Meaningful funerals do not just happen. They are well-thought-out rituals that, at least for a day or two, demand your time, focus and attention.
A personal philosophy I encourage you to adopt is that “I believe we should be thankful for being a part of these ceremonies and the relationship with the families they create.”
Like no other time before or after the death, the funeral invites us to focus on our past relationship with that one, single person and to share those memories with others. The planning process should not be a burden if you keep in mind that the energy you use now to create a personalized, inclusive ceremony will help everyone involved in the funeral process for years to come.
As pre-need representatives you will be in touch with families that have lost a loved one, relative or friend; remember, you will never be able to prevent the loss but you can help them by helping to eliminate the financial burden and the decisions and selections that have to be made on one of the worst days of their life. You will be able to help them make the time of remembrance and grief more bearable. Below is a list of Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s “Ten Freedoms for Creating a Meaningful Funeral.” They are reasons families thank service counselors for helping them create and pre-plan meaningful funerals:
Make use of ritual.
A funeral does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. It is a way for you and others who loved the person who died to say, “We mourn this death and we need each other during this painful time.” If others tell you that rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, take a moment to politely remind them that a funeral is for the family and friends left behind.
Plan a funeral that will meet the unique needs of your family.
While you may find comfort and meaning in traditional funeral ceremonies, you also have the right to create a ceremony that reflects the unique personality of your family. Don’t be afraid to add personal touches to even traditional Christian funerals.
Ask friends and family members to be involved in the funeral.
For many, funerals are most meaningful when they involve a variety of people who loved the person who died. You might ask others to give a reading, deliver the eulogy, play music or even help plan in the funeral process.
View the body before and during the funeral.
While viewing the body is not appropriate for all cultures and faiths, many people find it helps them acknowledge the reality of the death. It also provides a way to say goodbye to the person who died. There are many benefits to viewing and open casket ceremonies; don’t let others tell you this practice is morbid or wrong.
Embrace pain during the funeral.
The funeral may be one of the most painful but also the most therapeutic moments in a family’s life. Allow time to embrace pain and to express it openly. Do not be ashamed to cry. Find time for listeners who will accept feelings no matter who they are.
Plan a funeral that will reflect your spirituality.
If faith is a part of your life, the pre-planned funeral is an ideal time to help loved ones uphold and find comfort in that faith. Those with more secular spiritual orientations also have the freedom to plan a ceremony that meets their needs.
Search for meaning before, during and after the funeral.
When someone loved dies, you may find yourself questioning your faith and the very meaning of life and death. This is natural and in no way wrong. Don’t let others dismiss the search for meaning with responses such as, “It was God’s will” or “Think of what you still have to be thankful for.” Sometimes grief strengthens faith.
Make use of memory during the funeral.
Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. Use a memory board or table so that visitors will always remember. Ask those attending the funeral to share their most special memory.
You can be tolerant of your loved ones physical and emotional limits by planning ahead.
Immediately following a death the feelings of loss and sadness will leave families feeling fatigued. Everyone needs to eat balanced meals and get daily rest. By planning and paying ahead of time, your family won’t have to worry if they did the right things or not and won’t have to worry about where the money will come from or who pays what. They will have comfort in knowing it was the way you wanted it.
Help your loved ones move toward their grief and heal.
The funeral is an event; their grief is not. So often children do not want to think about their parent’s death and are encourage them not to even talk about it. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever. Your children do not want to choose your casket for you, or plan your funeral for you while you are alive but especially not after death. Loved ones can mourn with good memories if you have prepared ahead for them and will not have to remember the day they had to plan their parent’s funeral. Most of the time it is easier on the family and children to tell them what you want and how you have arranged your plans and how it will take that responsibility off of them. I have never heard anyone say after a funeral that they wish their parents had not pre-arranged.
This list is just a small sample of topics that create a meaningful funeral. Use them as guides to educate families on the funeral process. These thoughts can be shared with families during the pre-planning process and during the post-service follow-up. Always be mindful not to sound like you are trying to sell when you are following up with a family.
Remember the “friendly, helpful person from the funeral home” persona. Sharing useful information about funerals and grief opens the door for them to ask you questions about funeral pre-planning that most families will appreciate. Everyone who has gone through a funeral wishes it had been pre-planned because it could have made this time more bearable for the family.