How to Make a Funeral Service Meaningful

By: Kate Nypaver
Wednesday, May 15, 2019

 Memorial services are often held to facilitate closure, to honor the deceased, and to provide an appropriate place for people to grieve. Personalizing the service will create a deeper significance and lasting memories, making the experience more meaningful to you.

We’ve compiled a list of ways to adjust a funeral service so that it reflects your loved one and the memories you’d like to keep.

Music strongly triggers memories, and it can be used both to represent someone (by playing your loved one’s favorite music), or stand as a memento for later (by playing something that will always remind you of your loved one). For example, my dad likes Pink Floyd, and I know at his service I’ll have to play “Wish You Were Here.” Will I cry like a child? Absolutely. But it will be more fitting than stock music you’d never catch him playing. And it’s easy nowadays, because Spotify and other streaming services have pre-made funeral playlists you can skim for ideas.

Videos revitalize memories in a way nothing else can. Right now, incorporating saved Snapchat videos is popular, because they’re short in length and serve a quick point. You get the chance to hear your loved one’s voice and see them again. You can also utilize a picture slideshow, which can be played during a visitation or incorporated into the service for everyone to experience together.

I call this next one “nesting” because you can set up the chapel or service area with items from your loved one’s life. Take, for example, the funeral we had for Christine. She was an amazing artist, so her kids set up tons of her paintings for all to enjoy. Elizabeth was an avid hiker, so her daughters created a beautiful hiking display with mums, her hiking stick adorned with several medals, and her favorite outdoor gear. And Ruth had a vast collection of marvelous hats, so one of our directors orchestrated an elaborate display of photos, incorporating some of the hats and hat boxes. This personalization is fairly easy to accomplish, and you can set out as much or as little as you’d like.

The service itself will hold some spoken content, and if you don’t know someone who can narrate a meaningful service that incorporates your loved one and the message you’d like to send, you might run into some problems. Some funeral homes employ a funeral celebrant, who can meet with you and your family, get to know your loved one, and stand up to tell their story. Check with your funeral home to see if they offer a celebrant, or another way to personalize the eulogy.

Opening the floor for guests to offer their memories and anecdotes often leads to tears and laughter. Just know that some folks might have a lot to share, so try to be flexible with time.

Take-away gifts are not necessary, but they always seem to leave a lasting impression. We had a funeral for a woman who made hundreds of Faberge eggs in her lifetime, so her niece brought them to the service and asked that everyone take one home. Another family set out bowls of Werther’s candy, because Grandpa always had some in his pocket. This small act serves as a wonderful way to memorialize someone’s habits, to give back to those who came to offer sympathy, and to find joy in an otherwise somber situation.

I don’t usually advise balloon releases after services due to the negative impacts on the environment, but paper lanterns are a great alternative, along with bubbles and butterflies. This graceful ending to a service can be so heartfelt, and it’s a fun thing to do if kids are involved.

But note that grief does take energy, and assembling a service is hard work. You can always keep things as simple as you’d like. Don’t feel pressured to make the funeral service a social gathering that the neighborhood will talk about for weeks—it’s about healing and closure. Lean on your support system for help, decide what you can do and what might be too much, and talk with your funeral director. They should help out as much as they can.

And remember, there is no shame in simply wanting a “stock service.” Some people would rather have something quick and effortless, and that’s fine too. You can personalize as much or as little as you’d like.   

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