Yesterday’s traditional funeral has become personalized and celebratory for many people. The emphasis is often more about the celebration of a life than the somber, predictable service of yesteryear. Today’s memorial service aims to pay tribute to a life. Through the use of photos, readings, stories, and music, a memorial service can be a time where people come together to remember all that which made a loved one unique. All details can be customized, from location, to music, to ritual, and more.
After a death, the logistics of all that needs attention can be incredibly overwhelming. It is an emotionally stressful time. Ideally, a loved one has expressed his or her wishes in writing, as far as how they would like to be memorialized. However, this is often not the case. Here are some helpful tips to transform this planning process from a stressful burden to a healing, beautiful practice that truly honors all that made your loved one unique.
Immediately after the passing of a loved one, you’ll need to decide on an appropriate date/time for the memorial service. It’s possible that many friends and relatives may need to travel from distant places. In this case, you’ll want to allow enough time for guests to arrange travel plans. It’s perfectly acceptable to plan a memorial service months later. Some people even wait for a year anniversary to do so. Alternatively, you might want to hold the service as soon as possible. In any case, it’s a good idea to recruit a small group of friends or family members (or a combination of the two) to help you with the planning. This relieves some of the work load, and also ensures that no details are forgotten.
After the date is determined, the next most important decision is location. If the memorial service is to be a formal affair, you’ll need to reserve a place, such as a religious venue, restaurant, or other site. If chairs and tables are necessary, this is a good time to reserve those from a rental company, or arrange to borrow from friends.
Many people hold a memorial service at a favorite outdoor location, such as a beach, garden, river, park, or home. In this case, will you need to arrange for shelter in case of inclement weather? Event rental companies rent tents of various sizes for this purpose. Will people bring chairs and blankets? Will rentals be needed to accommodate seating?
Equally important is the facilitator. Who will lead the service? Once that is decided, you’ll want to contact that person so that he/she can arrange the scheduling. That person can participate in the planning process, if appropriate.
The format will need to be determined next. If there are to be readings, prayers, or songs, they will need to be selected. At that time, you can delegate people to present each one. The facilitator might lead all of the ceremony. You might ask a friend or relative to present a reading or sing a song. Think about your loved one’s favorite sayings, poems, songs, stories. These selections will be the most meaningful additions because they truly represent and honor your loved one.
There is usually a table, or altar, that displays tributes to your loved one. The table can feature favorite photos, a painting of a favorite place, symbols of the interests or hobbies (such as a tennis racquet or guitar) objects that were created or crafted by the person, flowers, or anything that carries meaning around the memory of your loved one. If this person was cremated, this is the perfect spot for a decorative cremation urn.
Some people like to assemble a playlist of favorite music. Today’s digital recordings make it really easy to organize such a list. Just remember to rent or borrow the appropriate sound equipment.
Another popular way to memorialize someone is through photos. Again, this can be done digitally. A slideshow of images from early life to the end of life can be a very moving yet poignant tribute. Again, you’ll need to arrange to have audio/visual equipment there. It’s a good idea to designate one person to be in charge of displaying the images at that time. Music can be selected to accompany the visuals. The combination of music with photos creates a huge impact.
Someone will write and deliver the eulogy. This can also be shared among family members and friends. Both the writing and delivery of the eulogy are often an emotionally charged, but can be beautifully healing for all involved. If you feel that it would be too difficult to deliver the eulogy of your loved one, it’s important not to feel pressured into doing it. Someone close to you and your loved one will be perfectly honored to do so. This person can be a member of the immediate family, a more distant relative, or a close friend.
Many people include a segment of the service for friends and family to come forward and speak. The lineup of speakers can be planned ahead of time or not. Sometimes guests are moved to do so spontaneously. Alternatively, there can be several planned speakers and then an invitation for impromptu speakers. These are often wonderful ways to share in the stories of your loved one’s life. The sharing of stories can prompt shared tears, laughter, and memories of both happy and sad times.
It’s a good idea to have a guest register book for several reasons. Sometimes, the memorial service can be so overwhelming that it’s difficult to remember all of the guests in attendance. If you encourage guests to sign the book, you’ll make no mistake about it. Also, the messages, pictures, stories, and wishes that appear in the book become treasured mementos that provide comfort and solace to the family.
Most memorial services are followed by a reception. This is a time for people to share food and beverage, to socialize, and support each other through this trying time. The support of friends and family at this time is invaluable and important to the healing process.
While the idea of planning a memorial service can be overwhelming to some people, it can be done in an organized way in which the workload is shared. This provides for a very full and meaningful service and tribute to your loved one. There are also event planners who specialize in planning memorial services. If this is feasible, it’s a nice way to pass along the burden of logistics and details to a third party, if desired.