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Meaningful Funerals

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Funerals, Cosmetology, and the Restorative Arts

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals

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

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

When planning a funeral, Dr. Wolfelt suggests:

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

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

What are the benefits of viewing the body?

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

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

Cosmetologist wearing makeup kit around her waist

Why do we need to prepare the body for viewing?

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

Who prepares the body?

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

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

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

What’s the difference between cosmetology and restorative arts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is preparation of the body necessary for a private viewing?

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

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

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

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

10 Literary Readings for Any Type of Funeral

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

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

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

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

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

1. “She is Gone” by David Harkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. “Instructions” by Arnold Crompton

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

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

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

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

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

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

And when you face some crisis with anguish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gone where?

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

Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

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

And that is dying…

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

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

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

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

6. Irish Blessing

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

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

Woman with brown hair sitting outside as she reads a book

7. “Let Me Go” by Christina Rossetti

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

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

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

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

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

8. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. “The Dash” by Linda Ellis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woman sitting on floor with three open books lying beside her

For more ideas on readings you could include, read:

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

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

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

Couple holding hands at a graveyard

What to Do When Things Go Wrong at a Funeral

By Meaningful Funerals

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

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

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

1. Disruptive Guests

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

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

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

2. Inappropriate Comments

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

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

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

3. Feuds and Fights

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

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

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

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

4. Dropped Casket

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

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

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

5. Late Arrival

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

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

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

6. Unseemly Selfies

Stick to Self and smartphone on the old boards.

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

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

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

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

1950s jukebox

11 Songs from the 1950s for a Celebration of Life

By Meaningful Funerals, Music

1950s jukebox

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

Beyond the Sea (Bobby Darin, 1959)

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

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

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

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

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

Always (Ella Fitzgerald, 1958)

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

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

Autumn Leaves (Edith Piaf, 1951)

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

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

Love Me Tender (Elvis Presley, 1956)

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

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

Thinking of You (Fats Domino, 1953)

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

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

Unforgettable (Nat King Cole, 1952)

Unforgettable
That’s what you are
Unforgettable
Though near or far

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

Raining in My Heart (Buddy Holly, 1959)

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

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

Because of You (Tony Bennett, 1951)

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

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

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

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

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

Peace in the Valley (Red Foley, 1951)

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

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

Songs from other decades

Other musical options for a meaningful funeral

10 Songs from the 1940s for a Celebration of Life

By Meaningful Funerals, Music

Music plays a vital role in a funeral service or celebration of life. Songs played at a funeral can set the tone for the service, open us up to feelings we’ve been avoiding, and express emotions we can’t put into words. For this reason, renowned grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt says that music is one of the most important elements of a funeral.

When choosing music to play at the service, it’s important to pick songs that will be meaningful to your family and friends. Of course, if you know your loved one’s favorite songs, you can incorporate those into the funeral. But if your loved one grew up in the 1940s – or just loved the beautiful sounds of 1940s music – here are ten songs you could use to honor their memory.

I’ll Be Seeing You (Billie Holiday, 1944)

I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day through

A classic song about missing someone you love, this version of “I’ll Be Seeing You” was recorded by Billie Holiday in 1944. Both the lyrics of this 1940s song and Billie’s beautiful voice capture the feeling of seeing your lost loved one all around you. Whether you use this song in your loved one’s celebration of life or not, listening to it can provide comfort by reminding you that your loved one lives on in your memory.

Fun fact: “I’ll Be Seeing You” was played for the Opportunity rover on Mars after it finished its final mission!

We’ll Meet Again (Vera Lynn, 1939)

We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day

While “We’ll Meet Again” was originally released in 1939, it became enormously popular in the 1940s, especially during World War II. At a time when many families lost their fathers, brothers, husbands, or sons to the war, they found comfort and hope in this beautiful song. As you and your family mourn the loss of your loved one, playing this song during the funeral or celebration of life can bring your family and friends hope for the future.

Only Forever (Bing Crosby, 1940)

Do you think I’ll remember
How you looked when you smile?
Only forever
That’s puttin’ it mild

Recorded by Bing Crosby in 1940, “Only Forever” spent 20 weeks on the Billboard charts and 9 weeks in the #1 spot. This popular song speaks of love, loyalty, and remembering a loved one forever, which makes it a wonderful choice for honoring your significant other, a parent, or a close friend. This song would also make a great background song for a slideshow of photos honoring your loved one.

Moonlight Serenade (Glenn Miller, 1939)

Released in 1939, “Moonlight Serenade” was one of the most popular songs of the 1940s. While Glenn Miller’s original tune has no words, the music is smooth, peaceful, and full of emotion. This classic swing tune evokes pleasant memories of days gone by and hope for the future, making it perfect for a funeral or memorial service.

A Sentimental Journey (Doris Day, 1944)

Gonna set my heart at eas
Gonna make a sentimental journey
To renew old memories

Performed by Les Brown and His Band of Renown, “A Sentimental Journey” was sung by Doris Day and released in 1944. Whether you’re looking for a song to play at a celebration of life or just to listen to while thinking of your loved one, this lovely tune encourages reminiscing and cherishing the memories of days gone by. It would also be a wonderful song to use for a slideshow at a memorial service.

When the Saints Go Marching In (Louis Armstrong, 1938)

Now when the saints go marching in
Yes, I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in

While the exact origins of “When the Saints Go Marching In” are unclear, the gospel song likely developed from a combination of similar songs. There are many versions of the song, but in 1938, Louis Armstrong transformed the song into the jazzy version modern listeners are most familiar with. While this song is more upbeat, it can be a lovely, personal addition to a funeral or memorial service for someone who was passionate about their faith.

Over the Rainbow (Judy Garland, 1939)

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true

“Over the Rainbow” is an instantly recognizable tune for any fan of The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland captured audiences’ imaginations as Dorothy Gale in 1939, and her signature song took on a life of its own – in the 1940s and beyond. Filled with dreams and hope for the future, “Over the Rainbow” would be a lovely song to play at a celebration of life, especially for someone who loved The Wizard of Oz.

Till the End of Time (Perry Como, 1945)

Till the end of time
Long as stars are in the blue
Long as there’s a spring, a bird to sing
I’ll go on loving you

While several artists recorded their own versions of “Till the End of Time,” Perry Como’s version of the song was the most popular by far, staying at #1 on the Billboard charts for ten consecutive weeks. With lyrics about everlasting and unconditional love, this song would make a touching addition to a funeral or celebration of life for a lost spouse or significant other.

Ave Maria (Frank Sinatra, 1944)

“Ave Maria” was originally composed by Franz Schubert as “Ellens dritter Gesang” (“Ellen’s Third Song”) in 1825. Soon after it was released, the song became popular in the Catholic church and gained religious significance. Frank Sinatra’s version of the song was recorded in 1944, and his beautiful voice pairs wonderfully with the song. If your loved one was religious, you could incorporate this lovely song in the funeral or memorial service.

Lavender Coffin (Lionel Hampton, 1949)

Saint Peter
I’m a-comin’
Saint Peter
Yes, I’m a-comin’ today

One of the more upbeat songs on this list, “Lavender Coffin” was recorded by Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra in 1949. This swing song provides a different perspective on death and a hopeful outlook on life, Heaven, and the future. While this song is more cheerful in tone than some of the other songs, it could be a passionate addition to a celebration of life or a homegoing.

Songs from other decades

Other musical options for a meaningful funeral

Casket surrounded by floral arrangements, including floral scarf of red and white flowers

6 Ways to Personalize a Casket

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

When planning a funeral service, the best way to create a truly unique, one-of-a-kind experience is to add personalized touches throughout the events. That might mean selecting special music, choosing a theme (like a certain color or pop culture reference), allowing family and friends to share memories, including hobby items or collectibles – there are so many options. But did you know that you can also personalize the casket itself? Let’s talk about 6 ways you can do it!

silver gray casket with casket spray of red roses lying on top

1. Choose a Color or Theme

If you have a specific vision for the perfect casket, all you need to do is speak with your chosen funeral home about your ideas. Whether you’d like a specific color (like purple, pink, or even zebra) or you’d like a specific theme (like space, John Deere tractors, or unicorns), the funeral director can work with you to ensure that your preferences are accommodated. You can also request custom head panel or lining fabric to complete the personalization.

2. Commission a Specific Shape

While the four-sided casket is the most popular choice in the United States, you can commission a specific shape. For instance, if you’d like a casket shaped like an M&M candy, a Viking longship, or even a pineapple, you can request it. Of course, it will take extra time and money to create a custom casket. With that in mind, speak with your funeral director to discuss the best way to move forward with a custom shape and how that may affect the timing of funeral services.

Bright blue casket with silver accents to showcase a custom casket idea

3. Add Etchings or Photos

Another option for personalizing a casket is to add etchings or photos to it. While photos are somewhat self-explanatory (you choose the ones you want to include), etchings may require a little explanation. With etchings, you can include any type of symbol you want – religious symbols, pop culture references, crests, anything you wish. You will work closely with the funeral director as you create the perfect design for your custom casket.

4. Place Special Items Inside the Casket

If you are looking for a way to personalize the casket without putting in a custom order, you can! Because the casket often has space along the sides or at the foot, it’s possible to bury a loved one with meaningful possessions. For example, you can include photos, special mementos, jewelry, stuffed animals, and other small items. If the person was a firefighter, you could include their helmet or a flag from their station. If they were a veteran, you can include any medals or special honors they received.

Casket draped with American flag at funeral service

5. Drape a Casket Blanket or Flag

When the casket is closed, you can always drape a casket blanket or flag over it to add personalization. A casket blanket is a beautifully designed floral arrangement that looks like a blanket and drapes over the casket. They are available in a variety of colors and create a truly stunning addition to the service. However, you can also use other items to drape over the casket. For example, you can drape a flag of any kind – an American flag, a sports team flag, an organization, etc. Also, if you’d like, you can also drape an actual blanket, like a quilt or throw. Whatever means the most to you and your family.

6. Select a Floral Accent

It’s quite common to accent a casket with a floral arrangement, but there are actually quite a few options to choose from. The casket blanket is one option, but you can also choose a casket spray, a floral garland, or a floral scarf.

  • Casket spray – most common; lays on top of the casket
  • Floral garland – flowers that are displayed at the hinge of an open casket; often constructed by binding together the arrangement with wire or tape until it is somewhat rope-like in appearance
  • Casket scarf – an arrangement that drapes over the top of the casket; displayed with fabric resembling a scarf

Casket surrounded by floral arrangements, including floral scarf of red and white flowers

As you can see, there are quite a few options for personalizing a casket. All you have to do is determine which ones make the most sense for your loved one and fit into your budget. At a time of loss, many families end up “emotionally overspending,” so before you commit to anything, speak with your funeral director about pricing and options.

Also, a quick note, it is possible to plan ahead for funeral wishes, so if you do want something specific for your casket, you can write those specifications down and set aside funds to pay for it. Set up a consultation with a funeral professional to learn more about how planning ahead for funeral wishes not only gives your family peace of mind, but it also gives you the opportunity to make your personal wishes known!

Shaking hands with a friendly professional

11 Qualities to Look for in a Funeral Director

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

Losing a loved one can bring pain, grief, uncertainty, and confusion. A loss can also leave you with the responsibility of planning a funeral, requiring you to answer questions that you may have never considered. This combination can make you and your family feel lost, overwhelmed, and in need of a helping hand. A caring funeral director can be that helping hand.

Most funeral homes have funeral directors who are a source of assurance for families. Funeral directors are meant to be a comforting guide during the funeral planning process. However, if you’ve never had to plan a funeral before, how do you know which funeral director is best for your family?

One of the easiest ways to determine whether a funeral director is right for you and your family is by recognizing certain qualities they possess. From how they first greet you to how they check on you after the funeral, you deserve a caring professional who makes things easier during your time of pain.

Here’s a list of 11 qualities you look for in a funeral director who will best care for you and your family.

1. Caring

When you need the services of a funeral home, you’re likely experiencing one of the saddest seasons of your life. You need to know that the funeral professional serving you and your family deeply cares about your well-being. A caring funeral director will make you feel welcome, express their sorrow for your loss, and will let you know that everything will be taken care of. Listen to your instincts during your first interaction with a funeral director, as a genuine caring heart is easy to identify.

Adult daughter comforting old mom strokes holds her hand close up view.

2. Supportive

There are so many unique and special ways to celebrate the life of your loved one. So, you’ll want to work with someone who is supportive of your wishes. The right funeral director will encourage your choices and do everything possible to make your wishes a reality all while respecting your budget. Most funeral directors like to say that no request is too great and no detail is too small. That is the perfect mindset for someone who is eager to serve you.

3. Honest

An honest person can make the funeral planning process simple and easy. There are so many decisions that go into planning a funeral. You need an honest funeral director who will be upfront with you about your options, costs, logistics, and other important details. Honesty and transparency will make you feel at ease and confident throughout the funeral planning process.

4. Trustworthy

Similar to honesty, the right funeral director will never give you a reason to doubt their motives or promises. You can trust they will keep their word to you, no matter what. Chances are that problems will arise during the funeral planning process. However, a good funeral director will keep you informed and updated on any changes or issues.

Business people discussion advisor concept

5. Knowledgeable

If you’ve never had to plan a funeral, you may not know all the options available to you. That’s why it’s important to have a knowledgeable funeral director by your side who can help you plan a funeral that will honor the life of your loved one. They can suggest what a funeral should include and what details will best serve you and your family. Plus, the right funeral director will have experience in creating memorable funerals, and their knowledge will serve you well.

6. Strong Communicator

A funeral director who puts your needs first will always keep an open line of communication – especially if there are changes to the funeral plans. They will communicate new information quickly and accurately. They should also offer multiple ways for you to contact them (office phone, cell phone, email address, etc.) Most funeral directors want to make it easy for you to contact them, so find a funeral director that makes communication a priority.

7. Good Listener

You deserve to be valued and heard in your time of grief. A funeral director who listens just as well as they communicate will do just that. You will have many conversations with the funeral director, so it’s important that your words don’t fall on deaf ears. The right funeral director will listen to you and value any and all information you can give them.

Black female funeral director taking notes during an arrangement conference with female client.

8. Creative

A creative funeral director will give you unique ideas in helping you create a personalized tribute for your loved one. They can offer suggestions on how to properly honor the life of your loved one, no matter how traditional or contemporary of a funeral you want. This process usually starts with you telling the funeral director what made your loved one special and what their interests were. From there, a creative funeral professional can help you create a memorable goodbye that will showcase the special life of your loved one.

9. Patient

With grief consuming most of your thoughts during the funeral planning process, feeling overwhelmed is a perfectly normal reaction after losing a loved one. In those moments, you need someone who will calmly and patiently work with you as a friend and guide. You don’t need someone rushing you into decisions that you’re not comfortable with. Working with a patient funeral director will make you feel like you’re their sole priority and not just another funeral to schedule.

10. Empathetic

Empathy is one of the most important qualities to find! This characteristic can help build a bridge of lasting trust and confidence between you, your family, and the funeral director. You might wonder how funeral directors remain empathetic after helping so many grieving families. But that’s what makes the heart of a funeral director so special. The right person will show you that they truly understand the pain you’re feeling. This kindness can lead you to be more willing to place your faith in them and their ability to properly honor your loved one.

11. Organized

As we’ve discussed, planning a funeral takes time and requires a lot of decisions. You need a funeral director that won’t let any detail slip through the cracks. No matter how elaborate or simple your funeral is, the right professional will make sure everything is accounted for and that nothing goes overlooked. Additionally, an organized person will make sure that every member of your family is on the same page and that – to the best of their ability – everyone is happy with the funeral.

Funeral director's hand pick up Stack overload document report paper with colorful paperclip, business and paperless concept.

A funeral director who exhibits these qualities can give you and your family confidence, calmness, and assuredness during the funeral planning process and beyond. There are other qualities that make a great funeral director, but make sure they exhibit these qualities.

After all, a funeral director’s greatest calling is to be there for you when you need them most. They’ll be eager to prove that they are worthy of caring for you.

Violin laying on a wooden table

11 Classical Music Songs for a Funeral Service

By Meaningful Funerals, Music

Symphony orchestra on stage, hands playing violin. Shallow depth of field, vintage style.

“Where words fail, music speaks.” – Danish author Hans Christian Andersen

In our greatest times of pain and grief, we often don’t have the words to describe the intense emotions we feel. This feeling is a common experience for those of us who have recently suffered a great loss. That’s where the power of music can help provide needed comfort.

For many of us, music has the unique ability to give us words when grief and agony have left us silent. A beautiful melody or lyric can perfectly capture what we’re feeling and speak to us deeply and emotionally.

Renowned grief expert, counselor, and author Dr. Alan Wolfelt teaches that music is an important element of a healing and meaningful funeral. Music can set the tone of a funeral, bring our emotions to the forefront, and allow us to grieve with others in mourning, which is essential to why we have funerals.

There are many musical genres that can help bring healing during a funeral. Many people find classical music moving and there are many songs and arrangements to support this belief. If classical music sounds like the best way to honor your loved one and bring healing to those in pain, here are a few suggestions that could help.

1. Con Te Partirò (Time to Say Goodbye)

While other songs on this list also have a connection to death, Con Te Partirò passionately and unapologetically embraces the emotions we often feel during a loss. This arrangement focuses on the separation we feel when a death occurs. It also highlights that the pain of our grief will not be at the forefront of our lives forever.

Originally written by Francesco Sartori and Lucio Quarantotto in 1995, Con Te Partirò is a beloved favorite for many classical music fans and has become a common piece at funerals. Its messages of finding beauty beyond our pain and remembering that our loved one’s memory will always be with us ring true for many.

2. Adagio for Strings

Samuel Barber is widely regarded as the most talented American composer of his generation, and Adagio for Strings is one of the reasons. Played on a full orchestra of strings, the song’s somber and solemn melody has been known to help those in grief. It paints an emotional backdrop for pain with hauntingly beautiful rises and falls. Barber’s classic is slow at times, but it picks up steam at the 4:40 mark and crescendos for a breathtakingly moving mountain top at 5:25.

Adagio for Strings played at the funerals of Albert Einstein and Princess Grace of Monaco. The song was broadcast after the passing of Princess Diana and U.S. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

3. Irish Tune from County Derry

If a string orchestra isn’t to your liking, the brass sections of Irish Tune from County Derry might be more appropriate. The arrangement’s soft opening is followed by a melodic resonance that brings the song to life. Composed by Percy Grainger, the piece focuses on powerful, positive notes that can help us remember the good memories of our loved ones and what made them special. Plus, the flute solo (2:15) is especially beautiful and leads way into the powerful melody (3:11).

The character of Irish Tune from County Derry makes this an excellent choice to play at a loved one’s funeral.

4. Ave Maria

A timeless classic that’s recognized and loved by countless people, Ave Maria might be the most popular classical song for funerals. Many believe it’s the perfect piece for honoring loved ones, as it’s an adaptation of the traditional Roman Catholic prayer. Whether played or sung, this song can help bring our emotions to the surface, so that we may acknowledge that a death has occurred and begin our path toward healing.

Many artists have performed the song over the years, with Luigi Vena’s performance at President Kennedy’s funeral remaining one of the most memorable.

5. Liebesträume No. 3 (Dreams of Love)

Piano and classical music go hand in hand for most of us. It only makes sense to include multiple wonderfully crafted piano arrangements that speak to the soul. Franz Liszt published three piano works in 1850, with Liebesträume No. 3 being his most popular. The piece was inspired by the poem O Lieb, so lang du lieben kannst (O love, so long as you can), which focuses on the importance of love, the pain of loss, and the promise to make every moment matter.

Throughout the song, we hear the clash between love and death (2:20). These shifts were Liszt’s desire, as he strived to write a piece as heart-wrenching as it is troubled.

6. Mad World

So many talented artists have covered Mad World since its release more than 40 years ago. While Dennis Korn’s piano version might be one of the newest, it certainly is moving and beautiful. Originally written by Roland Orzabal of the British band Tears of Fears, Mad World was born from Orzabal’s time of songwriting, in which he watched everyday people live their lives outside his window. Orzabal felt disconnected, alone, and out of place in the world because of this – feelings we may have experienced after the death of a loved one.

Dennis Korn’s piano cover brings new life to the song. His version captures what it means to feel grief, as the base notes and the higher pitch melody serve as an example of the variety of emotions we may feel. The song’s familiarity, simplicity, and powerful emotions make it an ideal choice for any type of funeral.

7. Canon in D

It’s true, Johann Pachelbel’s classic is traditionally a staple at weddings, but its powerful builds and remarkable harmonies also make it an impactful piece to celebrate the life of a loved one. The song’s quick tempo and moving melody can help us reflect on the positive memories we have of the deceased, rather than the pain we feel from their absence.

Cannon in D can also be performed by either a large or small number of musicians. Arrangements of this classical music piece exist for classical string quartets, piano, two musicians, and more. The song is also familiar to many, making it impactful to your audience and easy to use for funerals.

8. Adagietto (Symphony No. 5)

Another full orchestral piece, Gustav Mahler’s Adagietto (Symphony No. 5) brings inspirations of peace and sadness. Mahler wrote this eerily captivating arrangement soon after he fell seriously ill and had to resign as conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic. It’s possible his failing health inspired him to write such a moving piece that features incredible builds at 3:10 and 10:15.

The lightness of the harp in the beginning and the whimsical movement of the second act also make this a piece that can help us find peace, if only for a brief moment.

9. Lux Aeterna (Nimrod)

Performed by British vocal ensemble VOCES8, this a cappella version is sung with warmth and beauty. It’s hard to believe there are no instruments involved. The voices that echo Edward Elgar’s glorious swelling melody have been heard at weddings, funerals, and even events for the British monarchy. As one of 14 pieces Elgar dedicated to cherished friends and family, Elgar wrote Lux Aeterna (Nimrod) for a devoted friend who stood by the composer during his struggles with depression.

The rise and fall of the voices signify our daily struggle with grief and the varying emotions we may feel. The song builds to an overwhelmingly well-balanced and breathtaking sound (2:15) that is difficult to describe and best left to enjoy.

10. Air on a G String

No list of classical music, no matter the circumstances, would be complete without Johann Sebastian Bach. Based off Bach’s No. 3 in D Major, August Wilhelmj composed this arrangement in 1871 and offers a gentle pulse that truly is the key to the piece’s popularity. The song’s moving violin section, steady base, and perfectly accompanied organ create unmatched emotion.

Not too long or too short, this piece is great for honoring life and bringing healing.

11. Candle in the Wind

Similar to Mad World, the final entry on this list is widely popular. It has even been covered numerous times since its release by Elton John in 1973. The original may not fall into the traditional classical genre, but when played on piano alone, it’s heartbreakingly beautiful. Elton John wrote the song in honor of Marilyn Monroe’s death, then played at Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997. Both versions are classics and focus on the pressures we put on ourselves that might make us feel inadequate.

With powerful lyrics, Candle in the Wind is equally as moving in its original version or as instrumental only. There are several elements of the song that make it a perfect choice for a funeral.

Other musical options for a meaningful funeral

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