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The funeral is a time to truly honor and remember a loved one’s life, but how can you personalize the service to reflect that special person’s personality, preferences, interests, and uniqueness? According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally respected grief counselor and author, there are 7 distinct elements to a funeral, and each one can be personalized. Today, let’s talk about how you can use symbols to personalize a loved one’s final tribute and create an event that is truly special and meaningful.

Urn resting in a circle of red roses, acting as a symbol for a gathering of mourners

 First, Why Does Personalization Matter?

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

In a world focused on efficiency and getting things done as quickly as possible, the funeral is a moment to slow down and be thoughtful. When we do things too quickly, they can sometimes feel impersonal and hollow. That’s why personalization is key!

A personalized service beautifully and lovingly honors life. It creates a sweet moment of remembrance, a time to say goodbye, a unique acknowledgement that a person’s life mattered in all the big and small ways. Now, let’s talk about symbols and their role in personalizing a funeral or memorial service!

Pallbearers carrying casket into church for funeral service

How to Personalize Symbols at a Funeral

Symbols are an important aspect of a funeral because they convey love and comfort, facilitate expression, and offer a focus point for the bereaved. Common symbols are an appropriate religious symbol, flowers, personal items, candles, or whatever feels best to honor your loved one.

1. Include appropriate religious symbols

For people of faith, consider including religious symbols at the service. At a Catholic or Protestant Christian funeral, this could mean placing the Bible or a cross in a prominent location. For Jewish funerals, perhaps you could include the Star of David or read meaningful passages from the Torah.  Depending on the religion the person followed, there are many possible symbols to incorporate that would honor their beliefs. If the person whose life you want to celebrate wasn’t religious, check out How to Plan a Healing Funeral if You Are Not Religious.

2. Include cultural or traditional elements

Another possible source for symbols is cultural or traditional elements. For example, it’s customary in the United States to place the casket or urn in a place of prominence so that it will be the focal point of a service. Or you could have a funeral procession, which acts as a symbol of respect and final rest. Drape a flag over a veteran’s casket or urn. Also, consider including cultural elements. For example, in many Asian countries, white is the color of mourning. You may choose to include white flowers or white accents to honor that tradition.

Woman wearing black holding white chrysanthemums

3. Turn special items into symbols

If you’d like an even more personal option, you can turn special items into symbols. For one grieving family, an appropriate symbol was the quilts their grandmother made. Before her death, she made a quilt for every child and grandchild, and at her final tribute, the quilts were displayed on the pews – a representation of her love and impact on her family. You could use a prized record collection, personal artwork, or even bring their Harley-Davidson into the venue.

4. Invite guests to participate

If you’d like to add a much broader symbolic element to a loved one’s final tribute, consider inviting guests to participate. You could ask everyone to wear the deceased’s favorite color. If they were a Harry Potter or Star Wars fan, ask people to wear something in that theme. You could ask guests to bring in a favorite photo to add to a group collage set up near the casket or urn. There are so many ways to include others in adding meaningful symbolism to a funeral service.

Military service member holding a folded American flag

Questions to Help You Brainstorm

If ideas aren’t coming to mind already, here are a few questions to help you brainstorm what kinds of symbols you could include at a service.

  • Are there any traditional funeral elements that bring you comfort?
  • Is there a part of your cultural or religious background that should be included?
  • Did your loved one collect anything?
  • Was your loved one part of any groups that have recognizable symbols?
  • Did their choice of career include any symbols, such as a stethoscope for a doctor?

Hopefully, these questions will trigger some ideas for you and give you a good starting place for choosing symbols that will not only personalize the funeral but add special meaning as well. And if you are stumped, your funeral director can help. They are your advocate and guide throughout the funeral planning process. They can provide much-needed assistance when you just aren’t sure what to do next.

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