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Writing an Obituary with AI: Dos and Don’ts

By Educational, Planning Tools, Technology and Grief

After losing a loved one, there’s a long list of things that must be taken care of. At a time when you’re grieving and coming to terms with your loved one’s death, trying to find the right words for an obituary may seem like a daunting task. How can you find the right words when you’re still trying to accept the reality that your loved one is gone?

With the recent development of AI writing tools (like Bing’s free chatbot), families can now write an obituary with AI. While AI isn’t perfect, it can provide you with a great starting place. Once AI has generated an obituary, you can edit it to make it more personal and empathetic. Many funeral homes even have AI writers specifically for obituaries.

So, you might be wondering… if you use AI to write an obituary, how can you ensure the result truly honors your loved one and the life they lived? Here are some dos and don’ts for writing an obituary with AI.

DO look at other obituaries first

Obituaries in newspaper with magnifying glass

When you put a prompt in an AI generator, you never know what you’ll end up with. That’s why it’s a good idea to do a little research about obituaries before using AI. While each obituary is unique to the person it’s about, most obituaries include similar information. Before you write an obituary with AI, look at examples of other obituaries. You can find some examples on your funeral home’s website or check out some here.

DO add details to your prompt

Red rose on a sandy beach with a pink sunrise in the background

The more details you can provide for the AI generator, the better. If not enough information is given in the prompt, AI generators may add details that aren’t true for your loved one. By including details about your loved one’s family, history, passions, accomplishments, and hobbies, you’ll give the AI generator more to work with and have a better chance of getting a good starting obituary. For example, instead of saying, “he was involved in the community,” you can give specifics about the organizations your loved one was involved in. If you’re not sure what details to include, ask other family members about their favorite memories of your loved one.

DO proofread and edit the result

While AI generators have improved over the past few years, they’re certainly not perfect! AI writers sometimes repeat phrases or have overly wordy sentences. In one of our sample obituaries, the AI generator repeated the same phrase about the deceased’s husband and children at the beginning and end of the obituary. Take time to read through what the AI generator has put together and make sure there are no errors. You can add your own personal touch to the obituary by rewriting parts in your own words. In short, use the obituary generated by the AI as a starting point and make it your own.

DON’T assume everything is correct

Man holding out his hand with the word AI hovering above it and electronic details

As you read through the obituary provided by the AI generator, make sure all of the facts included are correct. AI pulls information from sources across the internet, and sometimes it adds in things that aren’t true or exaggerate something you added. For example, you may have put in your prompt that your loved one loved to play chess, but AI may try to add detail by saying that they won many chess championships. You should always double-check:

  • Dates
  • Locations
  • Spelling of names
  • Pronouns for anyone mentioned
  • Facts about the person’s accomplishments
  • Anything you didn’t explicitly include in your prompt

For example, in this sample AI-generated obituary, the obituary says, “Janet is survived by her husband Richard, her children Oliver and Iris, her siblings, and many friends.” However, the prompt doesn’t mention siblings, so if Janet doesn’t have siblings, we would need to remove that from the obituary. Watch for inconsistencies like these as you review the obituary.

DON’T feel stuck with the first result

Person typing on a laptop

If you don’t really like what the AI generator writes, that’s okay! Some AI generators have the option to generate something else based on the same prompt. You can try reentering the same prompt, or you can change up your prompt by adding more details or removing details that the AI focused on too much. You could also try using the same prompt in another AI generator. Just remember that you can always edit the results or mix and match what the AI generates to get an obituary that works for you and your family.

As you put together an obituary for your loved one, think about what made them special to you. An AI generator can give you a great starting structure and outline, and by adding your own details and personal touch, you can create a truly unique, heartfelt obituary for your loved one.

Other obituary resources

5 Practical Obituary Writing Tips

How to Write a Great Obituary

5 Great Obituary Examples

What is a Funeral Honorarium?

By Educational, Planning Tools

Every funeral comes expenses, such as the professional services of the funeral home staff, casket or urn, cremation permit, cemetery plot, and so on. One expense you may not have considered is the honorarium. But what is an honorarium and who should receive one? Let’s look at a few key questions that will help you understand honorariums and their role at the funeral.

Green envelope and white sheet of paper to use for an honorarium; items are sitting on a table with purple hydrangeas

What is an honorarium?

Traditionally, an honorarium is a monetary token of appreciation for someone who has performed a service for free. For example, at both weddings and funerals, it’s customary to offer an honorarium to the officiant/clergy who presided over the ceremony.

Some churches will accept a monetary token of appreciation, while others will not. It all depends on the practices of that particular church or clergy person. But either way, it’s always good etiquette to determine whether offering one is appropriate or not.

Who might receive an honorarium?

This type of monetary gift is typically offered to the officiant/clergy person who officiated the funeral service. Additionally, it’s also customary to give an honorarium to any soloists or musicians who performed.

If another professional (not clergy) officiated the service, then you might give the honorarium to them instead. However, if a family member or close friend officiates, there’s no need to offer an honorarium unless you want to do so.

Note: It is not necessary to give the funeral director an honorarium. Their services are included in any fees you pay to the funeral home for coordination of the funeral service.

Focus on the hands as a woman plays an organ

How much is customary to pay?

Ultimately, it depends on your preferences and budget. For an officiant, the average range is somewhere between $100 to $300. When determining the amount, consider how much time they spent 1) getting details and preferences from the family, 2) planning their remarks, 3) traveling and 4) attending any services. And of course, did they do a good job? That matters, too.

For a soloist or musician, the average range is somewhere between $50 to $100 per person. However, consider whether they are a volunteer or a paid performer. If the church’s organist volunteers to play at the service, offer an honorarium. On the other hand, if you want to personalize the service by bringing in your loved one’s favorite local band, they will receive payment for their services, not an honorarium.

Please note, some churches or clergy have stated fees for officiating a funeral service, but they should be upfront about these fees when you meet to discuss the service.

One person giving a closed honorarium envelope to a second person

What’s the difference between a payment and an honorarium?

The biggest difference between the two is that the amount of an honorarium is up to you. With payments, the pricing is set by an outside entity, such as the musician or the florist. But with an honorarium, you determine what you are able and/or willing to offer as a token of your appreciation.

How do I pay an honorarium?

Most of the time, you pay with cash (or check). You can place the money in an envelope and give it to the person when you thank them. It’s also good etiquette to either include a thank you note with the honorarium or follow-up with a handwritten note a few days after the service. If it’s easier, the funeral director can deliver the envelope on your behalf.

Funeral director shaking hands with a funeral guest or funeral officiant

What if I have more questions?

Your best resource for information is the funeral director. They have worked closely with countless churches and people in your area and will know what’s expected. If you have questions or concerns about how to proceed, just give your funeral director a call. They are there to help you in whatever way you need!

Open wooden casket with ivory lining

Rental Caskets: What You Need to Know

By Cremation, Educational, Explore Options, Planning Tools

Cremation may be on the rise, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan a full service to celebrate a loved one’s life with viewing and visitation. Many families assume that choosing cremation means sacrificing a viewing or having the body present at the funeral service. But that’s where rental caskets come in!

Today, most funeral homes offer rental caskets, which allows you to select cremation and still have a full service with a loved one’s body present. There’s just one major difference. After the funeral service is complete, the casket will not be escorted to the cemetery. Instead, mourners will attend a gathering or reception, and the body will be prepared for cremation.

In this way, families can pair the healing power of saying goodbye in person with the cost-effectiveness of cremation. Thankfully, you don’t have to give up the traditional elements when you prefer cremation over burial.

Open wooden casket with ivory lining

What else do you need to know about rental caskets? Let’s review some important details to consider.

How is a rental casket different from a standard casket?

When looking at the rental casket, most people won’t be able to tell that it’s not a standard casket. However, the construction is a bit different. The foot panel swings out like a door, allowing an insert to be placed into or removed from the casket exterior. So, the deceased person is placed in a removable container (often made of wood or cardboard) and that box is gently slid into the rental casket. The removable insert comes with its own fabric liner, which is for one-time use, and it is hidden from view once inside the casket exterior.

So, the casket is re-used?

Yes and no; the exterior frame of the casket is re-used, but the removable insert is not. As mentioned above, at no point does the deceased person’s body come in contact with the rental casket itself. The removable insert fully supports the body and the fabric liner within the insert is one-time use only. In this way, the rental casket is protected and preserved.

Additionally, the rental casket is professionally cleaned and sanitized after each use. While the deceased body never touches the rental casket, this extra level of cleanliness is taken to ensure the best possible experience for everyone.

Couple standing next to a casket covered in flowers, paying their respects

What happens to the removable insert?

By law, when a body is cremated, it must be placed in a container of some sort (often made of wood or cardboard). The removable insert can perform both functions – both as the interior of the rental casket and the alternative container at the crematory.

Where can I get a rental casket?

If you’re looking for ease and convenience, the funeral home is your best option. They will have rental caskets available, and there may even be options to choose from. It’s possible to rent from a third-party business, but please note, you will be responsible for making sure the funeral home has access to it before the funeral.

What is the average cost of a rental casket?

It all depends on your area and the funeral home. To get a sense of costs, request a General Price List (GPL) from reputable funeral homes in your area. The GPL should list the cost of a rental casket and what that fee includes. Remember, you will pay for the removable insert/alternative container in addition to the rental casket.

White rose on closed wooden casket

Can I use a rental casket if I choose burial instead of cremation?

While rental caskets are most commonly used for funeral services before cremation, they can be used when burial is chosen. For example, you might want a ceremonial casket for the viewing, but then bury the deceased person in a much simpler casket. Speak with a funeral director about your options. Then, weigh the pros and cons of whether renting a casket is best for your needs.

What’s next?

To learn more about rental caskets or the full service options available with cremation, contact a funeral home you trust.

Also, if you’d like more information what a General Price List is and what your rights are as a consumer, check out Know Your Rights: The FTC Funeral Rule. With this information, you can confidently interact with the funeral home and get your questions answered!

Man and wife sitting at table together, looking at book and making choices for funeral

5 Emotional Benefits to Funeral Preplanning

By Educational, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

There are many practical benefits to funeral preplanning – like saving money, qualifying for Medicaid, and having funeral funds set aside to pay for everything – but did you know there are also emotional benefits? And let’s be honest – the emotional part of death is the hardest part. So, if you’re on the fence about planning ahead for your funeral wishes, take a look at these 5 emotional benefits that preplanning can give your family during a time of grief and loss.

1. Preplanning reduces stress

Woman sitting at home with a cup of tea, feet resting on coffee table, no stress

After the death of a loved one, it falls to the surviving family members to plan the funeral with the help of a local funeral home. If there’s no advance preparation, that means the family will have to answer 130+ questions in a short period of time. On top of that, they will have to come up with the funds to pay for the funeral, and most families aren’t prepared to take on that kind of unexpected financial responsibility. But with funeral preplanning, you can reduce the stress your family will feel by answering all the questions ahead of time. And if you want, you can set aside funds to cover all the costs.

2. Preplanning removes doubt and uncertainty

Looking down at a pair of black dress shoes; three arrows indicating different directions to choose; which to choose

Have you ever had to make an important decision without first speaking to your spouse? It’s hard, and there’s a lot of uncertainty. That’s what happens when a loved one doesn’t leave instructions about their funeral wishes. When faced with planning a loved one’s final tribute, surviving family members often feel deeply uncertain and doubt the decisions they made.

Was cremation the right choice? Should we have had a viewing to say our last goodbyes? Could we have done more to personalize the service? By putting your funeral wishes in writing, you remove these feelings of indecision. Instead, your family can honor your life the way you want and feel good about it.

3. Preplanning prevents hurt feelings

Son and three sons hugging; family close-knit

What happens when everyone is feeling stressed and no one knows what to do? Stress increases, opinions come out, and arguments begin to simmer. When it’s unclear how to proceed with the funeral plans, surviving family members may begin to disagree on how to proceed.

For example, your son may prefer burial while your daughter thinks cremation is best. Or your spouse is worried about expenses while your children want a big extravagant event. With 130+ questions to answer, there’s a lot of room for argument and hurt feelings. However, when your preferences are clearly outlined with funeral preplanning, your family knows what you want. They can then use that roadmap to honor your life and legacy.

4. Preplanning provides a sense of stability

Young couple talking to funeral director about a loved one's advance funeral plan

It may sound weird, but funeral preplanning can actually give your family a sense of stability and control. When a loved one dies, routines are disrupted, and everything feels out of sync, upended, out of control. But when there’s a plan in place, a feeling of stability returns. They don’t have to wade through a sea of uncertainty without a compass. Instead, your advance funeral plan becomes an anchor amidst the whirlwind of planning. The first days following a loss are the hardest, and that sense of stability can soothe emotions and calm fears.

5. Preplanning brings peace of mind

Young family playing a game during a grandparent visit; everyone happy and at peace

Lastly, funeral preplanning can bring peace of mind to you and your family. For your family, they can rest easy, knowing that you’ve taken care of everything. The selections have been made. The music and venue chosen. The vital statistics are already on file at the funeral home. All your family has to do when the time comes is to choose a date and time. And you can rest in the knowledge that you’ve done everything you can to care for your family and make a difficult experience a little bit easier. That’s a beautiful gift.

Before we go, one more thing.

Man and wife sitting at table together, looking at book and making choices for funeral

Quick Tip: Invite Others to Plan with You

One of the benefits of planning ahead for your funeral wishes is that it gives you time to consider all the options and choose what best fits your personality and preferences. As you plan, you’ll definitely want to work with a reputable local funeral home. The funeral director can help you understand your options and act as a resource throughout the advance planning process.

However, also consider inviting your family into the planning process. Yes, you are putting a plan in place to help them, but they can also help you. You may think that a simple burial with no service would be easiest, but your family may want to have a funeral service and invite friends and extended family to pay their respects. The funeral is about your life, but it’s also about your family’s emotional needs. Consider listening to what they think and incorporating some of those ideas into your funeral wishes.

Man in collared shirt and tie sitting at table with warning symbol in front of him

Identifying a Dishonest Funeral Home: 7 Warning Signs

By Explore Options, Planning Tools

Most funeral homes are staffed by hardworking, caring, and compassionate people. But every once in a while, you might come across a funeral home that does not have your best interests in mind. So, how can you identify the funeral homes you should avoid? Let’s discuss several warning signs you can look out for as you choose a funeral home partner.

Man in collared shirt and tie sitting at table with warning symbol in front of him

7 Warning Signs to Look For

Unless you live in a small town, you likely have more than one choice of funeral home. And it’s up to you to decide which one you want to work with. As you thoughtfully consider your options, look out for the following warning signs.

Warning Sign #1: They Don’t Provide a General Price List (GPL) Upon Request

By law, every funeral home is required to keep a General Price List (GPL) updated and available to consumers. That means you! The Federal Trade Commission set the Funeral Rule in place back in 1984 to protect you from possible scams or unfair pricing. Whether you’re preplanning or have suffered a recent loss, if the funeral home doesn’t want to give you their GPL, that’s a red flag. When you pick up the GPL, the funeral home may want to briefly discuss their pricing with you and answer your questions, but they should NEVER refuse to give it to you.

Two people sitting across from each other at a table, reviewing paperwork on a clipboard

Warning Sign #2: They Aren’t Transparent About Their Pricing & Practices

There are many ways a funeral home can exhibit a lack of transparency. Do they only show you a limited number of caskets or urns? Do they give you vague numbers or generally avoid specific answers to your questions? Are they asking you to pay without an explanation of services? These are red flags that the funeral director could be acting dishonestly. A reputable funeral home will review ALL of your options for services and merchandise. Plus, they will give you an itemized breakdown of costs.

Warning Sign #3: They Try to Sell Services You Don’t Need or Want

Our third warning sign relates to how the funeral director talks about services and merchandise. Do they want you to pay for a protective casket even though you’ve chosen cremation? Are they pushing you to add services you don’t want? Are they saying embalming is required? Good funeral homes will present you with the options and offer suggestions based on their experience, but they will allow you to decide what’s best for your family. So, if you feel like the funeral director is aggressively trying to steer you toward certain decisions, that’s a red flag.

Man sitting at desk looking at his phone with time clearly showing

Warning Sign #4: They Rush You to Make Decisions

After losing a loved one, you’re already in a state of heightened stress. Regardless of what the funeral director may say, you have time to make decisions about honoring your loved one’s life. If they start telling you that every decision needs to be made RIGHT NOW or that you’re taking too long, that’s a red flag. The best funeral directors will take all the time you need. They will sit with you, listen to you, and do everything possible to help your family create a unique and meaningful final tribute.

Warning Sign #5: They Make You Feel Guilty

“Emotional overspending” is a real thing. It often happens when the deceased doesn’t leave behind instructions regarding their funeral wishes. The surviving family members, not knowing what to do, may decide to go all out and buy “only the best” for their loved one. A dishonest funeral director will take advantage of the family’s uncertainty and make them feel guilty if they don’t buy the most expensive options. The funeral director is there to guide your experience, not dictate your decisions. If they start to guilt trip you for choosing a less expensive option, that’s a red flag.

Unsympathetic professional woman sitting at desk across from client with upset look on her face and holding up index finger sternly

Warning Sign #6: They Aren’t Caring and Sympathetic

The funeral profession is closely intertwined with the most difficult human experience: the death of a loved one. When choosing a funeral home, you need caring, sympathetic people alongside you. If the funeral director is acting inconsiderate, unkind, impatient, or simply disinterested or aloof, that’s a red flag. The last thing you need following the death of a loved one is to deal with a difficult person. Good funeral homes will employ knowledgeable, compassionate people who want to help you through each step of the funeral planning process.

Warning Sign #7: They are Difficult to Work With

At funeral homes that practice good customer service, the goal is to make the funeral planning process as simple and easy for you as possible. That means they should be accommodating and easy to work with. However, if your interactions with the funeral home are difficult or frustrating, that’s a red flag. For example, do they reschedule appointments without advance notice? Are they impossible to get ahold of? Do they avoid answering your questions? Never return your calls? These behaviors shouldn’t be ignored.

Looking down at a pair of sneaker-clad feet, standing just in front of a yellow and black caution line on the ground

Now that we’ve covered 7 warning signs to look out for, let’s talk about several ways you can avoid ending up at a dishonest funeral home in the first place.

Tactics for Identifying Dishonest Funeral Homes

None of us like to think about death ahead of time. But if you want to make sure you and your family aren’t taken advantage of, you should familiarize yourself with the funeral homes in your area long before you need their services.

You can do that in several ways, including:

  • Check their Google and Facebook reviews
  • Talk to family or friends and get word-of-mouth recommendations
  • Review the funeral home’s website and social media to see who they are
  • Check the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints
  • Attend an open house or event hosted by the funeral home
  • Request a tour of the funeral home and ask for a GPL
  • Trust your instincts

Woman sitting at home looking at online reviews on her phone, focus on phone and woman's hands only

With all the regulations and guidelines set in place, the odds are excellent that most of the funeral homes in your area are run by good, caring people who are providing a necessary and much-needed service. But there are a few bad apples out there, and it’s good to identify them.

For additional information, check out Top 10 Characteristics to Look for in a Funeral Home or Top 11 Qualities to Look for in a Funeral Director.

Armed with these 7 warning signs, you can more confidently choose a funeral home partner who will focus on meeting your needs, answering your questions, and ensuring that you and your loved one are treated with respect, dignity, and the utmost integrity.

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

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