of course, the topic of your composition is entirely up to you, but feel free to be creative. And don’t forget to have someone else review your work before you read it at the service. It’s always a good idea to have a second set of eyes on any written text – just in case.

4. Read excerpts of your loved one’s personal writing

On the flip side, was your lost loved one a writer? If it feels appropriate, consider sharing excerpts of their own words. This is a beautiful way to highlight their personality and the unique perspective they had about the world. Sometimes, when a person has a terminal illness, they may write their own obituary or a letter or a poem about their experience. These writings may also be meaningful to share at a personalized service.

Young woman sitting at a table at home, listening to music and writing

Questions to Help You Brainstorm

If poems, quotes, or other reading selections aren’t coming to mind already, here are a few questions to help you brainstorm what kinds of readings you could include at a service.  

  • Did your loved one love any certain book, movie, poem, or TV show?
  • Were they known to quote anything regularly?
  • Did they have any favorite author, poet, or writer?
  • Were they a writer themselves – either personal or published?
  • Is there a literary or entertainment piece that always reminds you of them?

Hopefully, these questions will trigger some ideas for you and give you a good starting place for selecting readings that will not only personalize the funeral but add special meaning as well. And if you are stumped, your funeral director can help. They are your advocate and guide throughout the funeral planning process. They can provide much-needed assistance when you just aren’t sure what to do next.  

For additional inspiration, here are more articles on readings that may help: 

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