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Meaningful Funerals

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.

5 Meaningful Actions to Personalize a Funeral

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Throughout history, many things have changed, but one thing that has endured is the funeral ceremony. At some level deep down, we all know that a funeral is important. It’s a time to say goodbye to someone we love and to start down the path toward reconciling ourselves to the loss we’ve suffered. The elements of a funeral have perhaps changed over time, from one culture and civilization to the next. However, according to grief expert and counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt, personalization remains an important key to healing and meaningful funerals.

Dr. Wolfelt tells us that there are 7 elements to consider as we endeavor to create a meaningful funeral experience. With these 7 elements, it’s possible to personalize a funeral so that it perfectly fits the person who has died and honors the life they lived. The 7 elements are: music, readings, visitation, eulogy, symbols, gathering, and actions.

Today, let’s focus on 5 actions you can incorporate into a funeral that will invite mourners to put their grief into motion. Grief is an internal emotion – the way we feel about a loss – but mourning is getting our grief outside ourselves by participating in activities that allow us to outwardly express what we feel. In order to heal, we need to act. If we never do something about our grief, it remains inside, and over time, begins to fester and cause us great distress. However, by inviting others to join in a specific, perhaps symbolic, action at the very beginning of the grief journey, you allow them the opportunity to say goodbye properly and begin their grief journey on the right foot.

1. Participate in a Release Ceremony

You may want to include a special time of remembrance with a release ceremony. A few popular release options are doves, butterflies, paper lanterns, or balloons (make sure they are biodegradable and without ribbon). The act of release helps us say goodbye in a unique way. It allows us to experience greater closure and healing as we “release” a loved one’s spirit as well as our emotions and grief. If you select balloons or paper lanterns, you can take it one step further by writing messages of hope and love on the balloons or lanterns before releasing.

Of course, you should always make sure that taking part in a release is allowed by your city. For instance, if you live in a particularly dry area that’s susceptible to fire, you won’t want to choose a lantern release. The funeral director can help you determine which type of release ceremony is most appropriate for your wishes while still meeting legal requirements.

2. Incorporate Keepsake Items

As human beings, we often place value on material objects. The object doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, the things we value the most are often not monetarily valuable – they are sentimental. Two ways you can invite mourners to take action involve these types of keepsake items. First, if your loved one owned a large number of something – let’s say your grandmother loved knitting scarves – you can bring them to the funeral ceremony and invite guests to take a scarf in remembrance of her. This can be done with any number of items. However, in order to be meaningful, the items must be special and specific.

Another option is to invite the guests to bring a keepsake item from home that reminds them of the person whose life is being remembered. And if you plan the ceremony accordingly, you can allow guests the opportunity to briefly share about the object they brought with them, how it relates to the one who has died, and why the keepsake means so much. These types of actions engage our minds and our emotions, encouraging us to tap into what we feel and provides an opportunity to express it.

3. Set a Theme

Did your loved one have a favorite color? Or perhaps a favorite book or movie? You can set a theme and invite mourners to take part in remembrance through participation. By selecting specific items of clothing related to the theme, everyone is invited to recall their own specific memories of the one who has died and think about how they can individually honor the life lived. And then, as many arrive dressed according to the theme, there is a sense of communal mourning and sharing. Everyone is there for the same reason – to honor and remember the one who has died.

4. Write a Message/Letter

The written word is powerful, and as a tool for expression, it’s effective. Consider inviting everyone, prior to the funeral, to write a letter addressed to the one who has died. Then, at the service, place these special messages inside the casket to be buried or cremated with the body. Some families provide cards, a large banner, or a canvas for mourners to write on. In some cases, the family may choose to keep the messages, banner, or canvas, and later on, these items become keepsakes that bring comfort to the family.

5. Prepare a Meaningful Meal

Nationally respected author and grief expert, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, says, “Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.” It’s a common practice to organize a gathering after the funeral, and even though the official ceremony is over, the meaningful and healing elements don’t have to cease.

By setting up a meal after the funeral where guests (especially family members) can gather, you invite further personalization. Did your loved one deeply appreciate a good crawfish boil? Did they delight in ice cream and an excellent spread of sundae toppings? Or did they love a particular restaurant? In a meaningful setting, guests have a chance to talk with each other, to remember and share memories about the one who has died, and to discuss the impact of a life lived.

Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead

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

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

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

1. Traditional Service/Viewing/Visitation Prior to Cremation

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

2. Memorial Service After Cremation

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

3. Direct Cremation

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

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

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals

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

Nationally respected grief expert, author, and educator, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, emphasizes that creating a healing and meaningful funeral is incredibly important and helps us live more meaningful lives. He says, “People who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life…strengthen bonds with family members and friends. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”

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

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

1. Establish a memorial together

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

2. Find a way to include their favorite things

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

3. Create a memorial work of art together

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

4. Make a collage or a timeline

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

5. Invite guests to take an item home

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

6. Include favorite foods

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

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

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

What To Do When Dad Dies

By | Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

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

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

The “Why” of Funerals

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

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

Should I Have a Funeral?

Why Do We Have Funerals?

Why Is the Funeral Ritual Important?

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

Final Disposition Options

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

What Are My Burial Options?

What is Green Burial?

How to Select a Casket

What Should I Know When Considering Cremation?

The Elements of a Meaningful Funeral Service

“People who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life…strengthen bonds with family members and friends. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

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

Music

First of all, music sets the mood for a funeral and brings emotions to the forefront. In fact, one of the purposes of a funeral is to allow mourners to grieve together, and in many ways, music says what words cannot. Don’t be afraid to invite people to express grief. Did your dad have a favorite type of instrument, style of music, or musician? Consider using any or all of them in the service.

Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?

Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral Ceremony

Top 10 Songs for a Funeral Ceremony

Readings

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

How do Readings Enhance the Funeral Experience?

Top 10 Poems for a Funeral Ceremony

Viewing/Visitation

Third, the viewing or visitation is a time for family, friends, coworkers and neighbors to gather and express support and sympathy. If it is decided to have a viewing, it is an opportunity for mourners to see your dad one last time and begin to acknowledge the reality of his death. For many, as part of the grieving process, it is important to physically see the body, and the viewing offers this opportunity.

Why Have a Visitation?

Why Should the Body Be Present?

Eulogy/Remembrance

Fourth, the eulogy may be the single most important aspect of a funeral service. It is the time to acknowledge and affirm the significance of your dad’s life. With that in mind, take time to share treasured memories, familiar quotes, or even his favorite jokes. The eulogy, sometimes called the “remembrance” or the “homily,” can be delivered by a clergy person, a family member, or even by a series of people.

What is a Eulogy?

Crafting a Eulogy

Symbols

Fifth, symbols, or symbolic acts, offer a focus point for the bereaved as well as a sense of comfort. Common symbols are a cross (or another appropriate religious symbol), flowers, and candles. For example, the act of lighting a candle, planting a memorial tree, and wearing dark clothing are all symbols we utilize.

The Importance of Symbols

Gathering

Sixth, the gathering is an opportunity for friends and family to come together after the funeral service to share stories and to support each other. For more benefits of a gathering, take a few moments to read the article below.

What is a Gathering?

Actions 

And finally, by inviting others into action at the funeral service, you engage mourners and invite them to put their grief into motion. Simply put, mourning is the outward expression of our inward grief, so to move others toward healing, it is important to invite them to act.

How Do Actions Help us Heal?

Choosing a Memorial Service

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

What is a Memorial Service?

Personalization is Key

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

How to Make a Funeral More Personal

What Makes a Funeral Meaningful?

Helping Your Family Personalize a Funeral

5 Unique Venues for a Celebration of Life Service

Funeral Procession

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

What is the Purpose of a Funeral Procession?

Deciding on a Grave Marker

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

Selecting and Installing a Grave Marker

How to Write a Great Epitaph

Sympathy Gifts

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

7 Popular Sympathy Flowers and Their Meanings

Writing a Touching Obituary

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

How to Write a Great Obituary

Burial Benefits for Veterans

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

Veterans’ Burial Benefits FAQ

Veterans’ Burial Benefits Checklist

Department of Veterans Affairs

Resources for Advance Funeral Planning

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

Why Plan Ahead for Funeral Wishes?

How to Get Started with Planning

How to Save Money with Funeral Planning

Protecting Your Funeral Funds