Saying goodbye: how to plan a funeral service
Funerals are for the living. Although that may seem a statement of the obvious, it's an important fact to remember when planning a funeral. Nothing in the funeral will bring the deceased back to life or make grief disappear. What the funeral or memorial service can do, however, is allow mourners to begin healing by sharing their loss, expressing their feelings, and commemorating a unique and precious life.
A funeral service is distinguished from a memorial service by the presence or absence of the remains of the deceased. When the body is present, the service is known as a funeral; when the body is absent, the service is a memorial.
Either type of service is appropriate for a burial or a cremation. A funeral service may be held in a funeral parlor, a church, or in the family home, whereas a memorial service may be held anywhere.
The funeral or memorial is an opportunity for family and friends to reflect on the life and honor the memory of the deceased. Beyond what is prescribed by religious or cultural tradition, funerals can be as unique as the individuals they honor. The first step, then, in planning a funeral service is to determine whether or not the funeral will include a religious service.
Religious funeral services
In some religious funeral services, eulogies are not allowed. Rather, the clergy member who conducts the service will deliver a sermon focusing on religious beliefs surrounding death and life after death.
In such cases, it is entirely appropriate for a friend or family member of the deceased to deliver a eulogy following the religious ceremony. Time may also be set aside for individual guests to share their thoughts and memories of the deceased in their own mini-eulogies.
If you expect that some of the guests attending a religious funeral will not be of the same religious affiliation, be sure to offer a guide explaining the services.
Whether or not a funeral or memorial service is religious, there is ample opportunity to plan a unique service that is a fitting tribute to the deceased. For a religious ceremony, the clergy member who will be conducting the service can tell you which parts of the ritual can be personalized. For example, if the service calls for a reading from a sacred text, you may be able to choose the specific passage.
Personalizing the ceremony
If the funeral or memorial is not a religious service, however, you have the freedom to plan the service according to the desires of the deceased and the family. Although the service is not a religious rite, readings may include passages from sacred texts or favorite prayers. A favorite poem of the deceased may also be read, or a funeral poem may be chosen to express the feelings of the mourners.
Music is another important part of any ritual commemorating one of life's major events, whether religious or not. A thoughtful selection of funeral music will set the tone for the service and create enduring memories for the guests. For more information on selecting funeral music, see Sound of the soul: how to choose music for a funeral.
Visual art may also be employed in the funeral service, by displaying either works created or inspired by the deceased or photographs commemorating the life of the deceased.
Further sources of information
You may find our other articles in the Funerals: everything you need to know section helpful too.
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