Category

Meaningful Funerals

Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead

Cremation is a rapidly growing trend in the United States, with just over 50% of those who died in 2016 selecting cremation for their final disposition. However, many families who choose cremation don’t realize that they can still have a healing and meaningful funeral experience, even if they choose this form of disposition. According to respected grief experts, the funeral is a necessary part of the grieving process. And while cremation is a popular option for final disposition, it shouldn’t prevent individuals and families from the benefits of having a healing and meaningful funeral ritual.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, less than half of Americans associate cremation with a memorial service; only 11.8 percent associate it with a funeral that includes a viewing or visitation; and more than 50 percent of Americans are not aware that you can have a funeral/visitation/viewing with the body before cremation takes place. So, what do these statistics tell us? That when families choose cremation, they are likely missing out on the opportunity to memorialize and commemorate the life of a loved one.

That said, let’s review the basic service options for honoring a loved one who has chosen cremation.

1. Traditional Service/Viewing/Visitation Prior to Cremation

First of all, choosing cremation does not prevent a family from having a traditional service with the body present. The family may choose to have a private family viewing or public visitation. They may even hold a full funeral service with the body present using a rented ceremonial casket. A rental casket looks like a regular casket on the outside. The difference is that a rental casket holds a cremation container insert on the inside. After the service, the funeral home staff removes the cremation container and transports it to the crematorium. For family members, the main benefit of holding a service or viewing with the body present is having an opportunity to emotionally process the reality of the death, which is very important to the grief journey. In fact, one of the best ways to acknowledge that someone is no longer with us is to physically see them and say our goodbyes. With that said, for some it may not be possible to view the body. In that case, you can still say your goodbyes and acknowledge the reality of the loss in your own way.

2. Memorial Service After Cremation

A second option is to plan a memorial service to take place after cremation has already occurred. Like a traditional service, you can create a personalized event complete with all the elements of a meaningful service, tailored to honor the life of your loved one. The main difference is that at a memorial service the body will not be present. However, you can place an urn in a place of honor during the service. By planning a memorial service, you still offer mourners an opportunity to come together. They can offer support to each other and remember the life of someone loved. It’s important to honor a loved one’s life and show them the proper respect. Without a ceremony or service, this need may go unaddressed. And even if your loved one didn’t want to “make a fuss,” gathering together, supporting one another, and honoring life is a necessary part of the grief journey. Before you skip the memorial service, consider the effect on those who mourn if they don’t have the opportunity to come together to grieve.

3. Direct Cremation

A third option is direct cremation. Often, families choose direct cremation for one of three reasons. First, the one who has died didn’t want a “fuss” made over them after their death. Second, they were financially unable to select a different option. Or, third, they didn’t know they had other options. If your loved one chooses direct cremation and you agree with their choice, honor their wishes when the time comes. However, if your loved one sets their mind on direct cremation and you don’t agree with their choice, sit down with them. Talk about why you would like a meaningful service to accompany their cremation wishes.

As you make your end-of-life plans, carefully consider what is best for your loved ones and friends, what they will need as they mourn your loss. Each of these three options may be appropriate in different circumstances and situations. We all have different expectations for what a funeral service will entail and what we want it to look like. No matter which option you choose – cremation with traditional service, viewing, or visitation; cremation with memorial service; direct cremation; or a combination of options – find a way to balance your family’s needs with your own personal wishes.

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals

A funeral, though a time of mourning, can still be filled with celebration and remembrance. It’s a time to honor the one who has died but also an opportunity to begin the healing process for those who are left to grieve. Options to personalize a funeral are becoming more common, which offers families a richer, more meaningful experience. Those present can connect with their grief and express their emotions through mourning.

Nationally respected grief expert, author, and educator, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, emphasizes that creating a healing and meaningful funeral is incredibly important and helps us live more meaningful lives. He says, “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.”

Creating a meaningful experience is all about personalizing the funeral to reflect the life, values, relationships, and ideals of the person who has died. The beauty of personalization is that there’s no mold to follow. Much like a wedding, you can customize every area of a funeral ceremony. As part of that customization, consider including the 7 important elements to creating a meaningful funeral: music, readings, a visitation, a personalized eulogy, symbols, gathering together, and inviting people to participate in symbolic actions.

Below are a few more suggestions for how to personalize a service to the person being honored. Take time to think about favorite songs, readings, recipes, hobbies, pastimes, and funny quirks of habit, as well as treasured memories, mementos, collections, and relationships. Any of these things may trigger some ideas on how to best honor your loved one.

1. Establish a memorial together

Often, family members request memorial donations to be given in honor of a loved one. In most cases, the cause or organization is one that the loved one held close to his or her heart. You might consider choosing a memorial gift that includes a plaque, sign, brick, or other physical memorial that can be inscribed with a loved one’s name. Another option would be to donate or plant a tree as a living memorial at a park, school, church, or other organization. Having a physical place to go where your loved one’s name is inscribed can make a memorial gift more personal. It also offers opportunities to reflect, remember, and cherish memories for years to come.

2. Find a way to include their favorite things

Every person is unique, and we all have personal quirks, things we particularly love. Consider how you might incorporate these things into the funeral. Perhaps there is a favorite color, collection, artwork or personal belongings you can implement. By including them, you share what was most precious to your loved one’s heart with those who come to mourn.

3. Create a memorial work of art together

Bring a large canvas, quilt squares, art supplies, scrapbook supplies, or any other medium that you are comfortable with to create a community work of art. Encourage guests to write down their favorite memory of your loved one on a quilt square, create a scrapbook page, or paint a portion of the canvas with a memory, color, or picture that they would like to share. Perhaps, they could write down a favorite saying or what qualities they appreciated most about your loved one. After the funeral, you will have a treasure trove of memories. On days when you need to feel close to the one you have lost, you can admire the painting, pull out the scrapbook, or wrap up in the quilt and cherish your loved one’s influence on their world of family and friends. Don’t forget to bring the appropriate supplies for writing, painting, or crafting!

4. Make a collage or a timeline

If you have access to pictures, you could create a collage of your loved one to display. Start with childhood and share images from the important events of their life. Or, alternatively, share your most treasured memories of them. Likewise, you could create a timeline of their life’s major events and provide pictures for each one. Consider including events like their birth, high school graduation, first job, children, etc.

5. Invite guests to take an item home

For example, if your loved one was a voracious reader, consider taking some of their books to the ceremony with a note, saying, “[Your loved one’s name] loved to read. Please take and read one of [his or her] books in honor of [his or her] memory.” In doing this, guests leave with a tangible reminder, and it may contribute to creating a meaningful experience. You can do this with recipes, seed packets, postcards, collection items—anything your loved one may have cherished – and invite your guests to honor your loved one’s memory by taking home a small reminder of the person they loved.

6. Include favorite foods

Food is a love language in many families. If your loved one favored certain foods, you might try to incorporate those somehow into the person’s celebration of life. You might have an ice cream station at the visitation. Or arrange a fellowship meal after the service that includes all your loved one’s favorite dishes and desserts.

Now, these ideas are only the beginning. Take some time to think about what would be most meaningful to you and to your loved one’s memory. Every person is unique, and because of this, no two funerals should be the same.

On a final note, in case you didn’t know, it is possible to begin this process now. You can plan ahead for funeral wishes at any time. And of course, if you do decide to plan ahead, you will have ample time to create a personalized, healing, and meaningful funeral service for those left behind to mourn.

What To Do When Dad Dies

By | Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

First of all, you have our sincerest sympathies on the loss for your father. Dads are special people – irreplaceable and worth remembering. If your dad completed funeral prearrangement plans, contact the funeral home he partnered with to compile the prearrangements. You will work with that funeral home to bring his wishes to pass.

But, for those whose father did not complete funeral prearrangements, this Quick Start Resource Guide is meant to help you navigate through the process of planning a funeral by supplying you with accurate, up-to-date, helpful links and information on a variety of topics.

The “Why” of Funerals

To start off, it’s important to note that, in today’s world, many families are moving away from standard funerals for their lost loved ones. While it is not inherently bad that people are moving away from traditional options toward cremation, it is unfortunate that some are confusing efficiency with effectiveness. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally-renowned grief expert who has counseled thousands of families, teaches that the funeral is an important rite of passage and “puts you on the path to good grief and healthy mourning.”

To learn more about why funerals are important, take a look at the articles below.

Should I Have a Funeral?

Why Do We Have Funerals?

Why Is the Funeral Ritual Important?

What is the Difference between a Celebration of Life and a Party?

Final Disposition Options

Nowadays, our options for final disposition (or final resting place) continue to expand. Please take a moment to read the articles below to help you decide which option is most appropriate for your needs.

What Are My Burial Options?

What is Green Burial?

How to Select a Casket

What Should I Know When Considering Cremation?

The Elements of a Meaningful Funeral Service

“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

In order for a funeral service to be a healing and meaningful experience, there are several tried and true elements that you should consider incorporating.

Music

First of all, music sets the mood for 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. Did your dad have a favorite type of instrument, style of music, or musician? Consider using any or all of them in the service.

Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?

Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral Ceremony

Top 10 Songs for a Funeral Ceremony

Readings

Second, readings add another facet to a meaningful funeral. They are another way to not only invite mourners to express their emotions, but readings can bring your dad’s unique spirit to the service. Was there a book he was always reading or reciting? A poem? Was he 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

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 your dad one last time and begin to acknowledge the reality of his death. For many, as part of the grieving process, it is important to physically see the body, and the viewing offers this opportunity.

Why Have a Visitation?

Why Should the Body Be Present?

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 your dad’s life. With that in mind, take time to share treasured memories, familiar quotes, or even his favorite jokes. 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.

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

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. For more 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, so to move others toward healing, it is important to invite them to act.

How Do Actions Help us Heal?

Choosing a Memorial Service

Some families decide that a memorial service is a more appropriate tribute for their lost loved one. In short, the main difference between a funeral service and a memorial service is the absence of the body. All the other elements of a meaningful and healing service can be incorporated into a memorial service.

What is a Memorial Service?

Personalization is Key

Whether you have a funeral service or a memorial service, the event will be more meaningful if it is personalized. By personalizing the service, you can honor your dad’s life uniquely and specifically. Moreover, the possibilities for personalization are endless. For a few ideas, read the articles below.

How to Make a Funeral More Personal

What Makes a Funeral Meaningful?

Helping Your Family Personalize a Funeral

5 Unique Venues for a Celebration of Life Service

Funeral Procession

Accompanying the body to its final resting place is a time-honored tradition. If your family chooses to continue the tradition, the procession is a way for others, even strangers, to acknowledge the value of life and show respect for your dad.

What is the Purpose of a Funeral Procession?

Deciding on a Grave Marker

Placing a marker of some kind on a final resting place is important. Not only does it identify the person laid to rest, but it also gives the living a place to go should they desire to visit or mourn the lost loved one. It will be important for you and for future generations to have a place to return to when you want to talk to or visit your dad.

Selecting and Installing a Grave Marker

How to Write a Great Epitaph

Sympathy Gifts

In essence, sympathy gifts are a way for mourners to express their support and condolences to the family who has lost someone loved. Flowers have historically been a popular sympathy gifts. However, in recent years, donations in memoriam to a favorite charity have risen in popularity. Did your dad have a favorite organization or charity that would service this purpose, if your family wishes?

7 Popular Sympathy Flowers and Their Meanings

Writing a Touching Obituary

One of the first things you will do after a loved one dies is write an obituary. You don’t have to be a great writer to beautifully express your love for your dad. To that end, even as you include the expected details, consider how you might add little touches that reflect the individuality of his life.

How to Write a Great Obituary

Burial Benefits for Veterans

If your dad was a veteran of the Armed Forces, he may be eligible for certain burial benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Therefore, you might consider looking into these benefits to see if any of them are beneficial to you and your family.

Veterans’ Burial Benefits FAQ

Veterans’ Burial Benefits Checklist

Department of Veterans Affairs

Resources for Advance Funeral Planning

Finally, if you are interested in making your own funeral prearrangement plan, or are curious about why you should do so, take a moment to review the articles below.

Why Plan Ahead for Funeral Wishes?

How to Get Started with Planning

How to Save Money with Funeral Planning

Protecting Your Funeral Funds

What To Do When Mom Dies

By | Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

First of all, you have our sincerest sympathies on the loss for your mother. Moms are special people – irreplaceable and worth remembering. If your mom completed funeral prearrangement plans, contact the funeral home she partnered with to compile the prearrangements. You will work with that funeral home to bring her wishes to pass.

But, for those whose mother did not complete funeral prearrangements, this Quick Start Resource Guide is meant to help you navigate through the process of planning a funeral by supplying you with accurate, up-to-date, helpful links and information on a variety of topics.

The “Why” of Funerals

To start off, it’s important to note that, in today’s world, many families are moving away from standard funerals for their lost loved ones. While it is not inherently bad that people are moving away from traditional options toward cremation, it is unfortunate that some are confusing efficiency with effectiveness. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally-renowned grief expert who has counseled thousands of families, teaches that the funeral is an important rite of passage and “puts you on the path to good grief and healthy mourning.”

To learn more about why funerals are important, take a look at the articles below.

Should I Have a Funeral?

Why Do We Have Funerals?

Why Is the Funeral Ritual Important?

What is the Difference between a Celebration of Life and a Party?

Final Disposition Options

Nowadays, our options for final disposition (or final resting place) continue to expand. Please take a moment to read the articles below to help you decide which option is most appropriate for your needs.

What Are My Burial Options?

What is Green Burial?

How to Select a Casket

What Should I Know When Considering Cremation?

The Elements of a Meaningful Funeral Service

“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

In order for a funeral service to be a healing and meaningful experience, there are several tried and true elements that you should consider incorporating.

Music

First of all, music sets the mood for 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. Did your mom have some favorite songs, instruments, or musical artists? Consider using any or all of them in the service.

Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?

Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral Ceremony

Top 10 Songs for a Funeral Ceremony

Readings

Second, readings add another facet to a meaningful funeral. They are another way to not only invite mourners to express their emotions, but readings can bring your mom’s unique spirit to the service. Did she have a favorite book? Poem? Was she 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

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 your mom one last time and begin to acknowledge the reality of her death. For many, as part of the grieving process, it is important to physically see the body, and the viewing offers this opportunity.

Why Have a Visitation?

Why Should the Body Be Present?

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 your mom’s life. With that in mind, take time to share treasured memories, quotes, or even her favorite jokes. 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.

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

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. For more 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, so to move others toward healing, it is important to invite them to act.

How Do Actions Help us Heal?

Choosing a Memorial Service

Some families decide that a memorial service is a more appropriate tribute for their lost loved one. In short, the main difference between a funeral service and a memorial service is the absence of the body. All the other elements of a meaningful and healing service can be incorporated into a memorial service.

What is a Memorial Service?

Personalization is Key

Whether you have a funeral service or a memorial service, the event will be more meaningful if it is personalized. By personalizing the service, you can honor your mom’s life uniquely and specifically. Moreover, the possibilities for personalization are endless. For a few ideas, read the articles below.

How to Make a Funeral More Personal

What Makes a Funeral Meaningful?

Helping Your Family Personalize a Funeral

5 Unique Venues for a Celebration of Life Service

Funeral Procession

Accompanying the body to its final resting place is a time-honored tradition. If your family chooses to continue the tradition, the procession is a way for others, even strangers, to acknowledge the value of life and show respect for your mom.

What is the Purpose of a Funeral Procession?

Deciding on a Grave Marker

Placing a marker of some kind on a final resting place is important. Not only does it identify the person laid to rest, but it also gives the living a place to go should they desire to visit or mourn the lost loved one. It will be important for you and for future generations to have a place to return to when you want to talk to or visit your mom.

Selecting and Installing a Grave Marker

How to Write a Great Epitaph

Sympathy Gifts

In essence, sympathy gifts are a way for mourners to express their support and condolences to the family who has lost someone loved. Flowers have historically been a popular sympathy gifts. However, in recent years, donations in memoriam to a favorite charity have risen in popularity. Did your mom have a favorite organization or charity that would service this purpose, if your family wishes?

7 Popular Sympathy Flowers and Their Meanings

Writing a Touching Obituary

One of the first things you will do after a loved one dies is write an obituary. You don’t have to be a great writer to beautifully express your love for your mom. To that end, even as you include the expected details, consider how you might add little touches that reflect the individuality of her life.

How to Write a Great Obituary

Burial Benefits for Veterans

If your mom was a veteran of the Armed Forces, she may be eligible for certain burial benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Therefore, you might consider looking into these benefits to see if any of them are beneficial to you and your family.

Veterans’ Burial Benefits FAQ

Veterans’ Burial Benefits Checklist

Department of Veterans Affairs

Resources for Advance Funeral Planning

Finally, if you are interested in making your own funeral prearrangement plan, or are curious about why you should do so, take a moment to review the articles below.

Why Plan Ahead for Funeral Wishes?

How to Get Started with Planning

How to Save Money with Funeral Planning

Protecting Your Funeral Funds

The Healing Power of Ritual

By | Grief/Loss, Meaningful Funerals

Throughout our lives, we participate in rituals. In some cases, we may not even know that we are taking part in a ritual. At weddings, we toss the bouquet. And there’s the old adage for brides: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. We all have our holiday traditions (rituals) that we look forward to year after year. Graduation ceremonies are another wonderful example of a ritual that marks a milestone in life. And birthdays – most of us celebrate them yearly with either great or modest, and sometimes reluctant, fanfare. And, for those who are spiritual, holy days throughout the year are full of ritual, tradition, and significance.

But what does the term “ritual” really mean? The word has Indo-European roots and means to “fit together.” It is related to words like “order,” “weaving,” and “arithmetic.” All of these words involve fitting things together to create order. Rituals fit, or put, things back together. This is especially important for a meaningful and healing funeral experience.

When a loved one dies, it makes sense to turn to rituals to help us put our lives back together again. Grief is chaotic and disorienting. It rips our world apart. In fact, the word “bereaved” comes from the root “reave,” which means to be robbed by force. “Grieve” stems from French root “grever,” meaning to burden, afflict, or oppress. The elements of a healing funeral are rituals that work together to restore order to our lives after everything is torn apart by the chaos and pain created by the death of someone loved.

The Comforting Nature of Rituals

Even with a clearer definition, the question still remains, what is it about rituals that is so comforting?

They encourage us to remember

To begin with, rituals connect us to the past and provide stability for the future. As we remember what has gone before, we are comforted by those memories. At Christmas, we often find joy in remembrance of Christmases past. At funerals, we seek to remember, to value, and to honor the life of a uniquely special person.

They bring us together

Rituals also bring us together as families and communities. Whether it is gathering for Good Friday services or joining in the town’s Fourth of July parade every year, we come together, we support each other, and we find unity.

They offer us peace

In many ways, by taking part in rituals, we actively seek peace within ourselves. For example, it gives us a measure of internal peace to pray when someone is sick or injured. Or, after someone we love has died, we receive comfort when we visit their final resting place or do something special and significant on the day of their birth or death. By taking part in ritual, an intentional habit to recall and reminisce, we find comfort and a release for our pain.

They give us focus

By participating in powerful rituals, we gain a sense of focus. We take our eyes off ourselves and see beyond our own difficulties. If you decide to volunteer at a local soup kitchen in tribute to a lost loved one, you are not focused on your own needs but on the needs of another.

They help us in our search for meaning

And finally, rituals play a significant role in our search for meaning. Religious rituals are part of an inner search for meaning and purpose. A search for meaning is found in natural, normal rituals: visiting the graves of lost loved ones, reciting vows at a wedding, and celebrating a significant day. We are all constantly searching for significance and purpose, and rituals are a powerful tool in the search.

The Funeral Ritual

In much the same way, the funeral is a ritual that humankind has participated in since the beginning of time. Noted author, counselor, and grief expert, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, puts it this way:

The funeral ritual, too, 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.

By taking part in the elements of a meaningful and healing funeral service, we participate in the long-held and necessary tradition of the funeral. By taking time to mourn, we learn to reconcile with grief and move forward to find continued meaning in life.

Funerals encourage us to remember those we have lost. They bring us together as families, friends, and communities. They offer us peace as we are faced with the reality of our grief and begin to reconcile ourselves to it. Symbols – lighting candles, wearing dark clothing, attending services – give us focus and intentionality. And perhaps most of all, they help us in our search for meaning, our search to understand where we come from and who we are.

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral

By | Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

The Elements of a Meaningful Funeral Service

“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

In order for a funeral service to be a healing and meaningful experience, there are several tried and true elements that you should consider incorporating. 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.

If you are planning a funeral, whether because someone you love has died or you are making advance funeral plans, 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 the lost loved one.

Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?

Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral Ceremony

Top 10 Songs for a Funeral Ceremony

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?

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, sometimes called the “remembrance” or the “homily,” can be delivered by a clergy person, a 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

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?

If you use these elements as a guide for creating a funeral service, it will be 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.

Top 12 Country Songs for a Celebration of Life Service

By | Meaningful Funerals, Music

“A good country music song takes a page out of somebody’s life and puts music to it.” – Conway Twitty

According to well-known grief expert, counselor, and author Dr. Alan Wolfelt, music is an important element of a meaningful funeral because it “help[s] us access our feelings…think about our loss.” Music is a window to the soul. We all know a song that particularly touched our heart, brought tears to our eyes or joy to our spirit. Music takes us to a place mere words never can. It can be an essential tool in our grief journeys.

Countless people across the world are country music fans, and they consider the genre a big part of their everyday life. For that reason, we have put together these top 12 country songs. Whether you need a grief playlist or are planning a funeral and need inspiration, this list is worth checking out. Of course, if you are planning a funeral for a loved one, the more connection you or your loved one has to a song, the better it will be for a celebration of life. But if you are looking for ideas, please review this list and see if any of these songs meet your needs.

12. I Hope You Dance (Lee Ann Womack)

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle  for the path of least resistance
I hope you dance

Over time, this would become Lee Ann Womack’s signature song. It won the Country Music Association’s and Academy of Country Music’s awards for Song of the Year as well as a Grammy Award for Best Country Song of the Year. The song calls us to be active in the stories of our lives and to take the opportunities before us to find hope and new life.

11. Live Like You Were Dying (Tim McGraw)

I spoke sweeter and I gave forgiveness I’d been denyin’
And he said someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dyin’

Released in August 2004, this song went on to be the 2005 Grammy Award winner for Best Country Male Vocal Performance and the Best Country Vocal Performance. The original music video prominently featured McGraw’s relationship with his father, who had died of brain cancer. No matter whether you are grieving or grieving and planning a funeral, this song is worth a look.

10. Temporary Home (Carrie Underwood)

This was just a stop on the way to where I’m going
I’m not afraid because I know
This was my temporary home

This lovely ballad was co-written by Carrie Underwood and inspired by her belief that Earth is our temporary home. One day, heaven awaits those who truly believe in God. This song is beautiful in its melody and message. When making selections for a celebration of life, choose music that would be meaningful to the lost loved one but also to those gathered to mourn. Music helps us realize and release our emotions, and for a funeral service to be a healing experience, mourners must be invited to express their grief.

9. If I Had Only Known (Reba McEntire)

So unaware I foolishly believed
That you would always be there
But then there came a day
And I turned my head and you slipped away

In this powerful song, the longing in the singer’s voice draws the listener in as she reflects on all the things she would have done or said if only she’d known what was coming. Even if death is not a surprise to us, we may still feel a sense of shock or disbelief when it occurs. Perhaps, we even wish we’d done some things differently. This song perfectly illustrates our natural desire to turn back time and say things unsaid or do things undone.

8. There’ll be You (Faith Hill)

In my heart
There will always be a place for you for all my life
I’ll keep a part of you with me
And everywhere I am, there you’ll be

Nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, this hit song dips and soars, inviting us to join in the emotional journey. Faith Hill’s melodic tones perfectly express the deep feelings of gratitude we have toward those who give us strength, steadfastness, and love throughout our lives. The words “I’ll keep a part of you with me” are perfect for those who are mourning, as we will always carry the memory of a lost loved one within us.

7. Just a Closer Walk With Thee (Patsy Cline)

When my feeble life is o’er
Time for me will be no more
Guide me gently, safely o’er
To Thy Kingdom’s shore, to Thy shore

A beloved hymn with a long history, this Patsy Cline recording of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” is beautiful and touching. The song is a statement and a prayer. It calls the listener to trust in God during times of grief and struggle. Though we may not understand why a death has occurred, this song gives hope that God is with us. Patsy Cline’s rendition is dear to the hearts of many, and it provides an avenue for us to express our emotions.

6. Angels Among Us (Alabama)

Oh, I believe there are angels among us
Sent down to us from somewhere up above

If you are familiar with country music, you’ve likely heard of the band Alabama. They became known for their unique blend of country music and southern rock with elements of gospel and pop. To date, they are the most awarded band in country music history. This 1993 hit song is exceptionally versatile and has been used for many different types of events. It beautifully portrays the goodness in people and how every person can be an angel in disguise to someone around them.

5. Go Rest High on That Mountain (Vince Gill)

Oh, how we cried the day you left us
We gathered round your grave to grieve

Inspirational and emotional, this Grammy Award-winning song was originally written as a tribute to Vince Gill’s brother, who passed away from a heart attack. Vince Gill would later state, “All I wanted to do was grieve for him and celebrate his life.” The song talks about the pain we feel when lose someone we love but couples that pain with hope, reflecting on the joy that comes from being with God.

4. The Dance (Garth Brooks)

Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance

Well known in country music circles, “The Dance” is one of the most beloved country songs. The song is soft and poignant throughout, beginning with a beautiful piano introduction. The lyrics are simple but relatable, exploring the relationship between pain and risk. When we love people, we are taking a risk because one day we will lose them. But if we turn away out of fear, then we miss the dance of life.

3. Daddy’s Hands (Holly Dunn)

If I could do things over, I’d live my life again
and never take for granted the love in daddy’s hands

Written as a Father’s Day gift, “Daddy’s Hands” became Holly Dunn’s breakout song, and later, her signature hit. The lyrics are sweet and simple, beautifully portraying the love between a father and his child. With its open lyrics, either a son or daughter could use the song as the perfect tribute for a father or father figure.

2. One More Day (Diamond Rio)

I didn’t ask for money
Or a mansion in Malibu
I simply asked for one more day with you

Following several tragic events that occurred in 2001 – namely 9/11, the Oklahoma State plane crash, and the death of Dale Earnhardt – “One More Day” became a song of mourning and healing. Diamond Rio drummer, Brian Prout, said that it was very special, knowing that the song had an “impact on someone’s life and helped in a tough time of healing and hope.” The desire for more time with our lost loved ones is universal. This song helps us touch on those emotions and express them in a healthy way.

1. When I Get Where I’m Going (Brad Paisley, featuring Dolly Parton)

But when I get where I’m going
And I see my maker’s face
I’ll stand forever in the light
Of his amazing grace

Featuring the vocal harmony of Dolly Parton, this inspirational song carries a two-fold focus. In part, the lyrics paint a picture of wonder and joy awaiting those who have left this earth and an exhortation to those still alive that they should rejoice that their loved one is in heaven. But on the other hand, the song also acknowledges the pain we experience when those we love are gone and the way that we miss them deeply. Bittersweet and beautiful, this song is well worth considering for a meaningful celebration of life.

To listen to the entire playlist, click here.

Group of five men and women sitting at a table, making plans

5 Unique Venues for a Celebration of Life Service

By | Meaningful Funerals

“People who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies…emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”  — Dr. Alan Wolfelt

According to renowned author, educator, and grief expert, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a funeral service is not only for the purpose of saying goodbye. Funerals are also an opportunity to express and share the unique personality of a lost loved one. As more Baby Boomers plan for their parents’ funerals as well as plan in advance for their own funeral arrangements, it is becoming more and more common to see “out of the box” funeral ideas. One way to personalize a funeral that is often overlooked is to choose a venue that is unique and special to the memory of the person who has died.

Group of five men and women sitting at a table, making plans

The options for a choice of special venue are numerous. If you are interested in choosing a unique venue, consider the things that were most important to your loved one. Ask yourself some questions about who your loved one was, what they valued, and where they loved spending their time. You can also consult with your local funeral home staff and/or prearrangement specialist to suggest options. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Collage: golf ball and club, two people on a boat at sunset, and a baseball and mitt

1. Golf Course or Club

If your loved one was an active golfer, it might be meaningful to coordinate part of the service for the fairway of a favorite hole on the course. After a memorial service on the green, you could move into the clubhouse. Once there, your loved one’s golfing buddies could share tales of their golfing adventures.

2. Out on the Water

If your loved one was most at home on a boat, you could rent a vessel and have a seaworthy ceremony. No matter the kind of vessel, you could go out onto the water and spread flowers. You could even go fishing in honor of your loved one and their fondness for being on the water. Similarly, you could scatter your loved one’s ashes at sea or over a lake. Just make sure that local ordinances are being followed. You could also purchase a water biodegradable urn and lay them to rest beneath the waves.

3. Local Baseball Diamond or Park

If your loved one was a huge fan of softball or baseball or was a player or volunteer coach, you might consider holding the service at a local park or baseball diamond. You could invite family, friends, and neighbors to come and play a game in your loved one’s honor.

Collage: image of gardening boots and tools next to image of bench at the beach

4. Nature Lover’s Outdoor Service

If your loved one enjoyed being outdoors, you could ask your funeral home staff to hold the service at a local botanical garden, park, or private garden (with permission, of course). This would allow you to incorporate the peacefulness of the outdoors into your tribute and share the joy that being surrounded by nature brought to your loved one.

5. Beachside Service

If your loved one found joy in walking along the lakeside or beach at sunset, finding unique seashells, or surfing at dawn, perhaps you could coordinate a lakeside or beachside service. You could incorporate a much-loved seashell collection or invite guests to set flowers or lanterns adrift on the water.

If you are planning ahead for yourself, take time to consider a unique venue for your celebration of life. You can also use a checklist to get started with your plan to make sure you don’t miss a step in the planning process.

The Value of Ceremony: Caring for the Living and the Dead

By | Meaningful Funerals

“Show me the manner in which a nation or a community cares for its dead. I will measure exactly the sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.”

-Attributed to Sir William Gladstone

 

Honoring the Sacred

We live in a culture of fast food and instant gratification. We fill our minds with a constant barrage of entertainment and distract ourselves with our devices. In such an environment, a moment of silence is increasingly rare, and may even feel uncomfortable. Honoring the sacred space of mourning feels foreign and inconvenient. We resist the idea of slowing down because if we slow down, we risk thinking about the all-too-human issue of our own mortality, a topic that our culture is especially averse to.

When Loss Enters In…

When loss hits close to home, we sometimes try to find creative ways to get around it. The funeral ceremony, which is supposed to help us face our emotions, is sometimes skipped entirely in the name of efficiency. More and more, we turn away from funerals and traditional ceremonies in favor of casual get-togethers or parties. Well-meaning relatives say that they don’t want “a big fuss” when they die, and families decide to pass on the funeral service in favor of a simple celebration or a casual toast.

As people look for the most convenient possible way to deal with death, cremations rates have steadily risen. This is not to say that cremation is inherently wrong. Cremation is a good and appropriate choice for many families in a variety of circumstances. But if the motivating factor for choosing cremation is a desire for convenience, and if no time is taken to honor and reflect on the life that was lived, then something of great value is lost. For some people, the decision to not bury the body is accompanied by the decision to start burying their honest emotions.

Facing our Emotions

No matter how much we want to hide from it, avoid it, or try to get around it, death isn’t convenient. It’s painful. It forces us to consider the transience of life. It forces us to face our emotions. Dealing with death and loss is not supposed to be convenient or efficient. Not to say that the ceremony must be extravagant or exhausting. But we should think about the importance of having ceremonies and the necessity of taking time to reflect. After all, if we lose our reverence for honoring those who go before us, don’t we risk losing our respect for the living? With every life that is honored in passing, we reaffirm the beauty and sanctity of life and the living.

Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later

If grief is not able to be expressed at a time of loss, it has a way of coming back around later, sometimes with a vengeance. In some cases, unexpressed or “delayed grief” can lead to intense sadness or depression, numbness, substance abuse, sleep disturbances, inability to enjoy life, lack of purpose and meaning in life, even physical aches and pains, chronic illness, or disease. As one author notes, “Ignoring grief is like a leak in our roof. We can take care of it now or we can wait as it seeps through the ceiling, gets into the walls, and warps the floors.” When grief is allowed to be expressed in its proper time, complications tend to be reduced or alleviated.

The funeral ceremony is an opportunity to express our emotions of grief, even as we respect the dignity of human life and treat those who mourn with compassion. Engaging in these rituals is a special way to honor the legacy of our lost loved ones and to support the living. The respect that this requires of us makes us stronger people. At the funeral, we mourn. We come together and remember our loved ones. In many ways, we forget our differences and heal old wounds. We honor sacred space and time, and we grow as individuals and as a society.

 

Top 10 Poems for a Funeral Ceremony

By | Funeral Poems, Grief/Loss, Meaningful Funerals

Readings are a great way to enrich a funeral ceremony. As Dr. Wolfelt tells us, readings are an important element of the service because they speak to “word people,” help us search for meaning in the loss, and activate support.

Poems are a particularly powerful type of reading that contribute to what Wolfelt refers to as the “sweet spot” of a meaningful funeral experience. For this reason, we have included ten great poems that can enhance a funeral ceremony. If you are thinking of including a poetry reading in memory of a loved one, you may want to consider using one of these profound poems.

10. “Dear Lovely Death
         by Langston Hughes

Famed Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes was a master of economy, and his “less is more” approach is perfectly realized in “Dear Lovely Death.” Hughes packs an extraordinary amount of insight into a mere 10 lines, and the result is a powerful and hopeful piece that speaks to funeral audiences. Hughes suggest that death does not destroy or eradicate, but merely changes the nature of those that it touches. The idea of death as change strikes an important balance for a funeral setting. Hopeful but not naïve, it allows us to see the situation in a more comforting light while never denying the reality of death.

9. “A Clear Midnight
       by Walt Whitman

This short piece by Whitman turns conventional poetic imagery on its head. While most poems use midnight to evoke negative, frightening emotions, Whitman sees the night as a time of calm and peace. When applied to a funeral setting, the flight of the soul “into the wordless” can be viewed as a metaphor for death, and this image touches mourners by depicting death as a place of rest.

8. “Death is a Door
       by Nancy Byrd Turner

Like “Dear Lovely Death,” Turner’s poem views death as a time of transition and change, and like “A Clear Midnight,” it emphasizes the calming nature of death. Through the use of nature imagery such as “garden” and “green leaves,” Turner evokes a sense of rejuvenation, and implies that death gives birth to new life, though we can’t yet see what this new life looks like. Turner’s assertion that the threshold of death is eagerly crossed by “willing and weary feet” implies that whatever lies on the other side of the doorway of death is more encouraging than frightening.

7. “Requiem
       by Robert Louis Stevenson

Few people know that Robert Louis Stevenson, author of the famous novels Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, also penned one of the greatest poems about death. The short and simple “Requiem” is written from the perspective of the deceased, who is clearly satisfied with the life that he lived. “Glad did I live and gladly die,” he proudly claims, and his contentment regarding the journey from life to death is comforting and encouraging. Families who feel that their loved one lived a full and wonderful life may consider using this poem at the service to remind themselves that their loved one is at peace.

6. “The Road Not Taken”
       by Robert Frost

One of the most famous poems of all time, Robert Frost’s masterpiece is not in a strict sense a “funeral poem.” It isn’t specifically about death, and it doesn’t attempt to encourage mourners or to ponder the transience of life. But it’s a wonderful tribute to a life well lived. The closing lines, “I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference,” are a testament to a person that broke the mold and embraced life to the fullest. If you are looking for a piece that celebrates the unique life of your loved one, consider reading this ode to originality.

5. Success
       by Bessie Anderson Stanley *

Another poem that deals less with death than with the celebration of a life, this famous essay-turned-poem by Bessie Anderson Stanley analyzes the true meaning of success. Success is not embodied in a person who chased after shallow achievements such as popularity or material wealth, but rather by a person who “laughed often, and loved much,” and “left the world better than he found it.” A fitting tribute to the life of a loved one who understood the true value of life and spent his or her time engaged in honorable pursuits, this classic poem will bring encouragement to funeral audiences and allow them to reflect on the meaningful life of the deceased.

4. “When Great Trees Fall
       by Maya Angelou

This extraordinary work by the late Maya Angelou emphasizes the ripple effect that is created by the death of a great person. Angelou suggests that the deep hurt that we feel when losing a loved one is a testament to the brilliance of that individual’s life. While grief may hurt, it is an important indicator that the loved one made a difference and positively impacted the lives of others. The poem suggests that the time of grief is extremely difficult, but that “after a period peace blooms.” As we move through the grief journey, we come to accept the reality of the death and are able to recall the memories of the deceased to motivate us as we continue to find meaning in our lives.

3. “Death, Be Not Proud
       by John Donne

Perhaps the most famous poem to address mortality, John Donne’s 17th century classic is a tightly structured and perfectly realized refutation of the permanence of death. In a mere 14 lines, Donne sets out to bruise Death’s ego, and his skill matches his ambition. He challenges death by comparing it to rest and sleep, “which but thy pictures be.” While death marks a stronger transition than sleep, Donne views both states as temporary. The final line, “Death, thou shalt die,” indicates Donne’s strong belief in an afterlife. For this reason, “Death, Be Not Proud” is a great choice for religious ceremonies. It is important to realize that Donne’s poem shouldn’t keep us from acknowledging the reality of death in this world; death separates us from our loved ones, and it is okay to grieve. Rather, it should encourage those who are religious by reminding them that the soul of their loved one is at peace.

2.”If I Can Stop One Heart from Breaking
by Emily Dickinson

In this compact, seven-line poem, Dickinson doesn’t waste time on flowery language or indulgent imagery. Her approach to the material is clear, concise, and direct. The primary theme of the poem is the importance of love, which trumps all other human virtues. The speaker claims that if she can help another living being, then she “shall not live in vain.” The size of the act is less important than the intention behind the act. A person need not have his or her good deeds recognized as grand accomplishments to live a great life. Rather, living a full and meaningful life is accomplished by spreading love wherever and however one can. Dickinson’s heartfelt poem is a great choice for the funeral of a loved one who dedicated their life to helping others.

1. Psalm 23
    A Psalm of David, The Book of Psalms (KJV)

The most famous and revered of all the psalms speaks directly to our desire for peace, both for ourselves and for our loved ones. Psalm 23 is perfect for a funeral ceremony because it applies as well to the mourners as it does to the deceased. When David claims, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me,” he’s expressing a sentiment that not only encourages us when thinking about a dearly departed loved one, but also gives us the strength to continue on our grief journey. The “valley of the shadow of death” can refer to those who are making the transition from life to death and to those who are trying to face life after losing a loved one. For religious ceremonies, this is a wonderful choice, a beautiful testament to God’s ability to bring comfort and peace to his children in dark times. A cry of faith amidst the storms of life, Psalm 23 is the perfect funeral reading.

 

 

*”Success” is often incorrectly attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, usually with the inclusion of the famous line: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”