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Meaningful Funerals

Two women and one man standing at a graveside service, one woman holding a white handkerchief

Why Your Presence at the Funeral Matters

By Grief/Loss, Meaningful Funerals

In our culture today, there’s a tendency to do whatever is necessary to avoid pain and unpleasant feelings. This is one reason why people want to avoid the funeral – it brings out emotions that don’t always feel good. But pain and difficult emotions are a natural part of the human experience. In order to have good mental health and positive well-being, we need to learn how to process difficult experiences.

Man and woman standing together next to a closed casket, woman's hand placed on casket as they pay their respects

Nationally recognized grief counselor and death educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt puts it this way:

The pain of grief will keep trying to get your attention until you unleash your courage to gently, and in small doses, open to its presence. The alternative—denying or suppressing your pain—is in fact more painful. If you do not honor your grief by acknowledging it, it will accumulate and fester. So, you must ask yourself, “How will I host this loss? What do I intend to do with this pain? Will I befriend it, or will I make it my enemy?” (To see Dr. Wolfelt’s full article, click here.)

Woman in black dress holding white lilies with left hand as she places right hand on casket

But why does your presence at the funeral matter? How will attending a funeral help you address any pain or complex emotions you may feel at a time of grief and loss? How will your presence provide support and encouragement to others? Good questions. Let’s discuss 7 ways attending the funeral or memorial service will help you (or your loved ones) on the grief journey.

Attending the funeral service gives you the opportunity to:

1. Honor and remember a person’s life

By attending the funeral or memorial service, you have a chance to acknowledge that a special person existed and their life was important. As human beings, we need to know that our lives matter, and the funeral provides an opportunity to affirm that. Even if you didn’t know the person well, you honor them and their surviving family members by paying your respects and participating in remembrance activities.

Woman in black dress placing purple flowers on a grave at the committal service

2. Say goodbye in your own way

While the funeral doesn’t make grief go away, it does help you grieve. Without a service, things don’t feel finished. Almost like something is missing. However, with a service, you have the chance to say goodbye in your own way and accept the reality of the death. Some may want to sit near the deceased for a while; for others, the act of attending the funeral is enough. We’re all different, but it’s important to say goodbye, especially for those who didn’t get to see the deceased before their passing.

3. Express your emotions

People expect to see emotions at a funeral service, which makes it a safe place to express yourself. You may be tempted to bottle up your emotions, but if possible, try to engage with your feelings. Let yourself experience what you feel and take note of your emotions. Someone you love has died, and that’s significant. Your emotions are normal, and it’s okay to express them.

Young woman who is sad

4. Offer condolences

Another reason why your presence matters is that it gives you a chance to offer your condolences. Whether you want to give the grieving family a hug or share an encouraging word, your presence can bring great comfort. Plus, by offering your condolences at the funeral, you make things simpler for the family. It’s easier to talk to 100 people at the funeral than to experience 100 different condolence encounters after the funeral.

5. Support the grieving family

Similar to giving your condolences, you can also offer practical support to the grieving family. This could mean that you drop off food for the family in the days following the service. You could sign up to be on “clean-up duty” at the gathering, give family members a ride, or help them pack up memorial items used to personalize the service. While the funeral home staff will take care of the major details, there are other ways you can step in to offer practical support to a grieving family.

Two women and one man standing at a graveside service, one woman holding a white handkerchief

 6. Reconnect with others

After a loss, you need good people surrounding you. Funerals bring family and friends together, so they provide an opportunity for people to reconnect. Though the funeral will bring tears, it will also bring laughter, joy, and connection. Families and friends who haven’t seen each other in a while can swap stories, share memories, and support each other. We’re not meant to live life alone, and we can lean on each other during times of grief and loss.

7. Realize you aren’t alone in your grief

Grief can feel lonely, but by attending the funeral, you see other people who are also grieving. You aren’t alone in what you’re feeling. The people around you at the funeral may not experience exactly what you are feeling, but they are processing emotions of their own. You can sit down together, talk with each other, unpack what you’re feeling, and provide much-needed love and support. You don’t have to grieve on your own – there are people who can stand with you.

Two white roses sitting on casket with clergy person in background holding an open book

Are there times when you shouldn’t attend the funeral?

In most cases, your presence will be welcome at the funeral or memorial service. But life isn’t always black and white; sometimes, it’s gray. Here are a few times when you should consider skipping the service or participating online:

  • Your attendance at the service would be disruptive, distracting, or upsetting to any member of the immediate family
  • The services are private and not open to the public
  • The services are out of town and you cannot get there
  • You cannot arrange for time off work
  • You are ill or physically unable to travel

White chrysanthemum resting in an open book

Additional grief resources

While attending the funeral is an important and necessary part of the grief journey, it’s not the end. For some, the deep emotions of grief last for a few weeks, and for others, they last for years. To help you (or a grieving loved one) in the days ahead, here are some additional grief resources.

Man in white shirt holding Catholic rosary beads

Understanding the Catholic Funeral Rite

By Meaningful Funerals

The Catholic funeral rite is a time-honored tradition that allows the Catholic community to gather in support of the bereaved and to commend dear departed loved ones into God’s loving and merciful hands. A Catholic funeral rite is divided into three parts, each with its own purpose: vigil, funeral liturgy, and rite of committal. By following the complete structure, the bereaved family is strengthened in faith, hope, and love through the funeral ritual.

Wooden Catholic rosary laying on top of open Bible with lit candles in background

Love: Vigil Service (Wake or Rosary)

The vigil is a prayer service usually held the evening before the funeral and may include a rosary. The Order of Christian Funerals (no. 56) states, “At the vigil, the Christian community keeps watch with the family in prayer to the God of mercy and finds strength in Christ’s presence.” This is a special time for the bereaved family to receive love and support from their Christian brothers and sisters and to share stories as they honor and remember a unique life.

At the vigil, much like a viewing or a wake, family and friends gather in the home of the deceased, in the funeral home, or in the Church to pray and remember the deceased and commend them to God. In prayer, they ask God to console them in their grief and give them strength to support one another. The vigil is the most appropriate time for family and friends to share stories, eulogies, and memories.

Woman sitting in pew, praying with hands clasped

Faith: Funeral Liturgy

The funeral liturgy is the central expression of faith for the Catholic community after the loss of a loved one. It may be celebrated at a Requiem Mass, or when Mass cannot be celebrated, a funeral liturgy outside Mass can be celebrated at the Church or in the funeral home. The funeral liturgy is an act of worship in which the family and friends of the deceased gather with the Church to give praise and thanks to God. Through prayer and petition, the focus is placed on Christ’s victory over sin and death as a loved one is commended into God’s tender mercy and compassion.

Woman standing at casket, giving final respects; line of people behind her waiting to give their own final respects

Hope: Rite of Committal (Burial or Interment)

The Rite of Committal is the conclusion of the funeral rite. The Church prefers that burial take place on consecrated ground. In committing the body to its resting place, the community expresses hope that the deceased awaits the glory of the resurrection. The Rite of Committal is an expression of the communion that exists between the Church on earth and the Church in heaven: the deceased passes with the farewell prayers of the community of believers into the welcoming company of those who need faith no longer, but see God face to face.

These three actions come together to create the Catholic Funeral Rite, which has brought comfort to Catholics for centuries. But if you are unfamiliar with the Catholic Rite, you may have additional questions. Let’s talk through a few of the most common ones.

Interior of a Catholic church with pews and altar

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Church’s stance on cremation?

While burial remains the more typical and preferred practice, it is no longer uncommon for Catholics to choose cremation. The Church teaches that the body should be cared for with great respect and dignity, both as God’s creation and as former temples of the Holy Spirit and as an expression of our hope in the risen life to come.

The Order of Christian Funerals offers three options with the cremated body:

  1. Have the cremation follow the funeral service, with a disposition of the cremated body through burial in a cemetery
  2. Gather for the committal of the cremated remains at the cemetery first, followed by a funeral liturgy at the church
  3. With direct or immediate cremation, a funeral liturgy at the church may follow with burial of the remains at an appropriate time

The practice of scattering the cremated body is not encouraged, nor is dividing the cremated body or keeping the urn at the home of a relative or friend, although burial at sea in an urn is acceptable.

Man in white shirt holding Catholic rosary beads

What happens at the vigil service?

The vigil often takes place at the Church, in the funeral home, or at the home of the family. Generally, a priest or deacon will preside, but a layperson may also preside. The primary purpose of the vigil is to provide mourners with an opportunity to pray, offer support and condolences to the family, and to hear or give tributes and eulogies.

What should I expect at a Requiem Mass?

A few things differentiate a Requiem Mass (Funeral Mass) from a regular Catholic Mass. These differences include:

  • The casket of the deceased will be received by the priest at the front door. He will sprinkle the casket with holy water and cover it with a pall. Then, he will lead the procession to place the casket on the catafalque (funerary platform).
  • The liturgy often includes passages from the Old Testament, read by the priest, family, or friends.
  • The priest often reads a psalm, a passage from the Gospels, and delivers a homily/eulogy.
  • Some, but not all, Catholic funerals include a Final Commendation, which is an additional eulogy after Holy Communion has been offered.
  • At the conclusion of the Requiem Mass, the casket is sprinkled with holy water once again before it is carried from the Church.

Priest spreading incense at a Catholic funeral

How long does a Requiem Mass last?

Anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour, depending on whether it is a full Mass or not.

What is the dress code and funeral etiquette for a Catholic funeral?

At a Catholic funeral, the mood will be formal and somber. It is appropriate to wear dark-colored clothing, such as black, charcoal, or gray. Wear something modest, though not casual. Jeans, hoodies, t-shirts, sportswear, and casual footwear are not recommended.

While prayers are being recited, you can stay seated with your head bowed. There will be parts of the Mass that require you to alternate between standing and kneeling. If you are unable to kneel, that’s fine, but try to at least stand.

If you are not Catholic, do not to take part in Holy Communion. You can follow the procession to receive a blessing from the priest, if you wish, but it is not required. For more funeral etiquette suggestions, click here.

Catholic Bible sitting on desk with rosary laid on top

Can I personalize a Catholic funeral?

Absolutely! In fact, personalization is encouraged as long it does not interfere with the Church rites that must be completed. You can speak with both a funeral director and the priest to determine if your personalization plans are appropriate.

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of the beauty and rich tradition behind the Catholic Funeral Rite. However, if you have more questions, speak to a trusted local funeral director. They can answer any additional questions that may be on your mind.

Record player

10 Songs from the 1960s for a Celebration of Life

By Meaningful Funerals, Music

Record player

One of the most important parts of a funeral is music. When we’re grieving, music helps us express our feelings in ways that words can’t and helps us feel the emotions we’ve been holding back. Additionally, the songs played at a funeral or celebration of life set the tone for the gathering and help create a healing and meaningful service.

While many people assume that songs played at a funeral must be quiet, sad, or traditional, that’s not necessarily true! When planning a funeral, you can choose personalized music. For example, select your loved one’s favorite song or melodies that are meaningful to your family. If your loved one grew up in the 1960s or just loved music from that era, check out these 1960s songs you could include in their funeral, memorial service, or celebration of life.

My Way (Frank Sinatra, 1969)

I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way

Possibly the most famous Frank Sinatra song and one of the most popular funeral songs, “My Way” is a classic for a reason. Throughout this song, the slow, sweet rhythm perfectly matches Sinatra’s beautiful voice, creating a timeless melody. Because of the bold lyrics, “My Way” is the perfect song to include at a funeral or celebration of life to honor someone who always did things in their own unique way!

Stand By Me (Ben E. King, 1962)

I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

Losing a loved one is heartbreaking, which is why we need support during those difficult times. When we’re grieving a loss, “Stand By Me” can remind us that we can face anything with the people we love by our side. At the same time, this song is a lovely nod to the relationship we still have with the ones we have lost, which remains strong even as it transitions to a relationship of memory.

Spirit in the Sky (Norman Greenbaum, 1969)

When I die and they lay me to rest
Gonna go to the place that’s the best

One of the more upbeat songs on this list, the fun, quirky sound of “Spirit in the Sky” might seem out of place at many funerals. But the song speaks about Heaven and the hope of reuniting in the future. When you plan a celebration of life, this song could be a unique way to honor a loved one who was always upbeat and hopeful.

I’ll Remember You (Elvis Presley, 1966)

To your arms someday, I’ll return to stay
‘Til then I will remember too

We had to include at least one Elvis song on our list! This beautiful song speaks about never forgetting a loved one, even when they are gone. Throughout “I’ll Remember You,” Elvis’s soulful voice captures the deep longing for a lost loved one. Even more importantly, the beautiful lyrics make this the perfect tune to play at a funeral, memorial, or celebration of life. In addition, this song would work very well in a memorial video.

You’ll Never Walk Alone (Gerry & The Pacemakers, 1963)

Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone

If you watch a lot of soccer/football, this song may be familiar to you! “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is more than the anthem of the Liverpool Football Club – it’s also a beautiful call to hope during dark times. Whether your loved one was a football fan or not, this song can encourage your friends and family as you grieve together.

Who Knows Where the Time Goes? (Fairport Convention, 1969)

I have no fear of time
For who knows how my love grows?
And who knows where the time goes?

Part of grieving is mourning the loss of more time with our loved ones. “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” is a sweet song about the passage of time and the sorrow of a loved one leaving. Because of that, this song would be wonderful for a funeral or celebration of life, and it could also work very well as a background song for a slideshow of photos of your loved one.

If We Never Meet Again This Side Of Heaven (Johnny Cash, 1962)

If we never meet again this side of Heaven
As we struggle through this world and its strife
There’s another meeting place somewhere in Heaven

A thoughtful melody about reuniting in Heaven, “If We Never Meet Again This Side of Heaven” is a song of hope for the future. With this comforting song, we can find hope by remembering that we will someday see our loved ones again. “If We Never Meet Again This Side of Heaven” would make a great addition to any kind of service, especially for someone who was a Johnny Cash fan.

Turn! Turn! Turn! (The Byrds, 1965)

To everything turn, turn, turn
There is a season turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under Heaven

Based on the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, this classic song captures the idea that there is hope in our darkest moments. While the difficult season we are in may seem unending, we can remember that other seasons will come and that there is purpose in our pain. Because of the encouragement “Turn! Turn! Turn!” offers, listening to this song can give mourners hope that better times are coming.

In My Life (The Beatles, 1965)

There are places I’ll remember
All my life, though some have changed

A nostalgic song that reminisces about days gone by, “In My Life” is a pondering reflection about the love we still have for those who are no longer with us. Even after we lose a loved one, they still exist in our memories, which we can cherish forever. Listening to this song at a funeral or when you miss your loved one can remind you of your favorite moments with the ones you love.

Daddy Sang Bass (Johnny Cash, 1968)

One of these days and it won’t be long
I’ll rejoin them in a song
I’m gonna join the family circle at the throne

Losing family members can be one of the hardest trials we face as we grow older. “Daddy Sang Bass” is an upbeat song all about the comfort songs bring and the hope of reuniting with our loved ones in Heaven. While this song will work for almost any funeral, it would make a great addition to a funeral or celebration of life for a dad or a beloved father figure.

Hopefully, these songs have opened your eyes to a whole new way of selecting music for funerals. However, if the 1960s just aren’t the right genre for your funeral planning needs, please check out these other resources:

Songs from other decades

Other musical options for a meaningful funeral

Close-up on woman's hands as she holds a makeup brush and uses it to prepare eye shadow for use

Funerals, Cosmetology, and the Restorative Arts

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals

The loss of a loved one raises many questions, including what happens to a loved one’s body after it is transferred to the funeral home. You may be wondering how a body is prepared for the funeral and if you even need to have a viewing or an open casket service. Many families think that a viewing won’t be beneficial, but according to renowned author and grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt, the viewing can be one of the most healing aspects of a funeral.

Woman in black dress standing next to an open casket at a viewing, placing a red rose inside the casket

When planning a funeral, Dr. Wolfelt suggests:

When possible (and culturally appropriate), I always encourage families to spend time with the body of the person who died. Your family can have a private visitation only, or you can also have a public visitation, which gives community members the same chance to gather around the person who died. Over and over again families have told me that spending time with the body helped them come to terms with the death and begin to make the transition from life before the death to life after the death. Although it can be painful at first, time spent with the body is usually extremely healing in the long run.

To answer any lingering questions you may have, let’s discuss what happens behind the scenes during the preparation process. That way, you can choose the best possible option for your family and your journey toward healing.

What are the benefits of viewing the body?

To answer this question, let’s look to Dr. Wolfelt for guidance. Based on his years of experience walking alongside grieving families, he has found that a viewing can help mourners:

For those who don’t live near the deceased, it can be especially important to physically see them one last time. If you have loved ones who live far away, ask them if they want to see a deceased loved one physically before burial or cremation takes place. For some, that final moment together is critically important to the healing process.

Cosmetologist wearing makeup kit around her waist

Why do we need to prepare the body for viewing?

The purpose of a viewing is to allow friends and family members to pay their respects and say goodbye in person. In a recent survey on funeral preferences, 34% of people indicated it was important to physically see the deceased and a full 60% saw the practice as acceptable. But for the viewing to have the best possible impact, the body should be prepared ahead of time, ensuring the deceased person looks as much like themselves as possible. Depending on the family’s wishes, this preparation often includes embalming, cleaning and dressing of the body, and cosmetology.  

Who prepares the body?

More than likely, at least two people will prepare the body for viewing. The embalming process must be completed by a certified embalmer. If restorative arts are needed, which may be necessary with facial injuries, the embalmer will use wax, plaster, and other materials to restore the body as much as possible. Afterward, the body will be dressed in clothing selected by the family.

Finally, the mortuary cosmetologist will complete the preparation process by adding makeup, styling the hair, and even completing a manicure. A cosmetologist must be licensed to provide cosmetic services to the dead, and most cosmetology schools include courses on mortuary cosmetology. In the absence of a cosmetologist, the embalmer will take on the role and apply cosmetics to the deceased.

Close-up of makeup brushes, foundations, powders, and concealers

What’s the difference between cosmetology and restorative arts?

Both cosmetology and restorative arts produce a pleasing visual representation by recreating a lifelike appearance. However, “restorative arts” refers to the reconstruction of the body due to significant trauma, such as a car wreck. On the other hand, “cosmetology” refers to the hairstyle and makeup used to emulate the person’s appearance. This would include brightening the face, matching skin tone, styling the hair, caring for the nails, and so on. The two practices work hand in hand to ensure the deceased person’s essence is captured as closely as possible.

What does the family provide to help with the preparation process?

In order for a loved one to look as lifelike as possible, the embalmer and mortuary cosmetologist rely on the surviving family for help. The family will select clothing for the deceased, including any jewelry or special items. The family will also supply a reference photo that the cosmetologist can use to match the deceased’s makeup and hairstyle as closely as possible.

If there are any specific cosmetic requests, such as the use of a distinctive shade of lipstick or nail polish, the family can drop these items off at the funeral home. The cosmetologist will then use these items to add an even more personalized touch. Often, it’s the small details that make a loved one’s appearance feel that much more genuine to those who are mourning.

Man looking tenderly at a photo, looking at someone he loves

Won’t seeing the body negatively affect my good memories of my loved one?

In the vast majority of cases, seeing a loved one’s deceased body is not going to affect or take away the quality of your precious memories. For many, having time to sit quietly and privately with a loved one is the most meaningful part of the funeral. Yes, it’s going to be painful. It may feel uncomfortable. But to heal, it’s necessary to embrace the discomfort and the pain, so you can figure out how to move forward without that special person.

A quick note: There will always be cases where a viewing isn’t possible. You can rely on the funeral professional to give you an honest assessment. If a viewing isn’t possible, that’s okay. Work with the funeral director to identify other ways to honor your loved one’s memory and celebrate their life.

Is preparation of the body necessary for a private viewing?

The decision ultimately resides with the family. If the viewing is taking place soon after death, then neither technique may be necessary. However, if the viewing is delayed, it’s recommended that there be some form of preparation and preservation. Some states may have specific laws regarding the length of time a body can remain un-embalmed. The funeral director will know the specifics for your state.

Close-up on woman's hands as she holds a makeup brush and uses it to prepare eye shadow for use

With these questions answered, the next steps are up to you. Talk to your family members. Ask them whether they think a viewing is a good thing. It may not be something you need, but your mother, brother, or daughter may need it. Ultimately, the funeral is intended to help people reflect on life, celebrate loved ones, and take the first steps toward healing and reconciliation. For some, that may include a viewing where they can see a loved one’s beloved face one more time.

Four books in a stack on a table in front of several bookcases

10 Literary Readings for Any Type of Funeral

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

As you plan a healing and meaningful funeral for a loved one, it’s essential that you find ways to make it personal. According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally recognized grief counselor and best-selling author, there are 7 elements to include in a perfectly balanced funeral ceremony: music, readings, visitation/reception, eulogy, symbols, gathering, and actions. Today, we are going to focus on literary readings and how they can enhance and personalize a funeral or memorial service.

Funeral readings come in a variety of forms, lengths, and formats. Some are religious; others are not. The ultimate goals of funeral readings are to pay tribute to the deceased, encourage reflection, and provide comfort and hope to the grieving. While many readings are religious, they don’t have to be. There is a LOT of freedom to choose what feels right and best for your loved one’s services.

Let’s look at 10 literary readings that are perfect for any type of service.

Looking at books from above, arranged so that they create a heart

1. “She is Gone” by David Harkins

Written by English poet David Harkins in 1982, this short poem focuses on the gratitude we feel for those we love. Their presence, their legacy, their very lives – we will never be the same because they lived. Also, with a small alternation to “he”, you can use the poem for a male or female loved one.

You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday
You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

Young woman sitting down as she holds an open book and looks to the left

2. “Death is Nothing at All” by Henry Scott-Holland

While it was written by an English priest, the words are not overtly religious. Instead, Scott-Holland focuses on the universal human experience: the knowledge that a loved one may be gone, but in some nearly incomprehensible way, their spirit still lives on in us. We don’t need to forget who they were; they never really leave.

Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.

Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.

All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

Open book laying on a pink blanket with white flowers resting on its pages

3. “Instructions” by Arnold Crompton

In its simple turn of phrase, “Instructions” conveys the reality that grief is a part of everyday life. The loss of a loved one becomes a part of our life story. Even as we talk, eat, climb mountains, wrestle with new ideas, and do the things of life, our loved one’s memory is right there with us through it all.

When I have moved beyond you in the adventure of life,
Gather in some pleasant place and there remember me
With spoken words, old and new.

Let a tear if you will, but let a smile come quickly
For I have loved the laughter of life.
Do not linger too long with your solemnities.

Go eat and talk, and when you can;
Follow a woodland trail, climb a high mountain,
Walk along the wild seashore,
Chew the thoughts of some book
Which challenges your soul.

Use your hands some bright day
To make a thing of beauty
Or to lift someone’s heavy load.

Though you mention not my name,
Though no thought of me crosses your mind,
I shall be with you,
For these have been the realities of my life for me.

And when you face some crisis with anguish.

When you walk alone with courage,
When you choose your path of right,
I shall be very close to you.

I have followed the valleys,
I have climbed the heights of life.

Older man holding an open red book, with his fingers prepared to turn the page

4. “Gone From My Sight” attributed to Henry Van Dyke

Using beautiful metaphor, the author softens the concept of death. The ship, representing the deceased, is stalwart, beautiful, and strong. And rather than leaving entirely, the person is welcomed to a new place by those excited to see her. Filled with hope, this reading offers comfort to those who are grieving.

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

And that is dying…

A open book with two pages folded to create a heart in the middle

5. “Not How Did He Die, but How Did He Live?” by Merrit Malloy

In just a few words, this poem by Merrit Malloy hits on the true purpose of a funeral service. It is not to dwell on gain or fame, but to celebrate the true measure of a person. Did they do the things that matter? Did they make a positive difference, even to just one person? Though the words are short and sweet, they make you consider your own choices and how you want to live your life.

Not, how did he die, but how did he live?
Not, what did he gain, but what did he give?
These are the units to measure the worth
Of a man as a man, regardless of his birth.
Nor what was his church, nor what was his creed?
But had he befriended those really in need?
Was he ever ready, with words of good cheer,
To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?
Not what did the sketch in the newspaper say,
But how many were sorry when he passed away?

6. Irish Blessing

This well-known blessing is used for a variety of occasions because of its versatility. At a funeral, it can speak comfort to the mourner’s heart, sweetly offering hope for the future even as we wait to meet a lost loved one once more. Its uplifting tone invites people to wish each other well on the journey of life.

May the roads rise up to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rains fall soft upon fields
And until we meet again
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Woman with brown hair sitting outside as she reads a book

7. “Let Me Go” by Christina Rossetti

With timeless prose, Christina Rosetti highlights a path we must all take: losing those we love, and even so, learning how to live again. With its compassionate tone, the words encourage mourners to grieve but to also remember. In the remembrance, there is hope, there is joy, and there is healing.

When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom filled room
Why cry for a soul set free?

Miss me a little, but not for long
And not with your head bowed low
Remember the love that once we shared
Miss me, but let me go.

For this is a journey we all must take
And each must go alone.
It’s all part of the master plan
A step on the road to home.

When you are lonely and sick at heart
Go to the friends we know.
Laugh at all the things we used to do
Miss me, but let me go.

8. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

A rather unconventional addition to the list, Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian novel published in 1953 by American author Ray Bradbury. Though the book has a rather contentious history, the message in this passage rings true. The value and importance of legacy cannot be overstated, and at a funeral, it’s right and good to celebrate lives touched and changed by a loved one’s presence.

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so as long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.

Young man dressed in black suit, sitting in a yellow chair as he reads and contemplates a book

9. “Roads Go Ever On” by J.R.R. Tolkien (excerpt from Lord of the Rings)

For decades, the Lord of the Rings has been a beloved classic for generations of readers. Nestled amidst its pages, this poem uses nature and soothing imagery to illustrate the journey of life. There are many ups and downs, and in the end, we must all face death. But death is just another stop; it is not the end.  Acknowledging the immortality of the soul brings comfort that a loved one is never truly gone.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on,
Under cloud and under star.
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen,
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green,
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone.
Let others follow, if they can!
Let them a journey new begin.
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

Still ’round the corner there may wait
A new road or secret gate;
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

Four books in a stack on a table in front of several bookcases

10. “The Dash” by Linda Ellis

One of the most natural responses to death is to re-evaluate your own life. “Should I do more?” “I haven’t pursued that dream, but I’m going to do it.” And according to Dr. Wolfelt, one of the purposes of a funeral is to search for meaning. With poignancy and simplicity, this reading invites you to search for the meaning of your life and to change what needs changing to make the most of your “dash.”

I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own —
the cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real,
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
and show appreciation more,
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
and more often wear a smile,
remembering this special dash
might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read
with your life’s actions to rehash,
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent YOUR dash?

These literary readings are, of course, just the beginning of the possibilities. There are many other literary readings you might consider including at a personalized funeral or memorial service. If there are specific books, poems, or even lyrics, that were meaningful to your loved one, include those.

Woman sitting on floor with three open books lying beside her

For more ideas on readings you could include, read:

How do Readings Enhance the Funeral Experience?
Top 15 Bible Verses for a Celebration of Life Service
Top 10 Poems for a Funeral Ceremony

Also, if you want to remove the burden of funeral planning from your loved ones by choosing all the details in advance, check out these resources:

What is Advance Funeral Planning?
What to Expect at a Preplanning Appointment
10 Reasons to Plan Ahead
How to Get Started With Funeral Preplanning

Couple holding hands at a graveyard

What to Do When Things Go Wrong at a Funeral

By Meaningful Funerals

Attending a loved one’s funeral can be emotionally challenging, and you may feel grief, pain, and confusion at the ceremony. That’s where having a problem-free funeral for your loved one can help make things easier. But sometimes, certain situations can cause problems for you and those grieving.

Most funerals go off without a hitch because funeral professionals work tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure everything runs smoothly. While most funerals experience few problems, sometimes issues come up that can’t be controlled.

If a problem does occur, there are many ways to overcome and diffuse the incident. Here are 6 rare but possible problems that could happen at your loved one’s funeral and how to make the best of the situation.

1. Disruptive Guests

people and mourning concept - woman with red roses and coffin at funeral in church

Not all guests understand proper funeral etiquette. A few guests may let unsilenced cell phones, noisy children, persistent sneezing, or other distractions occur. These distractions can make it difficult to focus on honoring your loved one.

You can ask the funeral director to speak with the disruptor if this occurs. The funeral director can calmly and quickly resolve the situation without escalating things or involving other guests. You can also suggest that the funeral home post a sign outside the chapel outlining how guests should conduct themselves.

2. Inappropriate Comments

In times of pain and sorrow, some guests might abandon their better judgment. For example, some guests may think it appropriate to share embarrassing family history, stories, or opinions that don’t honor the life of the deceased or offer healing to those grieving, no matter how many times they’re asked not to make such comments.

Suppose the guest insists on continuing with their comments. In that case, the best choice you can make is to avoid engaging with this individual. Remove yourself from the conversation until the unnecessary comments have stopped.

Once the guest realizes their inappropriate comments are falling on deaf ears, they’ll likely cease sharing their thoughts.

3. Feuds and Fights

Silhouette of a angry woman and man on each other. Relationship difficulties

The chances that an argument or a fight will occur at your loved one’s funeral are unlikely. Still, fights have occurred at funerals, so it’s best to be prepared. Most fights begin as passionate arguments. If an argument breaks out, assist other guests in separating the feuding parties, as this will encourage cooler heads to prevail.

If a fight begins, the most important thing you can do is to stay out of the fighting. Do not engage or try to break up the fight. Instead, find a funeral home staff member and let them handle the situation.

In extreme cases, the police may need to intervene. You can call law enforcement in an attempt to bring the ordeal to an end.

4. Dropped Casket

Sad, funeral and people with coffin at church for service, mourning and grief over death.

While a dropped casket may seem lesser than fighting guests, it can still be startling and upsetting for those attending the funeral. A dropped casket by a pallbearer could happen for various reasons, but one outcome is certain – the pallbearer will feel terrible about what’s happened.

Show the pallbearer kindness by offering words of encouragement and reassurance. Let the pallbearer know that they meant so much to the deceased and helped honor the life and legacy of the loved one. Hopefully, the pallbearer’s shame and embarrassment will ease, thanks to you.

5. Late Arrival

Arriving on time is a simple way to show respect, especially at a funeral. However, some guests may arrive after the ceremony has started. To ensure late guests do not become disruptive, have the funeral home place a sign outside the chapel asking late guests to enter quietly and sit in the back.

And while even more unlikely, there are stories of the pastor, preacher, officiant, or chaplain arriving late or not coming at all. Of course, the minister should arrive early, but you have options if that doesn’t happen.

You can suggest that a family member or a close friend step in. They can read the obituary and say a few words about the loved one’s legacy. Then you can invite other friends and family members to share their most precious memories and stories.

6. Unseemly Selfies

Stick to Self and smartphone on the old boards.

Growing up as a kid, you may have never dreamed of taking a photo of the deceased at a funeral. However, things are different nowadays, as most adults and children have a camera in their pockets.

Whether you agree or disagree with the #CorpseSelfie movement, it’s important to remember that funerals are necessary to help guests process their grief and honor and respect loved ones. Unfortunately, funeral selfies often focus attention on the guest rather than the deceased.

If you see someone taking a picture of or with the body, gently ask them to stop, as many of the guests may see their actions as disrespectful. You can ask the funeral home staff to get involved if your request is ignored.

Your loved one’s funeral will be emotionally challenging. Still, it will allow you and others to remember their legacy and say goodbye. The funeral will likely have no problems and will be a source of healing for years to come. Life does happen, however, and people aren’t perfect. So, if a problem does arise, use these suggestions to make the best of the situation. That way, the problem is a minor mishap you and your family can smile about later.

1950s jukebox

11 Songs from the 1950s for a Celebration of Life

By Meaningful Funerals, Music

1950s jukebox

Did you know that you can use your loved one’s favorite music to personalize their funeral? Music plays an important role in a funeral by helping mourners express emotions they may not be able to put into words. Personalized songs and music that was special to your loved one can help create a healing and meaningful funeral for your family and friends. Many people have a deep connection with the music they grew up with, which makes songs from their childhood a great choice for their memorial service. If your loved one grew up in the 1950s or just enjoyed the swinging, melodic sounds of the decade, here are a few songs that you could play at their funeral or celebration of life.

Beyond the Sea (Bobby Darin, 1959)

Somewhere beyond the sea
Somewhere waiting for me
My lover stands on golden sands
And watches the ships that go sailin’

While “Beyond the Sea” was first written in the 1940s, the song was popularized by Bobby Darin in 1959. This classic song beautifully captures the longing for a loved one and the hope for a meeting in the future. Plus, if your loved one was part of the Navy or loved sailing and the ocean, including this song at their celebration of life would be a wonderful personal touch.

They Can’t Take That Away from Me (Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, 1956)

The way you wear your hat
The way you sip your tea
The memory of all that
No, no, they can’t take that away from me

Originally written in 1937, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” is even more beautiful when sung by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong in this 1956 version of the song. When we lose a loved one, our relationship with them changes to one of memory. This song perfectly highlights how our loved ones live on in our memories and encourages us to cherish the small moments we shared with our loved ones.

Always (Ella Fitzgerald, 1958)

I’ll be loving you always
With a love that’s true alwaysWhen the things you’ve plannedNeed a helping handI will understand always

“Always” was originally written in 1926, but Ella Fitzgerald’s 1958 version of the song showcases both her voice and the lyrics beautifully. A song about commitment, loyalty, and neverending love, “Always” would make a wonderful addition to a funeral or celebration of life for a spouse or significant other.

Autumn Leaves (Edith Piaf, 1951)

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

An elegant song full of passion, “Autumn Leaves (Les Feuilles Mortes)” was recorded by Edith Piaf in 1951. With lyrics in English and French, this song speaks of missing and longing for someone you are separated from. “Autumn Leaves” would make a lovely funeral song for a significant other.

Love Me Tender (Elvis Presley, 1956)

Love me tender
Love me true
All my dreams fulfilled
For my darlin’ I love you
And I always will

Elvis Presley is one of the most well-known singers of all time, and “Love Me Tender” is one of his most iconic songs. The passionate lyrics speak of unending love and gratitude for the impact a loved one made on your life. This song could work well either as part of a service or as background music for a slideshow of photos of your loved one.

Thinking of You (Fats Domino, 1953)

Yes, I want you to know
That I need you so
You’re on my mind
Everywhere I go

Recorded by Fats Domino in 1953, “Thinking of You” speaks about the memories that linger when we lose someone we love. When a loved one dies, anything can remind us of them. This song showcases the way we see our lost loved ones all around us, making it a great choice for a funeral or memorial service.

Unforgettable (Nat King Cole, 1952)

That’s what you are
Though near or far

A slow, thoughtful song, “Unforgettable” was recorded by Nat King Cole in 1952. The people we love make an impact on our lives that we cannot forget, and these beautiful lyrics highlight how our loved ones leave their mark on our lives. The perfect song to honor any loved one, “Unforgettable” would be an excellent choice for a memorial service or celebration of life.

Raining in My Heart (Buddy Holly, 1959)

I tell my blues they mustn’t show
But soon these tears are bound to flow
‘Cause it’s raining, raining in my heart

Released just after Buddy Holly’s death in 1959, “Raining in My Heart” was originally recorded in October 1958. While the music is more cheerful than some songs on this list, the lyrics speak about the deep sadness we feel when we lose a loved one. A sweet reminder that it’s okay to be sad, “Raining in My Heart” could make a unique addition to a funeral or celebration of life.

Because of You (Tony Bennett, 1951)

Because of you
My life is now worthwhile
And I can smile
Because of you

Originally written in 1940, “Because of You” became Tony Bennett’s first big hit in 1951. The peaceful lyrics highlight the joy, love, and happiness that our loved ones bring to our lives, making this song perfect for honoring someone who positively impacted your life. “Because of You” would work especially well in a celebration of life or a slideshow.

Just a Closer Walk With Thee (Patsy Cline, 1959)

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

While the origins of the original hymn are unclear, Patsy Cline’s version of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” was released in 1959. This traditional song speaks about growing stronger in faith and closer to Jesus daily. For a loved one who was devoted to their faith, “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” could pay homage to their strong faith and dedication to God.

Peace in the Valley (Red Foley, 1951)

There’ll be no sadness
No sorrow
No trouble, I’ll see
There will be peace in the valley for me

Another traditional Christian song, “Peace in the Valley” was originally written in 1939 under the full title “There’ll Be Peace in the Valley for Me.” While the song has been sung by many singers, including Elvis Presley, this version was recorded by Red Foley in 1951. A song about hope, Heaven, and peace after death, “Peace in the Valley” would be an excellent song to include in a religious funeral or celebration of life.

Songs from other decades

Other musical options for a meaningful funeral

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