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Meaningful Funerals

Practical Ways to Personalize the 7 Elements of a Funeral

By Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Planning a funeral after a loved one dies may seem overwhelming at first, and that’s okay. So many of us have never planned a funeral before and simply don’t know where to start. To help grieving families, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief author and educator, has identified 7 elements that create a meaningful and healing funeral or memorial service: music, readings, viewing/visitation, eulogy, symbols, gathering, and actions. When you personalize these elements, you can create a funeral experience that will touch hearts and meaningfully celebrate someone loved 

Whether you are planning for a loved one’s final tribute or are planning ahead for your own, the most important thing to remember is that personalization is key. The more personal a funeral or memorial service is, the more healing and meaningful it will be. Dr. Wolfelt says, “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.”  

Let’s review the 7 elements and discuss ideas for personalizing each one.  

Music 

First of all, music sets the tone of a funeral or memorial service 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. We often shy away from our emotions, but don’t be afraid to invite people to express their grief. Consider using music as an avenue to bring out what people are thinking and feeling. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Choose songs that were significant to your loved one, no matter their musical genre 
  • Consider whether you want music performed live or if you prefer to use recordings 
  • If you have musical family members, you might ask them to play a tribute song 
  • For those who are religious, choose appropriate hymns or praise songs 

For a few more ideas, please read Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral CeremonyTop 10 Songs for a Funeral CeremonyTop 12 Country Songs for a Celebration of Life Service, and Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?  

Readings 

Second, readings add another facet to a meaningful service. They are another way to invite mourners to express their emotions while also honoring the unique spirit of the one who has died. Have you ever heard a poem, lyrics, or movie quote that really spoke to you? These can easily be used as a reading and can add a deeper dimension to the service.  

How to Personalize: 

  • Use quotes from favorite books, plays, movies, or TV shows 
  • For a person of faith, read passages from an appropriate holy book 
  • Consider reading special poems or quotations 
  • Read a letter you have written to your loved one
  • You could use your loved one’s own writing or incorporate catchphrases they were known for 
  • If you are planning aheadconsider writing a message ahead of time to be read at the service 

For additional ideas, check out How Do Readings Enhance the Funeral Experience or 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 you choose, a viewing creates an opportunity for mourners to see this special person one last time and begin to acknowledge the reality of their death. For many, as part of the grieving process, it is important to physically see the body. The viewing offers this opportunity. However, a family can choose to simply have a visitation, which is a set aside time to gather and receive support from caring friends and family without the body present.  

The viewing and/or visitation offers a special time for personalization. Whether the body is present or not, this is a time to tell a story – the story of a lifetime. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Display photos, mementos, or items associated with a hobby or interest (books, artwork, ceramics, model planes, etc.)  
  • Invite guests to write down a memory on provided notecards (the family can enjoy them later) 
  • Provide a keepsake token to take home (a book, a favorite recipe, etc.) 
  • Create a memorial work of art, like a thumbprint tree 
  • Bring a photo book or your loved one’s favorite book and ask people to write notes inside 
  • Create a slideshow to play during the event 

Eulogy 

Fourth, the eulogy may be the single most important aspect of a funeral service. It’s important to take care and spend concentrated time deciding what you want to say. After all, the eulogy is the time to acknowledge and affirm the significance of the life lived. 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. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Share memories, quotes, or even a loved one’s favorite jokes 
  • Tell a significant and meaningful story about the person who has died 
  • Bring visual aids (like an item the person carried or were known to cherish 
  • Share something the person taught you and how they impacted your life and the lives of others 

For more helpful ideas, please read What is a Eulogy and Crafting a Eulogy 

Symbols 

Fifth, symbols are an important aspect of a funeral because they convey love and comfort, facilitate expression, and offer a focus point for the bereaved. For instance, we send flowers or bake casseroles to convey the love we feel and the support we offer.   

For one grieving family, an appropriate symbol was the quilts their grandmother made. Before her death, she made a quilt for every child and grandchild, and at her final tribute, the quilts were displayed on the pews – a representation of her love and impact on her family. Common symbols are an appropriate religious symbol, flowers, dark clothing, and candles, but you can use whatever feels best to honor your loved one 

How to Personalize: 

  • If appropriate, ask everyone to wear your loved one’s favorite color to the funeral 
  • With traditional burial, the body and casket are the ultimate symbol or focal point 
  • With cremation, a symbol might be an urn, a portrait, or some other appropriate item 
  • If they were a person of faith, include religious symbols to offer comfort 
  • If they were known for something (like quilts), turn those items into a symbol 

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. This event may occur at the funeral home, an event center, someone’s home, or even a local restaurant. The point of a gathering is to bring people together directly following the service to share stories, remember a loved one, and connect (or reconnect) with people. 

In many ways, the gathering is another excellent place for personalization because you may have more time and a lot of space to work with.  

How to Personalize: 

  • Have the gathering at your lost loved one’s favorite restaurant 
  • Choose a venue that meant something to the person who has died (for example, a church, local country club, beach, park, etc.) 
  • Serve your loved one’s favorite foods 
  • Display photos, cherished possessions, and mementos 
  • Decorate with your loved one’s favorite colors 
  • Include a set aside time when friends or family can publicly share special memories 
  • Create a memorial work of art together or plant a memorial tree 

Actions  

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

How to Personalize: 

  • Participate in a release ceremony (biodegradable balloons or lanterns, doves, etc.) 
  • Incorporate keepsake items 
  • Invite mourners to write down memories on note cards
  • Ask family and friends to bring photos they have of your loved one to add to a group collage 
  • Set a theme that invites attendees to wear your loved one’s favorite color or style of clothing (i.e. Hawaiian shirts, sports jerseys, etc.)
  • Light candles of remembrance 
  • Ask people to take part in the service as eulogists, readers, singers, musicians, or pallbearers 

Hopefully, these thoughts will spark ideas of your ownUltimately, planning a funeral or memorial service that accurately reflects your loved one’s life, passions, values, and beliefs creates an opportunity to specifically and meaningfully remember, honor, and celebrate their life.  

As you consider how you can incorporate these 7 elements into a funeral or memorial service, remember that you aren’t on your own in this. The funeral home has caring and experienced staff ready to help you with all your questions and concerns as you create a moment in time that can bring peace and comfort for years to come.

Top 15 Bible Verses for a Celebration of Life Service

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

A Christian funeral service is not complete without a few readings from scripture. Readings can help mourners process the loss and find meaning in the midst of pain. Additionally, the Bible is full of verses that give hope to the hopeless, comfort to the grieving, and the promise of an eternal future with God at the end of life.

Personalizing the service with your loved one’s favorite verses or passages that bring hope can help you create a healing and meaningful service for all who attend. Now, let’s explore a few options.

Verses to Bring Comfort

When someone you love dies, you may experience a wide variety of emotions: sadness, anger, shock, denial, relief, and guilt, to name a few. In the midst of the emotional turmoil, words of comfort from the Bible can be exactly what you and other mourners need.

Matthew 11: 28-30

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

Matthew 5:4

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Psalm 34:18

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him! The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord. For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love. For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow.

Verses to Remember God’s Promises

Remembering the promises God has made to his people can not only comfort mourners, but in many ways, it will also bring a renewed perspective of who God will be through this trial.

John 14:1-3

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.

Romans 8:35, 37-39

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Isaiah 41:10

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

John 14:27

 I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

Psalm 56:10-13

I praise God for what he has promised; yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me? I will fulfill my vows to you, O God, and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help. For you have rescued me from death; you have kept my feet from slipping. So now I can walk in your presence, O God, in your life-giving light.

Verses of Hope for the Future

In addition to feeling God’s comfort and remembering His promises, the Bible gives hope for the future – an eternal life in God’s presence. Moreover, verses that talk about Christ’s sacrifice and his victory over death give comfort that earthly death is not the end. Jesus has conquered death, as have His children. Because of his sacrifice, there is hope. Hope for a future filled with God’s goodness. Hope for life with Him in heaven.

1 Corinthians 15:50-57

What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

John 11:25-26

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.

Job 19:25-27

But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last.  And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought!

Philippians 1:21-23

For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.

*All Scripture references are from the New Living Translation of the Holy Bible.

How Funerals Help Us Accept the Reality of Death

By Meaningful Funerals

Since the beginning of time, humanity has recognized the need to observe the death of a loved one through some form of funeral. While the tradition of the funeral has changed from culture to culture over the ages, the fact remains that every culture finds a way to  remember and honor their dead. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief expert, counselor, and educator, has found that the funeral is more than just a ritual – it is an essential part of the grieving process because it helps us meet the six needs of mourning.

The 6 Needs of Mourning 

After talking with thousands of families, Dr. Wolfelt found that there are six essential needs of mourning. He believes these six needs are “the most central to healing in grief. In other words, bereaved people who have these needs met, 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.”  

The six needs are: 

  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death 
  2. Moving toward the pain of loss 
  3. Remembering the person who died 
  4. Developing a new self-identity 
  5. Searching for meaning 
  6. Receiving ongoing support from others 

A funeral that meets all six of these needs creates a deeply healing and meaningful experience. A funeral like this can bring comfort and peace and helps each person start the grief journey on the right foot. Today, let’s explore how funerals help us begin to accept the reality of death. 

Funerals Create an Opportunity to Begin to Confront the Reality of Loss 

When a death first occurs, our minds often refuse to accept the reality of it at first. In some ways, we rebel against our new reality, and it’s only with time that the death begins to sink in. For those whose loved one battled a prolonged illness, accepting the reality of the death may come sooner, simply because the death was anticipated. However, for most deaths, we will experience a period of time – whether brief or long – where we (often unconsciously) refuse to accept what has happened and the change it brings to our lives.  

However, to experience healing after a loss, we must acknowledge what has happened, and the funeral is the first step. At the funeral, we are surrounded by people who are also mourning. If the family chooses, we may also view the body, which often helps the reality sink in. Once we see something for ourselves, it becomes true, and we begin to accept it. Until then, we can deny the reality. Whether the body is present or not, the service serves as a time to come face to face with our new reality.   

Funerals Move UToward Healing and Reconciliation 

After a loss, the goal isn’t to “get over” your grief; the goal is to reconcile yourself to the loss you’ve suffered and incorporate it into the story of your life. It’s about learning how to move forward. 

In order to begin the process of reconciliation, we must face the pain of loss. Dr Wolfelt says, I have learned that we cannot go around the pain of our grief. Instead, we must learn to embrace and express it. This is hard but absolutely necessary work.” personalized and meaningful funeral is the first step toward healing and reconciliation. As we accept the reality of our loss, we can begin to process what this change means for our lives and create forward motion in our grief journey. Without a funeral, we can become stuck in our grief journey. It can take much longer to say goodbye, accept what has happened, and begin to move toward reconciliation.  

Funerals Help UShift Our Relationship to One of Memory 

Part of coming to grips with the reality of death is acknowledging a change of relationship. We no longer have a relationship based on the presence of our loved one; we now have a relationship based on memory. The funeral makes the loss more real, helping us transition to our new relationship status.  

It is normal, valuable, and right to mourn the loss of someone we love. We should find ways to honor their memory, like setting a place at the table, writing them a letter when we’ve left things unsaid, or carrying on their favorite traditions. But these helpful grieving actions can become less effective if the reality of loss is never accepted.  

Perhaps you’ve known someone who had trouble acknowledging the reality of a death. They can’t believe their loved one is gone; they continue to speak of the person in the present tense; act as if that person were still alive; do things a certain way because that person would have wanted them done that way. In order to heal and find continued meaning in life, we must accept our new reality and reconcile ourselves to the loss. The funeral is an important first step on that journey toward healing.  

How Funerals Help Us Process the Pain We Feel

By Meaningful Funerals

While the depth of feeling varies from person to person, we can all agree that when someone we love dies, we feel many different emotions, like sadness, anger, relief, regret, among others. These feelings are absolutely normal – and nothing to be ashamed of – but how do we begin to process the pain we feel so that we can find peace and move forward with our lives? While it may surprise you, the funeral ritual is an important part of the grieving process, helping us begin the process of dealing with the pain we feel following the loss of someone we love.  

The 6 Needs of Mourning 

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief expert, counselor, and educator, has found that the funeral is more than just a ritual – it is an important part of grieving well and discovering the ability to move forward. After talking with thousands of families, Dr. Wolfelt found that a meaningful funeral helps meet six essential needs of mourning. He believes these six needs are “the most central to healing in grief. In other words, bereaved people who have these needs met, 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.”  

The six needs are: 

  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death 
  2. Moving toward the pain of loss 
  3. Remembering the person who died 
  4. Developing a new self-identity 
  5. Searching for meaning 
  6. Receiving ongoing support from others 

A personalized funeral that encompasses all six of these needs becomes meaningful and healing. It creates a special moment in time that can bring comfort and peace and helps each person start the grief journey on the right foot. Today, let’s explore how funerals help us begin to process the pain we feel.  

Facing the Reality of Loss 

Dr. Wolfelt says, From my own experiences with loss as well as those of the thousands of people I have counseled over the years, I have learned that we cannot go around the pain of our grief. Instead, we must learn to embrace and express it. This is hard but absolutely necessary work.” In other words, we cannot take shortcuts. We must face the pain of our loss in order to move forward. The funeral or memorial service provides an opportunity to confront the reality of our loss. We can’t pretend or ignore what’s happened. With the presence of the body or cremation urn, we are encouraged to accept what has happened and begin learning how to incorporate the loss we’ve suffered into the story of our lives.  

Finding Outward Expression for Feelings of Grief

Losing a loved one brings a variety of emotions to the surface, sometimes conflicting and confusing emotions. The funeral provides an opportunity to express those emotions outwardly, among friends and family who love you and are there to support you. The funeral is time and place when you can safely express your feelings without fear of judgment or reprimand. Rather than keeping your emotions bottled up inside, the funeral ritual encourages you to release the pain you feel. For many people, this means crying, sharing memories, and even laughing at stories that are shared. So, take advantage of the funeral or memorial. It is a special time dedicated to help you outwardly express your inward feelings.  

Putting You on the Path to a Healthy Grief Journey 

You may have heard that a funeral brings closurethis isn’t technically true. The funeral does bring a close to the logistical parts of loss – service, burial, cremation, etc. – but it doesn’t end the grief journey. In fact, the funeral marks a clear beginning to the grief journey. Before the funeral or memorial service, you may feel numb or stunned and confused by the loss. In a very real sense, you are “bereaved,” or ripped apart by the grief. But to reconcile yourself to the loss you’ve suffered, you need help putting the pieces back together, and the funeral is the first stage of the reconciliation process.

In fact, a meaningful final tribute creates a launching pad for a healthy grief journey. Not only does a meaningful service help you process and confront the pain you feel, it gives you the opportunity to express yourself, remember your loved one, and find a community of support for the days and months ahead. A well-planned funeral does not end your pain; it unveils it. And as Dr. Wolfelt says, “We cannot go around our grief. Instead, we must learn to embrace and express it.” With the loss of a loved one, a part of you is missing. The funeral sets you on the path toward reconciliation by helping you confront the pain of the loss rather than repress and ignore it 

After the Funeral is Over 

While the funeral begins the process of dealing with the pain we feel, it is only the beginning of the grief journeyDepending on the depth of loss you’ve gone through, it may be too much to deal with all of your emotions at one time. In fact, it’s often best to process everything a little at a time. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way: You will probably discover that you need to dose yourself in embracing your pain. In other words, you cannot (nor should you try to) overload yourself with the hurt all at one time. Sometimes you may need to distract yourself from the pain of death, while at other times you will need to create a safe place to move toward it. 

Ultimately, the goal is to reconcile yourself to the loss you’ve endured. It’s not about forgetting or never feeling sad again because you’ll always remember. Instead, it’s about finding a way to become a whole person again, without the physical presence of your loved one. It’s about learning to enjoy life again and finding renewed purpose and meaning so that you can live a healthy, peaceful life. The funeral is just one step in the grief process, but a necessary and important one. In many ways, it’s the door to a journey you didn’t want to take, but must. The funeral or memorial service will help you begin the hard work of grief by meeting your six primary needs as a mourner. 

How Funerals Help Us Remember a Loved One

By Meaningful Funerals

While the form and tradition of the funeral has changed from culture to culture over the ages, the fact remains that every people group finds a way to remember and honor their deadWe still have the same need today. There is something necessary and beautiful about marking the passing of our loved ones and remembering their lives. But how do funerals actually help us remember a loved one?  

The 6 Needs of Mourning 

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief expert, counselor, and educator, has found that an authentic funeral helps meet six essential needs of mourning. He believes these six needs are “the most central to healing in grief. In other words, bereaved people who have these needs met, 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.”  

The six needs are: 

  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death 
  2. Moving toward the pain of loss 
  3. Remembering the person who died 
  4. Developing a new self-identity 
  5. Searching for meaning 
  6. Receiving ongoing support from others 

The personalized funeral that encompasses all six of these needs becomes meaningful and healing. It creates a special moment in time that can bring comfort and peace and helps each person start the grief journey on the right foot. Today, let’s explore how funerals help us remember a loved one. 

 

A Time to Remember

One of the key purposes of a funeral is to allow people to take time out from all the everyday, busy things of life and focus on one person, one life. We take time out of our lives to acknowledge, remember, and actively share our cherished memories and recollections. 

A person’s life is made up of a series of relationships, interactions, choices, dreams, and activities. At the funeral or memorial service, we have the opportunity to visit the memorable moments of a person’s life and share the impact of those moments with other grieving people. Together, our memories create an accurate and often beautiful portrait of the person we love.  

Create a Relationship Based on Memory 

Through active remembrancefunerals help us begin to shift the nature of our relationship with the person who died. For the rest of your life, you will love this person, but now, they live in your memory and not in your presence. By recalling memories and sharing them with others, we begin the process of internally transitioning from a relationship of presence to one of memory. This is an important part of the grieving process because it is our memory that will remind us of our love for this special person, ensuring that they are never far from our hearts.  

Reflect on Your Loved One’s Life 

Lastly, funeral and memorial services help us remember the legacy of a loved one’s life. Funerals can be personalized to reflect your loved one’s values, beliefs, hobbies, interests, and more. In other words, their unique contribution to other people’s lives. So, display photos of their life in various waysDecorate with their favorite color. Play a tribute video. Share stories about how the person’s life impacted yours; what you learned from their example; how you will carry them with you wherever you go from now on. Sharing your loved one’s legacy helps you to intentionally honor their life in a meaningful and personal way. Every story and every detail shared will help those who attend remember your loved one’s life and impact and carry those life lessons with them, even if they didn’t know your loved one very well.

When someone we love dies, our life is unalterably changed. We do not want death to occur, but it does. By taking time to remember our loved one at a funeral or memorial service, we honor their life and legacy. All in all, when we participate in a funeral or memorial, we join in an age-old tradition, one that has existed since the beginning of humanity. We remember and honor those we love, we seek to learn from their life’s example, and we acknowledge the value of their legacy, which lives on in the hearts of all who knew them. 

How Funerals Help Us Step into a New Identity

By Meaningful Funerals

While the traditions surrounding the funeral have changed from culture to culture over the ages, the fact is that every culture finds a way to remember and honor their dead. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief counselor and educator, has found that the funeral is more than just a ritual – it is an important part of grieving well and discovering the ability to move forward.  

The 6 Needs of Mourning  

After talking with thousands of families, Dr. Wolfelt found that an authentic funeral helps meet six essential needs of mourning. He believes these six needs are “the most central to healing in grief. In other words, bereaved people who have these needs met, 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.”  

The six needs are: 

  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death 
  2. Moving toward the pain of loss 
  3. Remembering the person who died 
  4. Developing a new self-identity 
  5. Searching for meaning 
  6. Receiving ongoing support from others 

A personalized funeral that encompasses all six of these needs becomes meaningful and healing. It creates a special moment in time that can bring comfort and peace and help each person start the grief journey on the right foot. Today, let’s explore how funerals help us come to terms with a new self-identity. 

Funerals Publicly Acknowledge a Change in Identity 

As social beings, part of our self-identity is formed by our relationships with others. We all have roles to play based on the people closest to us: husbands and wives; parents and children; grandparents and grandchildren; best friends; mentors. All of these identities are based on the relationships around us.

As soon as someone you love dies, the identity you’ve built in relationship to that person becomes fractured. We become literally “bereaved,” or “ripped apart” by the loss. The closer the relationship, the greater the sense of the loss of identity. For instance, your identity may shift quite suddenly from being a “wife” or “husband” to being a single mother or father. Or you may go from being a loving parent to being childless. Death causes a dramatic shift in how we perceive ourselves and our place in the world. A funeral or memorial publicly marks this change in identity. 

Additionally, it’s important to remember that guests at the funeral may also experience a change in identity. Perhaps they’ve lost a best friend, and life will look very different from now onIt’s important to remember that self-identity changes don’t just affect the bereaved family. They affect everyone who found some part of their identity through relationship with the one who has died.  

Funerals Allow Others to Participate in this Change of Identity 

While you know internally that your identity has changed, the funeral or memorial also allows others to publicly mark your change in identity. By attending the service, it’s as if your friends and family are saying, “We see you, we acknowledge your pain, and we want you to know we care about you.” To move forward, it’s just as important for others to acknowledge your change in identity as it is for you to do so. 

We often turn to ceremonies to mark changes in identity, such as wedding ceremonies, graduation ceremonies, baby christenings, and even bar/bat mitzvahs and sweet sixteen birthday parties. A funeral is a similar right of passage into a new chapter of life, although it is not one we enter willingly. However, just as we do with other ceremonies, we welcome the people around us to join us, support us, and help us through the time of transition. As you move forward through your grief journey, the people you invite into your process will be witnesses to the transition and will offer their support and help along the way. 

Funerals Encourage Us to Embrace Our New Identity 

Even as we acknowledge our change in identity, we also have to decide what we are going to do with our new identity. Following a loss, we often ask ourselves, “What do I do now? How do I want to live my life? Death has a way of bringing life into sharp focus. We re-evaluate our priorities. We decide what we want to carry with us into our future lives and what we will leave behind. Some people are launched in an entirely new direction. Others simply embrace the preciousness of life and find a way to more deeply value the life they have.  

While we didn’t necessarily want or ask for a new self-identity, it has happened. The funeral or memorial service allows us to publicly mark this significant change in our lives. Adjusting to our new identity may mean growing pains and difficult tasks. We may have to take on roles we didn’t before, like taking out the garbage, buying groceries, being both mom and dad to our kids. With every new task or role that you take on, your confidence will grow. Take the time you need to adjust. Ask friends and family for help. In time, you will find a way to move forward, developing renewed confidence in yourself and eventually accepting your new self-identity.  

How Funerals Help Us Find Continued Meaning in Life

By Meaningful Funerals

Since the beginning of time, human beings have participated in funerals and found a way to remember and honor their dead. While the traditions look different from culture to culture, we always find evidence that family and friends were respected and taken care of with reverence after death. But how can a ritual focused on acknowledging death help us find continued meaning in life?  

The 6 Needs of Mourning 

 Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized author, grief counselor, and educator, has found that the funeral is more than just a ritual – it is an important part of the grieving process.He has found that an authentic funeral helps meet six essential needs of mourning. He believes these six needs are “the most central to healing in grief. In other words, bereaved people who have these needs met, 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.”  

The six needs are: 

  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death 
  2. Moving toward the pain of loss 
  3. Remembering the person who died 
  4. Developing a new self-identity 
  5. Searching for meaning 
  6. Receiving ongoing support from others 

A personalized funeral that encompasses all six of these needs becomes meaningful and healing. It creates a special moment in time that can bring comfort and peace and helps each person start the grief journey on the right foot. Today, let’s explore how funerals help us find continued meaning in life.  

Funerals Give Us a Time and Place to Ask Questions About the Meaning of Life 

When someone dies, it’s natural for questions about the meaning of life and death to come to mind. Did this person have a good life? Why now and why this wayWhy do we die? What happens next? The funeral or memorial gives us a time to consider these questions. You may think about the legacy left by the person who has died and wonder if your own will be similar or different. Do you want it to be different? What kind of impact do you want to have and are you working toward that? By asking ourselves these types of questions, we are actually asking, “Am I satisfied with my life? Is there something I want to change? 

Funerals Help Us Begin to Find Answers that Give Us Peace 

Though you may not know the answers to your questions all at once, the simple act of thinking about why life is important and what it means leads you to think about how you want to live. Dr. Wolfelt 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…. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”  

So, not only does the funeral mark the significance a life lived, it also encourages us to think about our own lives, goals, wishes, and dreams. Have you done what you wanted to do with your life? Is there something nagging at the back of your mind, but you haven’t committed to it? Funerals confront us with the impact of a single life and challenge us to find new meaning and purpose in our own lives.  

Funerals Remind Us That Life is Precious 

While we don’t like to think about death, funerals reinforce the fact that one day we will die. Perhaps that’s one reason why people may not like funerals in our culture today. We prefer to avoid topics that make us uncomfortable or scare us. But in reality, we need to remember that one day, we will die. Our time is limited and precious, so we need to find meaning and purpose now. The funeral or memorial service highlights how our loved one spent their life  how they found meaning and purpose. But what about you? You still have life left to live. How will you spend the time you have? What do you want to be spoken at your own funeral? The choice is yours.  

Funerals Encourage Us to Find Meaning and Purpose in Our Own Lives 

As you’ve probably gathered from our discussion so far, funerals make us think. First, you ask yourself questions. Then, even as you begin to contemplate and answer those questions, you are reminded that you, too, will die one day. Does your life today reflect your innermost wishes and dreams? If not, what should you change to make those dreams your reality? As Dr. Wolfelt says, The best funerals remind us how we should live. How do you want to live? Are you living that way today? If you aren’t, think about the life and legacy you want to leave behind and do the good work needed to make it happen. 

How Funerals Help Us Activate a Community of Support

By Meaningful Funerals

Since the beginning of time, humanity has participated in the funeral. While the way we conduct funerals has changed from culture to culture over the ages, the fact remains that every culture finds a way to remember and honor their dead. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief expert, counselor, and educator, has found that the funeral is more than just a ritual – it is an important part of grieving well and discovering the ability to move forward. But in order to move forward, we need others to walk with us. So, how do funerals help us activate a community of support?

The 6 Needs of Mourning 

After talking with thousands of families, Dr. Wolfelt found that an authentic funeral helps meet six essential needs of mourningHe believes these six needs are the most central to healing in grief. In other words, bereaved people who have these needs met, 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.”  

The six needs are: 

  1. Acknowledging the reality of the death 
  2. Moving toward the pain of loss 
  3. Remembering the person who died 
  4. Developing a new self-identity 
  5. Searching for meaning 
  6. Receiving ongoing support from others 

The personalized funeral that encompasses all six of these needs becomes meaningful and healing. It creates a special moment in time that can bring comfort and peace and helps each person start the grief journey on the right foot. Today, let’s explore how funerals help us activate a community of support.  

Funerals act as an invitation 

In general, we don’t like to feel like we are pushing ourselves on other people. We often shy away from a situation until we’re invited in. The funeral acts as that invitation. It’s a way of saying to others, “Come support me. I welcome your presence and compassion.” By inviting others in, you allow them to become a community of support – offering words of support, sharing stories, listening when you need to talk, and offering practical help while you grieve.  

Funerals bring people together 

The funeral brings together a wide variety of people in an atmosphere of love and support. At no other time would all of these same people be in one room. They are all present because they knew your loved one and want to pay their respects. Essentially, each person in the room is an opportunity for support. You are all going through the same loss (to varying degrees) and can all share stories and memories that can bring comfort and offer new insights into your loved one’s life. 

Funerals provide an opportunity to share memories 

A key component of funerals is storytelling. In the eulogy, at the gathering, through photo displays and the tribute video, a story is told. Your loved one’s story. Dr. Wolfelt says that “By sharing your grief outside yourself, healing occurs. Ignoring your grief won’t make it go away; talking about it often makes you feel better. Allow yourself to speak from your heart, not just your head. Doing so doesn’t mean you are losing control or going crazy. It is a normal part of your grief journey.” The funeral gives you a prime opportunity to talk about what you’re feeling to people who also know and love the person you’re grieving 

Funerals allow us to express support through action 

At funerals, we can speak words of comfort or offer an encouraging hug. We can also send flowers or give other gifts of sympathy and supportFor those who attend a funeral to support a living friend who has lost a loved one, the funeral is an opportunity to offer ways to help. “Can I watch the kids for you this week?” “What’s your favorite takeaway restaurant? I want to bring you dinner tonight.” We don’t have to walk through our grief alone. We can let others help us and support us. 

Funerals are an important social and traditional event. They give us an opportunity to celebrate, to cry, to remember, to laugh, and to truly honor a loved one’s life. Let’s do it well.  

To learn more about how to create a healing and meaningful funeral that will bring comfort and peace, click on the links below:  

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral 

Why Does Funeral Personalization Matter? 

Should a Funeral Be Efficient or Effective? 

6 Ways to Use Photos to Honor a Loved One

By COVID-19, Meaningful Funerals, Memorial, Technology and Grief

With the current guidelines on social distancing, we must find ways of honoring and memorializing a loved one other than gathering together for a funeral or memorial service. Consider these ideas for using photos to honor and remember your loved one’s life together, even if you have to be apart for the time being.

1. Personalize a Memorial Website with Photos

Sometimes, we aren’t all able to come together to honor a loved one’s life, which is why online options are perfect for those who can’t attend a funeral because they live far away or are dealing with unexpected circumstances. With a memorial website, you can personalize the look with meaningful photos and invite others to leave comments, stories, and their own photos of your loved one. If you’d rather not create a memorial website, you can create a memorial page on Facebook (or another social media platform) instead.

2. Make a Tribute Video

With a tribute video, you can use photos, audio clips, video clips, favorite quotes, and so much more to create a truly personal account of your loved one’s life. Whether at a memorial website or other social media platform, a tribute video adds a meaningful element. A video allows family and friends to reflect on their memories, receive comfort, and laugh or cry as they remember a loved one. Additionally, a tribute video can be a special keepsake to be watched for years to come.

3. Distribute a Sharing Link for Photos

Another way to include others in honoring a loved one digitally is through a photo-sharing site. In other words, create a place where people can view your photos and share their own. For instance, you can use Flickr, Dropbox, Facebook, or even Instagram (using a personalized hashtag) to facilitate photo viewing and sharing. By sharing photos in this way, you invite others to discuss their own memories of your loved one. As an added bonus, you get to see moments of your loved one’s life that you may never have known. Together, everyone will have a more complete view of your loved one’s life and can honor its significance.

4. Order a Memory Book

Memory books can be easily created online using apps that lay out your photos into a book format. You can either request that the photo book service arrange the book for you or you can personalize it yourself. Whichever option you choose, a memory book is a wonderful keepsake gift. You can create it simply for yourself or you can make it available to other family members who would enjoy it. A few popular services are Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Mixbook. If you’d prefer to create a scrapbook instead, feel free to do that as well!

5. Print Photos on Canvas

Another wonderful option for a memorial keepsake is to print some of your favorite photos on canvas. There are many services that will create a personalized canvas print for you. Simply put in the order online and wait for your print! Once the print arrives, you can place it in a special place in your home. Also, you might consider printing photos on canvas as a wonderful memorial keepsake or gift for loved ones.

6. Frame a Collage of Prints

Alternatively, you can order prints online and frame a collage of photos of your loved one for yourself or for a family member. This special remembrance will help you continue to honor the memories of your loved one in a very special way. And again, you can present the collage to family and friends as a keepsake item. Or, you can get together, in person or online, and each create your own photo collage. In this way, you can honor your loved one’s life while also sharing memories with those you love.

Whether you implement one or all these ideas, photos are an excellent way to personally and meaningfully honor a loved one’s life. After all, your loved one’s life is as completely unique as every photo that records their extraordinary life.

For ideas on how to use photos to personalize a funeral service, click here.

6 Ideas for Holding Funeral Services While Practicing Social Distancing

By COVID-19, Meaningful Funerals

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen how important funeral and memorial services are to the grieving. Funerals serve two very important functions. First, they honor the life of the person who has died, and second, they bring comfort and solace to the grieving. With social distancing restrictions in place, many families feel an extra blow after a loss. They not only lose someone they love, they also lose their chance to grieve surrounded by the comfort of family and friends.

The news is now riddled with heartbreaking headlines telling the story of these difficult days:

However, all is not lost. Across the nation, families and funeral homes have been working together to implement innovative and creative ways to navigate our grief with meaningful ceremonies. Let’s take a look at a few ideas for holding a meaningful funeral service while practicing social distancing.

Online Arrangements

After the loss of a loved one, the family sits down to plan a meaningful final tribute. Now, families can meet with the funeral home staff virtually through video conferencing technology like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Skype. By going virtual, the family can stay within the safety of their own home while getting the details of a service taken care of. And with the addition of technology to sign contracts online, the family can sign all the necessary documents without ever leaving home.

Drive-thru Viewing/Visitation

The viewing or visitation can be one of the most meaningful parts of the grieving process. But with social distancing restrictions, friends and family are not able to attend these types of events. To fill the need, funeral homes are now offering “drive-thru” and “walk-through” viewings and visitations. In this way, mourners can pass by a window to view the body of the deceased and pay their final respects in person. Some funeral homes have offered “walk-through” visitations, where supporters can wave to immediate family members from a window or from a safe distance.

Stand-in Supporters

Grieving without the presence of loved ones is one of the most painful results of experiencing a loss during the coronavirus pandemic. So, several funeral homes have come up with ideas for helping the grieving family feel that their friends and family are with them in spirit. Some place long-stem roses in the empty chairs and some chapels have started offering a “Hugs from Home” program, which gives family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors the opportunity to submit a message of love, support, and encouragement for the family’s private service. Then, the funeral home prints the messages and attaches it to a white balloon. When the grieving family comes to the private funeral ceremony, the chapel is filled with white balloons. These messages of support show the family that friends and relatives are there with them.

Livestream Services

Another way that families can include their extended network at a funeral or memorial service is to livestream the event. More and more funeral homes have added livestream services so families can easily request this service. Families can also use services such as Facebook Live to stream events from a tablet or smartphone. Using these services allows family and friends to view a service from the safety of their own home. Also, in some cities, funeral homes have set up drive-in funeral theaters in parking lots and cemeteries, allowing mourners to come together within the safety of their vehicles to watch the livestreamed service together.

Processions

Funeral processions are a powerful symbol of solidarity and support for a grieving family. Thankfully, they are one aspect of the funeral that allows mourners to maintain social distancing. Some funeral processions during the coronavirus outbreak have become more elaborate, including 50 tractors for a local farmer who died.

Sympathy Gifts and Messages

Many friends, coworkers, and extended family are unable to attend funeral or memorial services, so they are showing their support through an abundance of flowers and memorial gifts, not to mention sympathy cards, phone calls, texts, and social media messages. All of these thoughtful actions create a sense of support. This way, the grieving family feels the presence of friends and family, even though they cannot be there in person.

As each day passes, families and funeral directors are collaborating to come up with innovative ideas for grieving. If you have lost a loved one and need to plan a service, contact the funeral homes in your area. They can share with you how they are helping families stay safe and grieve well during this COVID-19 crisis.