Personalizing a funeral can be a beautiful and meaningful way to honor the life of a loved one. Here are five ways to personalize a funeral, with examples from my husband’s recent funeral in May. His name was David Bleicher, and he died unexpectedly at the age of 71. You can read more about him here.
Customize the ceremony:
Tailor the funeral ceremony to reflect the personality, interests, and values of the deceased. Consider incorporating their favorite music, readings, or poems. You could also include rituals or customs that held significance to them, such as religious or cultural traditions.
Dave and I are Jewish, and we followed Jewish funeral traditions. The rabbi and cantor at our synagogue conducted the service, followed by burial in our congregation’s cemetery. One key element that customized the funeral to Dave was the casket. He had selected a wicker basket casket, which is both biodegradable in the Jewish tradition and reflective that he did the laundry in our family. Attendees were impressed with the simplicity and natural beauty of the casket.
I added readings from The Lord of the Rings, a favorite of Dave’s, and You Want a Physicist to Speak at Your Funeral, which resonates with people who aren’t religious. The closing music at the end was “I’ll Fly Away,” the version from the film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? Dave was a film buff, and he loved that movie.
Display personal mementos:
Create a display or memory table showcasing items that were important to the deceased. This could include photographs, artwork, awards, hobbies, or sentimental objects that symbolize their life and passions. It helps to create a visual representation of their unique story.
You can set up a memory table at the funeral or afterward at home. I set up a display in the dining room and kept it in place for two months. I included report cards, school photos and artwork from childhood, examples and awards from his career as an illustrator and graphic designer, mementos from his time as a high school teacher, and his passion for the youth development organization Talking Talons. The display also included many family photos.
Share stories and memories:
Encourage family and friends to share stories, memories, and anecdotes about the deceased during the funeral service. This can be done through speeches, eulogies, or open mic sessions. Hearing personal stories from different perspectives can provide comfort, laughter, and a deeper understanding of the person’s life.
While we did not have additional stories shared at the funeral, we did during the shiva services at home. In the Jewish tradition, those closest to the deceased retreat into the home and receive the support of their community for seven days. I did two nights of shiva services. After a brief prayer service, we shared stories about Dave, both with the people in the room and those who joined in from other locations by Zoom.
Choose a unique location:
Consider holding the funeral in a location that holds significance to the deceased or their family. It could be a favorite park, a beach, a garden, or even their own home. A non-traditional venue can create a more personal and intimate atmosphere, making the funeral feel more connected to the individual being honored.
While we had the funeral at the synagogue, the shiva at home extended the observances and personalized them. At the end of the seven days of shiva, there’s a tradition of walking around the block with your friends, to show a gradual re-emergence into society. On the seventh day, I walked around the park near my house with a small group of friends. One friend took a picture of the group, walking toward the setting sun. In my shadow, there’s a blue dot of light. I interpret it to be Dave’s spirit following me.
Personalized mementos or favors:
Offer attendees a keepsake that reflects the life of the deceased. This could be something as simple as personalized bookmarks with a favorite quote or a small packet of flower seeds to plant in memory. These mementos serve as a reminder of the person’s life and can provide comfort and support to those attending the funeral.
I didn’t do this for Dave but have at other funerals where I’ve been the celebrant. For example, I gave out packets of peanuts for a man whose passion was hiking and making homemade peanut butter for his daughters. After an author died, there were multiple copies of one of her books in the garage. The family brought her books and gave them out at her funeral, and cleared the garage in the process.
Remember, personalizing a funeral is all about celebrating the unique life and legacy of the person who has passed away. It’s an opportunity to create a meaningful and personalized experience that honors their memory and brings comfort to those in mourning.
I personalized Dave’s funeral in many ways, and that does bring me comfort.
Gail Rubin, Certified Thanatologist and The Doyenne of Death®, is an award-winning speaker, author, podcaster, and coordinator of the Before I Die New Mexico Festival (www.BeforeIDieFestivals.com). She is also a Certified Funeral Celebrant. Her four books on planning ahead for end-of-life issues – A Good Goodbye, Kicking the Bucket List, Hail and Farewell, and Before I Die Festival in a Box™ – are available through Amazon and her website, www.AGoodGoodbye.com.
Academy Guest Blogger
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128
- Transforming Holiday Gifting into a Journey of Simplification - November 23, 2023
- Family Photos - September 28, 2023
- Tips For Widows/Widowers - August 31, 2023