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Meaningful Funerals

3 Reasons to Have a Visitation

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

Have you ever wondered about the purpose of a visitation when a loved one dies? Why don’t we just skip to the funeral? This article will share three key reasons why visitations are a crucial part of a healing and meaningful funeral experience.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally recognized grief counselor, author, and educator, says that in order to create a healing and meaningful funeral, you should intentionally incorporate seven elements: music, readings, visitation, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. 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.”

Why Have a Visitation?

According to Dr. Wolfelt, one of the purposes of the funeral and visitation is to offer support for those who are grieving. We aren’t meant to walk through life alone, which is why the visitation is included in the seven elements of a funeral. The visitation is a time specifically set aside for friends, relatives, neighbors, and coworkers to come pay their respects to the person who has died and to offer condolences and support to the grieving family.

While it is common for the body to be present at a visitation, it doesn’t have to be. If the body is not present, it’s best to have some kind of representation of the one who has died, such as a prominently placed portrait, urn, or some other personalized display.

1. A Visitation Activates Your Support Network

As mentioned earlier, a visitation is one way to activate a community of support. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way: “Funerals make a social statement that says, ‘Come support me.’ Whether they realize it or not, those who choose not to have a funeral are saying, ‘Don’t come support me.’” By including a visitation in your funeral plans, you give others the opportunity to show their love for you, support you, and offer words of kindness and sincerity. Who knows…someone may say exactly what you need to hear to find solace and comfort following the loss of a loved one.

2. A Visitation Provides Opportunities for More People to Participate

Often, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances want to offer their support but may not be able to make it to a funeral in the middle of the day because of work obligations, especially on short notice. Because a visitation typically takes place in the evening, it offers your extended network of friends an opportunity to show their support, even if they can’t make it to the funeral.

3. A Visitation Can be the Most Meaningful Part of the Service

The visitation is often the first time extended family, friends, and immediate family members will be able to gather in one place after a loss. For many mourners, this time is special because they are able to see many people they haven’t seen in years. It is often like a family reunion that becomes the most meaningful part of the service for some mourners. The visitation allows time and space to talk about the loss, express emotions, and generally feel the outpouring of love from friends and family alike.

What Are My Visitation Options?

If you do decide to include a visitation in a service you are planning, there are typically two main options to choose from. However, keep in mind that they are not either/or options. You could choose both!

Visitation the Day Before the Funeral Service

Your first option is to have the visitation the day or evening before the funeral service. By having the visitation the day before the service, you break up the length of the event, which may be helpful for the grieving family. Grief is exhausting, so splitting up the events of the funeral into more manageable chunks is often helpful. Also, people who may not be able to attend the funeral service still have the opportunity to show their support and pay their respects.

Visitation Just Prior to the Funeral Service

Your second option is to have the visitation just prior to the funeral service (usually the hour before). For some families, this option may work well because everything takes place on just one day. However, keep in mind, the day will be long for the grieving family. Because there is only one event to attend, everyone who would like to attend may not be able to come. Also, for those who can only stay for the visitation, it may feel awkward to leave before the funeral service.

Ultimately, you need to do what’s best for you and your family. Both of these options will help activate the support system you will need for your journey toward healing and reconciliation. Weigh the pros and cons of each option. Talk to your family. Ask a funeral professional about what works well and what doesn’t. Then, with the knowledge you’ve gained, make the decision that’s best for you and your family.

Why Does Funeral Personalization Matter?

By Explore Options, Grief/Loss, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

I encourage you to slow down, take a deep breath and focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral you are planning. What is essential is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends. To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.”  – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

As people, we are unique individuals. We may sometimes resemble each other or like similar things, but no other person on earth is exactly like anyone else. Because we are so different, because we have our own nuances and intricacies, it makes sense to personalize a funeral. Just as we personalize our weddings, our birthdays, or our anniversaries, the final celebration of our life should reflect who we are, what we value, and what we leave behind as a legacy to others.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally-respected grief counselor and educator, tells us that “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.”

Whether you are planning ahead for your own funeral wishes or are planning a final tribute for a recently lost loved one, personalization is the key to creating a healing and meaningful experience that will meet the emotional needs of family and offer comfort throughout the grief journey.

What Parts of the Funeral Can I Personalize?

Dr. Alan Wolfelt tells us that to create a healing and meaningful funeral, you should include seven elements: music, readings, visitation, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. You can personalize any one of these elements to fit your personality, beliefs, and core values. For example, the music can include favorite songs, no matter the genre. You could incorporate a release ceremony or share readings from a favorite book, song, or poet. If it’s something that will honor the life lived, and it will be meaningful, then that’s a way to personalize.

How Do I Go About Personalizing a Funeral?

The first step is taking time to brainstorm the person’s likes and dislikes, their values and beliefs, their passions, hobbies, and pastimes. You can do that through asking yourself a series of questions and then deciding which ones capture the essence of the person who has died and reflect who they were.

  • What was my loved one passionate about?
  • What attributes were they known for?
  • Do you have any cherished memories of your loved one?
  • Did your loved one have any special achievements you’d like to recognize?
  • Was your loved one exceptionally talented at something?
  • When you think of your loved one, what do you think of?
  • What were your loved one’s hobbies or special interests?
  • What was your loved one’s faith or spiritual belief?

Once you’ve pinpointed the answer to these questions, decide how to use them to personalize each of the seven elements of the funeral. You can weave a theme throughout the event or you can simply focus on a few aspects of your or a loved one’s life. As long as you are taking the time to truly honor a life, then choose whatever seems best for you and your family.

A Few Ideas to Get You Started

Even after a brainstorming session, it can be tough to get started. Here are a few personalization ideas to get your creative mind up and running. Feel free to use these or come up with your own ideas!

  • Include a memorial DVD
  • Add in a candlelight ceremony
  • Choose a special location for the service
  • Pick a color or clothing theme
  • Bring in special music
  • Share a meal that includes favorite foods
  • Incorporate cherished items
  • Establish a memorial together
  • Make a collage or timeline of life events
  • Give guests a token/item to take home as a remembrance
  • Consider a release ceremony (butterflies, balloons, lanterns, doves, etc.)

All of these are potential ideas, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. The options are as unique as you are. Whether your loved one was a quilter, a collector, an artist, an animal lover, a teacher, a cowboy, a fisherman, a golfer, you can do something special to honor that person’s memory in a very unique and personal way.

No two funerals should be the same. Each one should be unique and personal. And with a funeral that is personalized, family and friends leave feeling that the service was healing, comforting, and meaningful. And above all, that the life lived was truly celebrated.

How to Personalize a Funeral When an Infant Dies

By Explore Options, Grief/Loss, Meaningful Funerals

Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” – A.A. Milne

Losing an infant or a small child is one of the most difficult situations to face as a parent. It feels wrong. Out of order. Unnatural. And yet, it has happened, and now it is time to grieve the loss of a life that could have been. But how do you go about creating a healing, meaningful, and personalized service for an infant?

If you are feeling at a loss for how you can celebrate a little life that has barely begun, your funeral director can help you find unique and personalized ways to create a service you will never forget that you can look back on for comfort in the years to come.

For example, let’s read about SuperGirl and her loving parents, as told by a caring funeral director.

Remembering SuperGirl

This week, I found myself sitting across the table from a young couple, who – until the day before – had been anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new baby. Sadly, the little girl had arrived far too early… bypassing a life in our broken world for a direct return to the arms of God.

The young couple was clearly in love but devastated and enduring tremendous heartache. The pair held hands and wept as we discussed how to create a meaningful funeral service to soothe their own pain, but also celebrate a little girl they would never have the chance to raise.

By asking a series of questions, I found out that they were planning to decorate their daughter’s room in pink and silver, and they often called her SuperGirl because “she kicked so hard when I was carrying her.”

In that moment, it became my desire to lay SuperGirl to rest in such a way that everyone would realize just how much this little girl meant to her family. I asked the family’s permission to borrow their SuperGirl idea for the service, telling them that I had a few ideas on how to make things extra special.

After they left, I quickly called up an artist friend of mine, who created custom vinyl graphics to adorn the tiny casket and a handful of small stickers to hand out to friends and family who attended SuperGirl’s service the following day. Our secretary also made memorial folders to match the theme, and once the family saw what had been done, they were overwhelmed with emotion.

In the end, we were able to transcend the “typical” funeral and create an experience worthy of a SuperGirl.

So, What’s Next?

As you can see, the personalized and meaningful touches included at their precious girl’s remembrance deeply touched SuperGirl’s family. For the rest of their lives, they can hold onto the knowledge that they took the time to grieve, to remember, to mourn, and to celebrate what she meant to them, even though she was gone too soon. But how do you get started?

Familiarize Yourself with the Seven Elements of a Funeral

First, familiarize yourself with the seven elements of a funeral: music, readings, visitation/reception, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, when used together, these seven elements create a personalized, meaningful, and touching ceremony that will help bring healing to hurting hearts. When an infant dies, because their personality was still developing, these elements may be a bit more personalized to the parents and their desires, prayers, and dreams for their baby.

In SuperGirl’s case, because she was lost before birth, it was the parents’ wishes and plans that were used to personalize the service. This made the service meaningful to them and to their cherished memories of their little girl.

Brainstorm Together How to Make the Service Special and Unique

After you’re familiar with the elements of a funeral, you can begin looking for ways to personalize these seven aspects of the service to create a meaningful and healing experience. To help you as you get your thoughts together, you can ask yourself these questions:

  • What special memories do you have of your child?
  • What were your hopes and dreams for your child?
  • When you think of your baby, what do you think of?
  • Were there any special mementos that you might want to include?
  • Did you give your baby a special nickname?
  • Depending on the age of your child, did they have favorite toys or activities?
  • Do your loved ones have special memories of your child that you might want to include?

Identify Ways to Personalize the Service

Here are a few ideas for ways that you can make the service personal to you and to the memory of your infant. These are just to jumpstart your own thoughts. Try to make the service truly unique to you, your child, and your needs.

  • Consider incorporating a release ceremony. For example, you can do a balloon release ceremony with appropriate-colored balloons and invite mourners to write messages on them. When released, the balloons disappear into the sky, almost like sending a message to heaven.
  • Consider using a theme. You might include special items, like a blanket made specifically for the baby, shoes, or other items. If you had a color theme for a nursery, you could incorporate those colors into the service.
  • Consider inviting others to give of their time or resources to a charity in honor of your child’s legacy. If you have miscarried, invite mourners to give to a foundation that supports mothers going through miscarriage. If your child died because of a certain illness, provide details of how to give toward a cure. Choose whatever organization you feel is appropriate to honor your child’s memory.

  • Use music that was special to you as a parent and reminds you of your infant in the ceremony. Whether that’s music you listened to throughout the pregnancy or something your child went to sleep to, you can select what is most meaningful to you and your family.
  • Write a letter to your baby, expressing all your hopes and dreams and wishes for what should have been. This will help you as you grieve but may also be a beautiful tribute to share at the funeral service.
  • Consider establishing a memorial in honor of your little one, whether it is a physical memorial, charitable donation fund to a special cause, or memorial website or blog chronicling your journey.

Take Time to Grieve

After the ceremony, it may be a little more difficult to feel supported for as long as you need. Because support for infant loss is usually not as present as it is for other types of loss, seek out caring counselors, mentors, support groups, and friends when you need help processing through your emotions. You can also start a grief journal that expresses all your feelings about the loss–good, bad, and everything in between. So often, grieving the loss of an infant can feel like a very lonely road. When you are able, you can also bring significance to the life of your little one by helping others who have gone through a similar loss.

Whatever you choose to do, your child was beautiful and is worth remembering in a sweet, meaningful, and personalized way. Don’t worry about “making too much of a fuss.” That is the last thing you should worry. Every life deserves honor, remembrance, and celebration, no matter how briefly they graced our world.

Creating Memorial Keepsakes with Funeral Flowers

By Grief/Loss, Meaningful Funerals

One way that extended family, friends, and co-workers show their love and support in times of loss is by sending flowers and condolences to the grieving family. By offering a gift, others are able to physically show their loving care and send a message of support. While the flowers bring comfort to the family during the ceremony, what should be done with the flowers afterward?

One special way that funeral flowers can be repurposed is by creating unique and personal memorial keepsakes. These keepsakes are one way that you can honor your grief and your loved one’s memory. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor, author, and educator, says: “It is not instinctive to see grief and the need to openly mourn as something to honor, yet the capacity to love requires the necessity to mourn. To honor your grief is not self-destructive or harmful, it is courageous and life-giving.”

A memorial keepsake may be part of a healthy grief journey for you. A way to honor your grief through creative expression. The keepsake may be long lasting, or it may have a shorter term of use. It may be something you keep for yourself or share with others who are grieving or had a relationship with the person who is gone. The choice is entirely up to you and your wishes.

Creating a Memorial Keepsake

Depending on which option you choose, you will need to dry and/or press the flowers in order to use them. After the flowers are ready, you can start on the task of creating a keepsake.

Candle

A memorial candle with dried flowers is a beautiful keepsake option. As you create the candle, you can reminisce about your loved one, and when the candle is complete, you can light it in their memory. In the days and months to come, you can find comfort in your memories every time you enjoy the candle.

Potpourri

Our sense of smell is closely linked to memory, more so than our other senses. With that in mind, as you create potpourri out of leftover funeral flowers, choose spices and oils that remind you of your loved one. That way, every time you pass by, you can find comfort in the familiar scent.

Bookmarks

If you are a reader or your loved one was, creating a memorial bookmark with dried flowers might be especially meaningful. Every time you take refuge in the pages of a book, it will be like your loved one is enjoying the pages along with you.

Ornaments

If you particularly enjoy Christmas time, making a memorial ornament may be just right for you. You can make ornaments from a variety of materials, one of which is funeral flowers. When you place your specially made ornament on the tree each year, it will be a small reminder of the person you love. Also, these would make excellent gifts to other friends and family who value your loved one.

Bracelets

If you would prefer to make something that you can take with you anywhere you go, a bracelet may be the option for you. There are many ways to make bracelets out of funeral flowers, but two of them are with resin or with polymer clay. With your specially made memorial bracelet, you can remember your loved one no matter where you go.

Pressed Flower Initials

Pressing funeral flowers into the initials of your loved one is a beautiful reminder of the person who died and their impact on your life. With its simple beauty, you can display this work of art in your home and fondly remember the person you love.

Pressed and Dried Flower Phone Case

These days, almost everyone carries a cell phone with them. That’s why this idea is so practical. You can make a protective case for your phone that showcases the beautiful flowers given in love and support. Each time you look at them, remember that you’re not alone. People care about you and your family.

Pendant

Wearing memorial jewelry is a growing trend. For those whose loved one was cremated, cremation jewelry is available. However, in addition to or instead of cremation jewelry, you can create your own pendants with dried flowers. Any time you want to remember your loved one, you can wear the pendant you made in their honor.

Coasters

You can design some beautiful coasters with dried funeral flowers. With these, you can create something that not only pleases your eye but helps you fondly remember your loved one. And each time a guest comments on them, you can share a story about your loved one’s life.

Shadow Box

By creating a shadow box with dried flowers from the funeral, you can create a large piece of art to admire. You might even consider placing a favorite photo of your loved one in the box as well. These items together will create a lovely tribute.

If you should decide to repurpose funeral flowers, these ideas are only the beginning. There are so many options available to you. It’s just a matter of choosing the one you like most. Another benefit to these craft ideas is that you can share them with others, inviting them to join you in remembering someone loved.

For the Less Craft-Inclined Person

For some of us, the idea of creating a memorial keepsake is a bit too much to think about. That’s perfectly fine. We are all different and will grieve in different ways. For those who are less craft-inclined, you can:

  • Give any remaining funeral flowers to friends, relatives, and co-workers
  • Donate the flowers to a church, workplace, retirement home, or hospice care facility
  • Place them at the gravesite of another loved one
  • Keep them to enjoy in your own home

The 6 Purposes of a Funeral

By Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead

No matter how far back you look in history, you will find evidence of funeral rituals. Within us, we have an innate need to honor, respect, and remember those who have died. Those we have loved. Funerals, as a ritual, don’t exist simply to exist. They have purpose and intentionality and meaning.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, respected grief counselor, author, and educator, has done extensive research into the purposes of a funeral and why we, as people, need them. He says, “The funeral ritual…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.

In Dr. Wolfelt’s experience, if a funeral meets these 6 purposes, then it is often meaningful and healing. Let’s review these 6 purposes in detail, so that we fully understand why funerals are so necessary and how they help us in our grief journeys.

The 6 Purposes of a Funeral

Reality

When someone we love dies, our minds and hearts rebel against it at first. We don’t want to accept that the person we loved is gone. The first purpose of a funeral is to help us accept the reality of the death. In order to heal and grieve, we must first accept what has happened. At a healing and meaningful funeral, mourners have the chance to confront reality and begin processing their grief. The funeral is not the end of the grief journey – it is the beginning. We must learn to come to grips with our new reality – one without our loved one.

Recall

One of the key components of a funeral is remembering the one who has died. We see this happen in the eulogy, in the tribute video (if there is one), in the songs or readings chosen, as well as in the gathering of friends and family following the service. By recalling and sharing about our relationship with a loved one, we help ourselves transition. We begin the process of moving our relationship with the one who has died to one of memory rather than presence. We must go backward into our memories before we can move forward in our grief journeys.

Support

A third purpose of the funeral is to activate support. At a funeral, we gather with other people who knew our loved one. We can share our memories, give voice to our feelings, and find support in others. When a funeral includes a visitation or a gathering, mourners have the opportunity to come together and offer a listening ear and a caring hug. When no service is held, friends may keep their distance, thinking that the family wants to grieve privately. But with a public funeral, friends and neighbors can offer their caring support during a trying time.

Expression

As human beings, we are wired to feel. When we feel deeply but actively suppress our emotions, those feelings can become unbearable and begin to fester. Funerals are meant to act as a safe place for us to get our thoughts and emotions out. By putting our thoughts and feelings into action, we begin the journey toward healing. You may need to talk, cry, or just sit quietly with a person who cares. Whatever you may need, expression is an important purpose of a funeral. Through expression, we begin to put our grief in motion and create forward movement in the grief journey.

Meaning

When someone we love dies, many questions begin to surface. Did the person I love live a good life? Why did this person die? Why do any of us die? While there are no simple answers to these questions, a funeral gives us time and opportunity to ask them and begin to find our way to answers that give us peace. By searching for meaning and allowing ourselves to find peace, we find purpose in our continued living and can work toward reconciling ourselves to the loss we have suffered.

Transcendence

The final purpose of a funeral is transcendence. This happens in two ways. First, the funeral helps us find a new self-identity. Funerals help us publicly mark a change in status. For example, someone who has lost their spouse goes from someone who is married to someone who is single. A funeral allows everyone to publicly acknowledge this change and begin offering the mourner support in their new status. Second, funerals often wake us up and make us think about our lives and how we want to spend our remaining days.

Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way:

“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. They strengthen bonds with family members and friends… [and] emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”

As a Whole

These purposes are not necessarily distinct steps and may happen in any order, but they are intertwined. The funeral experience as a whole is like a rite of passage. We emerge transformed, with a new identity, a new relationship with our lost loved one, and a new relationship with our community.

Unfortunately, not all funerals are successful in helping us heal. This is because we have lost part of our understanding of why funerals matter and how to create a meaningful and healing funeral ceremony that will give us a good start on the healing process. But it’s not too late to learn. For more information on funerals, their purpose, and how to create a personalized, meaningful, and healing ceremony, check out the articles below:

Do Funerals Still Matter?

Should a Funeral Be Efficient or Effective?

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

5 Meaningful Actions to Personalize a Funeral

Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony

5 Unique Venues for a Celebration of Life Service

Exploring Your Release Ceremony Options

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead

Losing a loved one creates a painful hole in our hearts that we often don’t know how to fill. However, through the process of grief and mourning, we can come to grips with the loss we have suffered. At a funeral service, symbolic actions give mourners the opportunity to put their grief into action. Oftentimes, we don’t know what to do with our grief, so at times like these, we turn to the comfort of tradition and ritual. In this case, the ritual of a funeral. According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, grief counselor, author, and educator, “Funerals are made up of a number of ritualistic physical actions, all of which give mourners a way to literally move through the funeral process (and thus through this difficult time of grief).”

Symbolic actions include walking through a receiving line at the visitation, kneeling and taking communion during the service, participating as a pallbearer, soloist, or reader, or taking part in the funeral procession to the final resting place.

In addition to these time-honored symbolic actions, the release ceremony has increased in popularity. Because funeral homes today work closely with families to create personalized, healing, and meaningful funerals, it is even easier to incorporate personal touches to funerals. These personalized elements leave family and friends feeling that their loved one was truly remembered and honored.

Many types of release ceremonies are possible. Below are the most common types:

Balloon Release

As part of a meaningful celebration of life, family and friends may wish to gather for a special time of remembrance with a balloon release. Releasing balloons helps us say goodbye, allowing us to experience greater healing as we “release” our emotions. To make it more personal, write messages of hope and love on the balloons before releasing them.

“There should be no fear of death, for the death of the body is but a gentle passing to a much freer life.” – Helen Greaves

Balloons are available in a wide range of colors, from elegant white to multicolored. Balloons should be biodegradable and safe for the environment.

Dove Release

Doves have always been a symbol of peace and hope. Many families choose to release doves at the graveside service, offering family and friends an image of the loved one’s spirit ascending to heaven. White doves remind us of the purity of the departed soul and the freedom of the spirit as our loved one returns home.

Death is nothing else but going home to God, where the bond of love will be unbroken for all eternity.” – Mother Teresa

During the service, a poem or scripture is read and a number of doves, representing angels, are released. Next, a selected relative releases a single white dove, which joins the angels and is escorted to heaven.

Butterfly Release

Releasing butterflies is a beautiful expression of the transformation of the soul as we go from one life to the next. When a humble caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly, other earth-bound caterpillars no longer recognize it. In the same way, though we may no longer see our loved one, their spirit lives on.

“A caterpillar dies and a butterfly is born; nevertheless, the two are one.” – Anonymous

Butterflies can be released from a single decorative box at an opportune time during an outdoor service. As an alternative, it is possible to arrange for each individual person to release a single butterfly from an origami box.

Lantern Release

A lantern release is a loving expression of release and hope. In the Eastern tradition, mourners light and release paper lanterns into the sky, believing that the lantern will guide their loved one’s spirit to final rest. Alternatively, floating lanterns can be released in remembrance of a loved one. By writing special notes on them, mourners can send messages of love with their loved one’s spirit.

The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Lanterns are available in a variety of colors. You could select your loved one’s favorite color. Alternatively, you can make many colors available and ask guests to select one that is significant to them. Either way, the act will be meaningful to all who participate.

If you are preplanning your own funeral or are planning a funeral for a loved one and would like to incorporate a release ceremony, speak to your funeral director about your options. Some states may not allow certain types of releases. Your funeral professional will know how to proceed so that you can honor your loved one’s life in a way that is personalized, healing, and meaningful for all.

Life Lessons Children Can Learn at Funerals

By Living Well, Meaningful Funerals

Death and funerals are an inescapable part of life. It’s hard to know what to do when our children encounter death for the first time. As much as we would like to protect them from pain and distress, we can’t. But we can teach them how to process death and cope with grief in healthy ways.

Understanding the Purpose of a Funeral

First, it’s always good to start with why we have funerals in the first place. According to respected grief counselor, author, and educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt, the funeral ritual “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.”

The six needs Dr. Wolfelt outlines above – the 6 needs of mourning – are met through a healing and meaningful funeral ceremony. And similar to adults, children have the same need, right, and privilege to participate in a funeral. In some ways, the structure of the funeral ceremony may be even more important for children because they have not yet learned how to process the deep and sometimes conflicting emotions they may feel.

Life Lessons Children Can Learn at Funerals

Children learn how to participate in funerals.

None of us innately knows what to expect or how to behave at funerals. Instead, we learn by seeing, hearing, and asking questions. Many of us came to understand the dos and don’ts of funerals by attending them and by asking a knowledgeable adult our questions. In order for a child to understand what is appropriate and respectful, to know how to behave in the future, they must learn about funerals and be allowed to see the ceremony in action.

Children learn that death is a natural part of life.

Death is a part of life. Just as a child needs to learn how to deal with disappointment, process explosive emotions, or adapt to social situations, they must also learn how to process death and dying. Children are exposed to death early on. They see dead leaves, bugs, or dead animals. Our children know more about death than we might expect. Giving them an opportunity to learn and understand death in a controlled setting is valuable.

Children learn how to say goodbye.

Two of the important things that happen at funerals are that 1) mourners have the chance to say goodbye and 2) there is a public acknowledgment that the relationship has changed (from one of presence to one of memory). Both are necessary for adults and children. Children need an opportunity to say goodbye, especially with close relationships (as is the case with a parent, sibling, grandparent, best friend, teacher, etc.). As part of saying goodbye, you might consider allowing an age-appropriate, willing child to participate in the ceremony by lighting a candle, reading a short passage, or singing a song.

Children witness the complexity of emotions.

Human beings are complex and messy. We experience many different emotions, and sometimes, we don’t even know why we feel a certain way. Children need to understand early that everyone experiences emotion, and everyone deals with their emotion differently. And ultimately, each child must learn how to process and deal with their own emotions. The funeral gives parents an opportunity to help children process their emotions by answering questions or talking about what happened after the ceremony. Children who were close to the person who died may need to process feelings of anger, abandonment, and fear. Observing others process their emotions through the funeral will give children examples of how to cope with grief in a healthy way.

Children see the value of supporting each other.

The funeral activates a system of support for those who are mourning. Friends and neighbors bring food, offer to watch the kids, or help in whatever ways they can. Condolences and heartfelt thoughts are offered to the bereaved. Children need to see the value of community support and learn how to offer such support in the future. For example, young children may ask why adults around them are crying, and they may practice offering to comfort others and showing support by giving a hug or patting a family member on the back. In some ways, children offer a kind of support without even trying: hope for the future.

Children learn how to honor and respect the lives of others.

If you remember Dr. Wolfelt’s quote, one of the purposes of a funeral is to “give testimony to the life of the deceased.” In other words, to recall our memories and share them with others. By doing this, we honor and respect the life that was lived and begin our grief journey on the right foot. Through the eulogy, the personalization of the ceremony or gathering, and other elements of a meaningful funeral, children learn that we must honor and respect the lives of others.

Children learn to treasure life.

If a funeral is done well, it touches the hearts of those in attendance. In fact, it should teach all of us just how precious life is and remind us how we want to live. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way, “People who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements…remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life. They strengthen bonds with family members and friends. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.” What an important lesson to learn early in life – to value the life you have and make the most of it.

What if my child isn’t ready?

Whether or not your child attends a funeral is entirely up to you. You know your child best – what they can handle and what they can’t. For infants and toddlers (ages 4 and under), attendance will not necessarily have any great meaning or significance, but for those who are preschool aged or older, it’s best to thoughtfully consider how to proceed. While we don’t want to force children to do something, we also need to teach them how to cope with and handle the difficulties life will throw at them. It’s up to you to decide if they are ready.

If you decide not to take your child to the funeral ceremony, here are some other options:

  1. Check to see if the funeral home has childcare available (this service is sometimes offered).
  2. Hire a babysitter. If you know a number of other parents who plan to attend the funeral, you may be able to hire one or two babysitters to watch a larger number of children.

What if my child is too young to understand what is happening at the funeral?

No matter what his or her age, if your child has lost a close family member, help them find a way to process their emotions as they grow up by giving them what a funeral ceremony provides for an adult. Find ways to acknowledge the death, remember the life, offer comfort and support, help them express their feelings about the loss, and help them create meaning and identity as they develop a relationship with their deceased loved one based on the memories shared by adults in their lives. You might take them to visit the cemetery or tell stories every year on their loved one’s birthday. Throughout the year, incorporate traditions, rituals, crafts, and keepsakes as part of your child’s grieving process.

The important thing to remember is that your child will need to come to terms with a significant loss at every stage of development until adulthood. So, keep bringing back the lessons learned from the funeral year after year. Your consistency over the years will help your child grow up feeling like they know who the person was and who they are as a result, which is the biggest life lesson of all.

Do Funerals Still Matter?

By Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead

We have had funerals since the beginning of time. No matter which culture you research, you will find evidence of funeral rites and traditions. Though the specific customs may have changed over time, the human need to acknowledge a life and process a death still remains. This innate human need is why we still need meaningful and healing funerals today.

Why Does It Matter?

But what is a meaningful and healing funeral? What do these terms really mean, and how do you create such an experience? Why does it matter? To begin, it’s important to realize that a funeral is not about closure. It’s not about “getting over” your grief; it’s about starting to grieve. According to nationally-respected grief expert and counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt, we don’t get over our grief, but in time, we become reconciled to it. He says, “Your feeling[s] of loss will not completely disappear, yet they will soften, and the intense pangs of grief will become less frequent.  Hope for a continued life will emerge as you are able to make commitments to the future, realizing that the person who died will never be forgotten, yet knowing that your life can and will move forward.

The end goal of a healing and meaningful funeral is to give people the opportunity to confront their emotions and begin the grief journey on the right foot. A meaningful ceremony is personalized. The ceremony itself accurately reflects the life of the one who has died and touches the hearts of those who mourn. And because the ceremony is meaningful, because it is personal, mourners experience healing. Out of the funeral, they start their own individual grief journey, which may take weeks, months, or even years, depending on the degree of loss. But it all starts with a personalized ritual – a healing and meaningful funeral or memorial service.

Creating a Meaningful and Healing Funeral

The 6 Needs of Mourning

Based on his years of experience companioning families through grief, Dr. Alan Wolfelt has determined that mourners have 6 needs that should be met through the funeral service. If a funeral is personalized and meets these 6 needs, then mourners, “through their own grief work and through the love and compassion of those around them, are most often able to reconcile their grief and go on to find continued meaning in life and living.”

1. Acknowledge the reality of the death

When we lose someone we love, our mind naturally rebels against the knowledge. But in order to heal, we must confront the truth. In some way, the funeral must acknowledge the reality of the death. This can be done in many ways. Perhaps there is a visitation with the body present or the officiants purposefully use the past tense or the urn containing the cremated body is set in a prominent place.

2. Move toward the pain of the loss

Dr. Wolfelt says, “I have learned that if we are to heal we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief.  Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes meandering the side roads, sometimes plowing directly into its raw center.” A funeral service is an accepted venue to tap into and release our emotions. By its nature, the funeral service affords several inescapable opportunities for mourners to move toward the pain and begin to process it.

3. Remember the person who has died

In order to heal, we must shift our relationship with the one who has died from one of physical presence to one of memory. This is why it is so important to personalize the service. Many elements of the funeral allow people to come together and remember. The visitation, the eulogy, and the gathering are all opportunities to share our memories. And, according to Dr. Wolfelt, “the more we ‘tell the story’ the more likely we are to reconcile to the grief.” Create opportunities to share and to remember.

4. Develop a new self-identity

To some degree, our relationships give us an identity. Father, mother, sister, brother, friend, grandchild. You may have heard someone say, “I feel like a part of me died along with him.” This is because we gain some sense of identity from those around us. The funeral marks the beginning of a new identity. Perhaps we move from a wife to a widow or from a grandchild with living grandparents to a grandchild without living grandparents. No matter the change, the funeral marks a mental shift in identity.

5. Search for meaning

As part of the grief process, we naturally question the meaning of life and death. Why did this happen? Why now? What happens after death? It is these “why” questions that decide why we should go on living and contribute to our search for meaning. While the funeral itself does not facilitate this search, it does force us to confront a very real fact: we will die. And because one day we, too, will face death, it is appropriate to seek out the answers to these questions and find meaning.

6. Receive ongoing support from others

Lastly, the funeral provides a public place where others can offer their support to the grieving and the grieving can accept support. This is perhaps the most important aspect of a meaningful and healing funeral. We are not meant to walk through the trials of life alone. If we don’t have a service of some kind, we are communicating to others that we don’t need their support, and then, we’re on our own. Invite others in and find a group to support you throughout your grief journey.

How to Personalize a Funeral

The second part of a healing and meaningful funeral is personalization. A funeral should incorporate seven elements: music, readings, visitation/reception, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. Together, these seven elements create a meaningful service.

Each of these elements can be specifically personalized. The music reflects the tastes of the one who has died. The readings come from their most treasured quotes, songs, or books. The visitation may include a collage of photos or a memorial tribute video. The eulogy tells the tale of their life. The gathering allows friends and family to come together to share memories, to talk about how the one who has died impacted them, and to support each other. And actions invite mourners to put their grief into motion.

Each of these elements is important and can be arranged however you wish. The most important thing is to honor and remember the life lived in what seems the best way.

For more information on ways to personalize a funeral or memorial service and to see how others have personalized funerals, click on the links below:

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

How to Make a Funeral More Personal

5 Unique Venues for a Celebration of Life Service

Remembering Grandmother with Handmade Quilts

Honoring a Teacher’s Last Request

Harry Potter-themed Funeral for Cancer Victim

The Importance of a Memorial Tribute Video

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

The death of someone loved changes our lives forever. And the movement from the ‘before’ to the ‘after’ is almost always a long, painful journey. From my own experiences with loss as well as those of the thousands of grieving people I have worked with over the years, I have learned that if we are to heal we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief. Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes meandering the side roads, sometimes plowing directly into its raw center.”  – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

At the beginning of every healthy grief journey is a healing, meaningful, and personalized funeral service. As you plan a funeral, consider how you can make the experience one that meets the emotional needs of family and friends left to mourn. The more personal a funeral service is, the more meaningful it will be, and one of the most important ways you can personalize a funeral is through a tribute or memorial video.

How Tribute Videos Can Bring Comfort and Healing

Captures the uniqueness of a lost loved one

First and foremost, a tribute video is an excellent way to capture the uniqueness of the one you love. You have the opportunity to share their life story – the daily moments, the milestones, and the people who made it all worthwhile. You can use photographs, video clips, audio recordings, favorite quotes, and more to make the video a fitting tribute to your loved one. By doing this, you draw others into your loved one’s life story and stimulate their own memories.

Adds a meaningful element to the service

Dr. Wolfelt tells us that “funerals are most meaningful when they are personalized tributes to the unique life and relationships of the person who died.” A video tribute allows you to personalize the funeral service. You can use favorite songs to accompany the photos, video clips, and other features you choose to utilize. This is an opportunity to invite mourners to engage with their emotions, remember your loved one, and acknowledge the pain of loss.

Allows everyone time to reflect on their memories

Not only does a tribute video showcase the uniqueness of your loved one and provide a meaningful element to the funeral service, it also allows mourners to reflect on their own memories. This is an important aspect of making a funeral a healing experience. As Dr. Wolfelt stated, “we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief…we must journey all through it.” A tribute video opens the door for others to reflect on and engage with their own memories.

Comforts surviving family members and friends

A tribute video can offer comfort in much the same way that a treasured possession, an article of clothing, or a photograph would. Just as we may have a go-to book or movie when we want to be comforted or feel close to someone or something, a video can serve a similar purpose. In those moments when you need to feel close to your loved one, to see their face, to remember their life, you can watch the video as you grieve their absence.

Doubles as a keepsake for family and friends

Practically speaking, a tribute video makes a simple but meaningful keepsake for family and friends. At some services, the attendees are invited to take a token in remembrance of the one who has died. This action allows each mourner to feel strongly associated with the one they have lost. By giving a tribute video as a token, you provide an opportunity for them to continue to explore their feelings of loss and relive their cherished memories even after the funeral.

Offers a way to share your loved one’s life with future generations

Lastly, a tribute video provides a way to share your loved one’s life with future generations. You will likely have children and grandchildren who will want to know about your life and the people you loved who have already gone. When the questions arise, a tribute video can supplement the tales that you tell and give them a picture in their minds of the life your loved one lived. This may be an especially important exercise for children who’ve lost a parent.

Whether you decide to utilize a tribute video or not, you can plan a meaningful and healing funeral. The tribute video is just one way that you can personalize a funeral. For more ideas on how to personalize a funeral, take a moment to read 6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral. This article will give you some ideas, but only you know the best way to create something truly beautiful that reflects your loved one’s life, values, relationships, and ideals.

Should a Funeral Be Efficient or Effective?

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead

At some point in life, we’ve all attended a funeral or memorial service that seems to leave us feeling empty or numb. Why? Usually, it has to do with whether the funeral was truly personalized to reflect the life of the person who died. The less personal a funeral is, the less meaningful it usually is for mourners. Often, people skip personalization details in the interest of efficiency. They choose options that are quick and expedient, but not very effective. As a result, some families are missing out on this experience because they are mistaking efficiency with effectiveness.

What is the Purpose of a Funeral?

In today’s world, we don’t really understand the purpose of the funeral. In many ways, we are losing the importance and healing significance of ritual. Part of the reason for this trend is because we no longer understand the purpose of a funeral. So, let’s briefly talk about what a healing and meaningful funeral achieves:

  1. Sets the stage for a healthy grief journey.
  2. Acknowledges the reality of the death.
  3. Helps us move toward our pain so we can begin to process it.
  4. Remembers and honors a life lived.
  5. Helps us develop our new identity after a loss.
  6. Allows us to reflect on the meaning of life and death.
  7. Activates a community of support for mourners.

To learn more about this important topic, read Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s article Why Is the Funeral Ritual Important? A respected grief counselor, educator, and author, Dr. Wolfelt believes in the healing power and impact that a meaningful funeral service has on the grief journey. In Dr. Wolfelt’s view, a funeral includes a visitation/viewing (if possible), a funeral or memorial service, and a gathering/reception with personalized elements included at all three.

Influences that Affect Our Understanding of Funerals

In addition to not understanding the purpose of the funeral, other factors have influenced our wants and needs over time. Dr. Wolfelt has done extensive research into the purpose of the funeral, and he has identified a number of influences that affect our collective mindset concerning funerals.

We live in the world’s first death-free generation.

In large part due to medical advances, we now live in a world where people can reach their third or fourth decade before experiencing a close personal loss, which is vastly different than previous generations. According to Dr. Wolfelt, “In the early 1900s…most children had been to many funerals by the age of ten. Aging, illness, and death were an everyday part of family life.” While medical advances are incredible, they also distance us from aging, illness, death, and grief. This cultural shift has led to a break in our understanding of the importance of funerals.

We live in a mobile, fast-paced culture and are disconnected from each other.

Because it is now much more common to live greater distances away from family and friends, sometimes we don’t make the extra effort to return home for funerals. And even in the areas where we live, we don’t connect. A recent study found that only 19% of the Americans polled knew the names of all of their neighbors. The mindset of our culture has shifted so that the focus is on efficiency and instant gratification. Sadly, with this mindset, the funeral becomes about simply getting things done (efficiency) rather than meeting the emotional needs of friends and family (effectiveness).

We value self-reliance.

The nature of the funeral involves relying on others and allowing them to see the pain we suffer. Vulnerability with others, admitting that we may need help, is difficult for us because we are taught to be self-reliant from a young age. But in times of grief and loss, we shouldn’t be on our own all the time – we need a community to surround us with love and support. One of the main purposes of a funeral is to activate a community of support around us, and with an efficient funeral, we often miss this critical part of the funeral ritual.

We avoid spirituality and don’t understand the role of pain and suffering.

In many ways, we are moving away from a spiritual view of life and death toward a more secular view, which can have a negative effect. When we remove the spiritual aspect, we often remove the hope that comes from seeing our loved ones as spiritual beings who continue to live on and watch over us. In addition, we tend to avoid facing our own pain and the pain and distress of others. In many ways, we misunderstand the role of pain and suffering and try to hide our feelings. But grief, mourning, and pain are a natural part of life. A meaningful funeral helps us begin to process what we feel and sets the healing process in motion.

We deny our own mortality.

With the lengthening of lifespans, we don’t attend as many funerals as we might have 100 years ago. With that change comes a misconception: that we are invulnerable. The more we avoid death and pain, the more likely we are to forget that we are mortal. One reason we avoid the funeral is because it reminds us that we are mortal, and one day, our life will end. But, in actuality, we need this reminder, so we strive to live well.

We devalue life.

One side effect of efficient funerals is that we end up devaluing the life that was lived. As a culture, we have grown desensitized to death by national media, and we also lead busy lives–so much so, that we think we don’t have time to slow down to emotionally process a personal loss. But life is sacred and worth remembering. From the beginning of time, the funeral has functioned as a time that helps us to slow us down so we have a chance to honor, remember, and celebrate the lives around us.

Meaningful and Effective Funerals Versus Efficient Funerals

Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way, “Focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral…. What is essential is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends. To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.

An efficient funeral gets things done but doesn’t beautifully and lovingly honor life. Efficient funerals leave us feeling numb and unchanged, but meaningful and effective funerals do the opposite. They help us acknowledge the reality of the loss and move toward the pain we feel so that we can process it. They help us remember and honor the life and memory of our loved one through personalization. It is personalization that really makes the difference in whether a funeral is simply efficient or meaningful and effective. To learn more about how to create a meaningful service, please read the 7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral.

A meaningful and effective funeral doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. And believe it or not, you have many options to choose from. Cremation or burial. Memorial service or funeral service with body present. Scattering or cremation jewelry. Casket or urn. Ultimately, the final result is up to you, but take the time to be intentional and create a funeral experience that will honor your loved one and meet the emotional needs of surviving family and friends.

Effective is better than efficient in every way.