8 Imaginative Ways to Personalize a Funeral
Article by: Jessica Fowler, ASD – Answering Service For Directors
Funeral Director and Writer, Thomas Lynch, once wrote, “a good funeral gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be.” We have yet to read a more accurate definition of the death care profession. The work of a funeral director expands far beyond handling the transportation, embalming and final disposition of the deceased. Directors are called upon by families in their darkest hours to plan, organize and conduct a dignified memorial service that both honors the departed and brings solace to bereaved loved ones.
Perhaps the most important skill a funeral director can have is the gift of listening. When meeting with a family, directors ask questions about the character and personality of the person who passed. They find out about their hobbies, careers, passions and favorite places. These arrangement conferences give funeral directors inspiration and ideas for personalizing the funeral service. While every family is different and many cultures and faiths require a traditional or religious ceremony, there is a growing movement in our culture towards unique and personal funeral services. Funeral directors have been able to provide comfort to families by incorporating memories of the deceased into the service.
As the answering service trusted by one quarter of all funeral homes, ASD has had the privilege of learning about the many different ways directors have helped families honor their loved ones. We are continually inspired by the beautiful examples we have seen and wanted to share some of our favorites.
Here are 8 Imaginative Ways to Personalize a Funeral
1. Brainstorm Unique Memorial Ideas
Clockwise from the left: 1. A floating lantern service in Honolulu, HI. Each lantern is inscribed with sentiments from family and friends. 2. A photo from the funeral service of ice-cream truck driver, Harry Ewell. The service, held by Magoun-Biggins Funeral Homein Rockland, MA, included a procession lead by Harry’s truck and frozen treats for funeral attendees in the cemetery. 3. A funeral procession for a gentleman who loved to run. 4.A surfer’s memorial service on the water.
Funeral directors will often ask family members to share what made their loved one most happy. In the examples above, the answers “being on the water,” “his job” or “running” may have inspired these unique memorial ideas. By remaining open to out-of-the-ordinary ideas and offering multiple options, directors can helps families to create a truly meaningful service.
2. Explore Photo Display Options
Clockwise from the left: 1. Framed collage photos on display at a funeral. 2. An artistic, clothespin-style photo board. 3. A table memorial made with photos of the deceased and significant items from his life. 4. An elegant and unique wreath made with framed photographs.
For a lot of families, it can be incredibly cathartic to look through old albums to find photos for their relative’s funeral. Most funerals today include visual elements to tell the story of the person’s life with images. Directors assist families with deciding how they want to display photos of their loved ones. From enlarging photographs for display, to designing a collage by hand, to creating a photo slideshow, the many options can be overwhelming for some. Fortunately, directors can guide families through this by asking questions and showing examples of funerals handled in the past.
3. Consider a Personalized Floral Spray
Clockwise from the left: 1. A flower spray created for a bicycle enthusiast (shared viaElemental Cremation and Burial in Seattle, WA) 2. A golfer’s floral spray (shared viaOwens Funeral Home-Jeffersonton). 3. A flower arrangement for a violinist (shared viaOwens Funeral Home-Jeffersonton). 4. A flower spray with fishing bobbers for an avid fisherman (shared via Mary’s Flowers in St. Peter, MN). 5. A cowboy-themed flower arrangement (shared via Owens Funeral Home-Jeffersonton).
Many people find peace from the sight and smell of flowers, so it’s no wonder that funeral flowers have long been a symbol for mourning and sympathy. In fact, archeologists have recently discovered that ancient people were incorporating flowers into their farewell rituals as far back as 62,000 years ago. When selecting floral sprays for a service, families will often turn to the expertise of funeral professionals. Most directors work closely with a local florist in their area or have an in-house florist that can design custom sprays. For families who lost someone that had a specific talent or hobby, it is sometimes possible to incorporate their favorite pastime into the flower spray. The examples above show how families, florists and funeral homes have gone above and beyond to personalize a service with funeral flowers.
4. Invite Guests to Take an Item Home
Clockwise from the left: 1. Bags of seeds given out during the service for a woman who loved gardening. 2. A tealight candle gift reminds guests to light a candle in remembrance of the departed. 3. A small charm and personalized sentiment is given to guests at a young woman’s funeral. 4. “In Loving Memory” stones provide a small token that loved ones can keep close.
After a passing, family members seek out ways to keep the memory of the deceased person alive. This is a natural part of the healing process. One idea that can provide comfort is to think of a gift that can be given to guests attending the service. Directors will often remind families that this option exists and help facilitate the distribution of gifts during the wake or funeral. While some choose to give something living such as a plant or seedlings, others opt for a symbolic token that can be kept as a keepsake. Both options allow families to bestow a lasting reminder of their loved one’s life.
5. Think Outside the Box
Clockwise from the left: 1. The staff at Girdner Funeral Chapel in Yreka, CA worked with the Lego Corporation to design, build and transport this incredible custom Lego casket for a 10-year-old boy. 2. Instead of using flower petals or sand, the director at Legacy Life Events Center in Edinburg, TX suggested that Band Aids be used to commemorate the life of a nurse who passed away. 3. A custom sports casket given to a diehard Phillies fan whose service was handled by McGuinness Funeral Home in Sewell, NJ. Instead of a register book, family and friends were invited to autograph home plate. 4. As a tribute to his life’s work, friends decorated the coffin of Charlie Hebdo slain cartoonist, Bernard Verlhac, for his funeral in France.
Some of the most creative examples we have seen of funeral personalization stems from the creation of unique caskets. The examples above illustrate how funeral homes have been able to accommodate the special requests of families. While a large majority of families may opt for a traditional casket model or for cremation, directors are there to listen and to offer every option. Families that want personalization appreciate funeral homes that are able to think outside of the box and come up with some incredible ideas for customizing a casket.
6. Ask Guests To Share a Memory
Clockwise from the left: 1. At a funeral service held by Coyle Funeral Home in Toledo, OH, guests were invited to write down a memory on a stone to be placed in a vase for the family. 2 & 3. Memory jars on display at a funeral. 4. A memory tree.
Most funerals today include a book where guests can write their name. This gives families a record of everyone who attended the service. In addition to the traditional guest book, some funerals today now include a space where guests can share a remembrance or detailed condolence. Attendants can write their thoughts down on a piece of paper for families to keep in a scrapbook or jar. Other services include memory stones or a large photo board that guests can inscribe. This allows everyone attending to feel more involved with the service and provides families with an enduring tribute to their loved one.
7. Create a Permanent Memorial using Funeral Flowers
Clockwise from the left: 1. A heart designed with pressed flowers. 2. A Christmas ornament ball filled with flowers from a funeral service. 3. Beautiful, handmade beads made with flowers. 4. A shadow box for that includes personal trinkets as well as flowers from the funeral service.
Funeral directors often offer an aftercare program to continue assisting families even after their relative’s funeral has taken place. From holding informative seminars to fun field trips, these programs support families that funeral home has served in the past. One of the ways funeral homes help families heal is by educating them about the different ways they can preserve flowers from their loved one’s service. Flowers can be turned into jewelry, Christmas ornaments, and other personalized keepsakes. For families that find it difficult to dispose of flowers after a funeral service, crafting these memorial items can be incredibly cathartic.
8. Use Clothing to Stitch Treasured Keepsakes
Clockwise from the left: 1. A personalized pillow made from a shirt. 2. A Teddy Bear made from clothing and photographs. 3. A quilt stitched together with pieces of clothing.4. Another example of a shirt transformed into a pillow.
In addition to creating items with funeral flowers, many families find solace by transforming clothing from their deceased loved one into comforting keepsakes. From blankets to pillows to teddy bears, these items provide consolation by giving relatives something that can be held and hugged. While some families will stitch these on their own, others turn to the funeral home for their advice and recommendations. Most directors can connect families to person or company who can help them with these needs.
What are some ways you have helped a family to personalize a funeral service?
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