An Inside Look of content from our book:
Heartfelt Memorial Services:
Your Guide for Planning Meaningful Funerals, Celebrations of Life and Times of Remembrance
Authors Dave Savage and Beverly Molander
We all dread making decisions, especially when we don’t think we have satisfactory answers or options. This is particularly true when it comes to dealing with the tough issues that surround your loved one’s end-of-life journey or unexpected death.
Out of that grief and anxiety comes confusion and lack of direction. Heartfelt Memorial Services provides immediate help for making decisions and taking action during such a poignant time. You will also find ideas, resources and advice for making any time of care- giving more significant for your family and your loved one.
You can create heartfelt memorial services or ceremonies any time. Family and friends can gather before their loved one dies; after the death for a funeral or memorial service; or long after the death in a meaningful time of remembrance.
The decline and death of a loved one can be the most stressful time we will go through in our lives. While we will certainly go through a grieving process with each loss, grief can sometimes be deepened by regret. Regret that we didn’t take advantage of the time we had left. Regret that we could have handled something differently. Regret that we could have honored our loved one better. Lost opportunities turn into regret. Regret turns into grieving for what could have been.
Heartfelt Memorial Services provides value to families and individuals who:
• need an immediate resource to plan a funeral or memorial service.
• are anticipating and preparing for the death of a loved one.
• want to have “The Conversation” with their elders about end-of-life choices and options.
• are looking for ways to bring together friends and family with a sense of unity and integrity, even when different belief systems may appear to be a stumbling block.
• would like to plan a touching time of remembrance or ceremony after a loved one has died.
• want to create an inspiring celebration-of-life / tribute gathering in honor of a friend while the person is still there to enjoy it.
• wish to ease the burden on the family by planning for your own eventual death.
Finding Compromise when Opinions Differ
When religious and nonreligious preferences differ, find some middle ground that allows everyone to contribute. There may be differing beliefs around religion and spirituality, between the generations, and even among living family members within the same generation. Consider compromise.
The service is meant to be as inclusive as possible, meeting the emotional needs of those who attend. There are several ways to include a reading or hymn that would satisfy a sense of belonging to a family member with a unique point of view. If you include something from another religious or cultural tradition, explain its significance. For example, “We’re including Aunt Emily’s favorite hymn because it meant so much to her.” Those attending the service do not have to share the aunt’s beliefs in order to honor her in this way.
To honor those who are present, the reader could say something such as “For Tim’s parents and all of their friends from Greenside Church who are here today…” or “The following poem was one that Tim carried in his wallet…” Offering such brief words of explanation can put mourners at ease and contribute to a service where participants both maintain the integrity of their own beliefs while honoring the beliefs of others. It also encourages people of other faith traditions and nonbelievers to more fully participate in singing religious songs, if they are doing it to be supportive of a grieving family member.
As an example, friends of Dave’s had a Jewish identity but were not religious. When their father died, their more conservative mother had certain ideas about how the service and the burial should proceed; however, she was not capable of making the plans herself. The children met with a rabbi and researched online to learn about mourning traditions. They discussed with their mother which traditions were most important to her. They added integrity to the service by announcing that certain parts of the service were being done to honor their mother.
Sample Order of a Service
1. Background music as people gather and mingle
2. Seating of guests
3. Opening music that signals the beginning of the service
4. For Memorial Service: processional of family members and close friends
5. For Funeral Service: processional of family or military honor guard with the casket or urn
6. Welcome by the officiant, clergy, or service leader
7. Recognition of family members and close significant others by name and relationship (Take care not to omit someone, even if they are not in attendance; and make sure names are pronounced correctly. For instance, a caregiver of many years may need to be acknowledged. Decide in advance who else in the audience you should also recognize by name, position, or connection to the deceased individual.)
8. Reading or music for transition into the rest of the service
9. Readings by friends or family members
10. Music or song
11. Guided meditation, moments of reflection, or prayer
12. Responsive reading
14. Silent meditation or reflection (Announce the length in advance and conclude the silence with a soft transitional sound such as a bell or the fade-in of a recorded or live song.)
15. Music or special song
16. Remembrances (including the reading of remembrances from those who could not attend)
17. If donations are requested for a special charity, have a spokesperson speak about why it is important to the deceased or the family and how the money will be used. The organization will raise more money if it is going toward a specific achievable goal rather than simply the general fund.
18. Parting words, blessing, or benediction
19. Invitation to reception, last gesture of farewell, and instruction on what follows the service (The officiant might remind the audience that the family will need support for a long time. They can mention that a hug, listening ear, visit, phone call, or some offer of support in the future will provide comfort in the weeks and months to come. Writing a note to express appreciation and remembrance of the deceased will also be a comfort to family members.)
20. Recessional (family exits first at the signal from the officiant)
21. Recessional music plays and continues for socializing time
22. The receiving line
5 of 40+ Readings in the book
We come together from the diversity of our grieving,
to gather in the warmth of this community,
giving stubborn witness to our belief that in times of sadness,
there is room for laughter.
In times of darkness, there always will be light.
May we hold fast to the conviction that what we do with our lives matters
and that a caring world is possible after all.
~ Maureen Killoran, Unitarian Universalist minister
Litany of Remembrance
This responsive reading can be adapted for individualized phrases or number of participants.
The celebrant or others could read the (One) refrain individually.
(One) In the rising and the setting of the sun
(All) We remember NAME
(One) In the blowing wind and the chill of the winter
(All) We remember NAME
(One) In the opening of the buds and the rebirth of spring
(All) We remember NAME
(One) In the clear blue skies and the warmth of summer
(All) We remember NAME
(One) In the rustling of the golden leaves of autumn
(All) We remember NAME
(One) When we have joys and yearn to share
(All) We remember NAME
(One) When we are weary and in need of strength
(All) We remember NAME
(One) So long as we live, he, too, shall live, for he is a part of us.
(All) We remember NAME
(One) In these, and in many other ways, we remember him.
~ Traditional Jewish mourning reading, adapted
Feel No Guilt in Laughter;
Feel no guilt in laughter; he’d know how much you care.
Feel no sorrow in a smile that he is not here to share.
You cannot grieve forever; he would not want you to.
He’d hope that you could carry on the way you always do.
So, talk about the good times and the way you showed you cared,
The days you spent together, all the happiness you shared.
For if you keep those moments, you will never be apart
And he will live forever locked safely within your heart.
Let the Memories Surround You
As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on… in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here… death ends a life, not a relationship.
~ Mitch Albom, quoting Morrie Schwartz in Tuesday’s with Morrie, 1997, MitchAlbom.com
Note: Watch an inspirational and moving, 23-minute video from Mitch about Morrie and what he learned from him at MitchAlbom.com/d/film/3729/tuesdays-morrie. Mitch shares many “Morrieisms” you may want to share and learn from.
New beginnings bring to mind old and recent endings. We owe much to the past and to those who embodied it. Parents and grandparents, children and siblings, teachers and shapers, friends and loved ones – all these, living and dead, add their touch to the person we have become.
To the living, we turn in gratitude and love, extending arms of friendship, offering them renewed love. To the dead, we turn in memory, affirming their lives with the fullness of our own.
Here are some ways to make your music more effective:
• Make sure that background music (as people gather or leave) is soft enough so that people don’t have to raise their voices to have a conversation.
• As people enter, play a favorite tune of the deceased or something that celebrated their ethnic or national identity.
• With hymns or secular songs, usually a one- to two-minute version will suffice. Using all seven stanzas of a song can lengthen the service and dampen the mood. Pick the stanzas that have the most meaning for you.
• Religious hymns may be comforting to some and inappropriate to others. Choosing instrumental versions, particularly of religious hymns, is a way to reach a compromise on different belief traditions.
• Upbeat music can work at a service, especially if it is labeled to represent the deceased person’s favorite music or her way of looking at the world. We’ve seen dance music played, and everyone was encouraged to dance because that was reflective of the loved one’s personality and desire.
• Sometimes songs can be sung in unison. Asking the group to stand as they sing can also serve as a time to stretch. We were at a religious service where there were obviously different tempos to sing the song among the guests. The minister sang softly because he could not carry a tune. He was not mouthing the words so people could follow his lead. Soon after the start of the five-stanza song, it became apparent that a song leader voice was needed. An experienced song leader is especially beneficial when the song is not well-known by many of the guests.
• Some songs have lyrics that connect us as a community of friends. For this type of song, you might ask people to hold hands as they stand and sing. In a small group, the facilitator might initiate a swaying motion to add a physicality and stronger remembrance to the experience, especially with folk songs.
• Some people have many songs that are important or nostalgic for them or that we remember them by. Each time we hear one of the songs, we conjure up an image or movie in our heads that puts a smile on our face and occasionally a tear. In such a case you might include a list of these songs in the program. This list of songs can also be sent out with thank-you notes. “Remember Bob when you hear these songs that meant so much to him,” you might write.
• As with readings, some songs are difficult to comprehend if the words are not clearly pronounced. Add song lyrics to the program or inserted sheet, or change the words for more suitable meaning. If you are using a recorded song, look for a performance where the words are more easily understood.
14 of 60+ song and music suggestions for universal audiences
The songs labeled with an asterisk * are at Beverly’s comfort level, but not Dave’s
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life – Monty Python
Affirmation – Savage Garden
Amazing Grace *
Angel – Sarah McLachlan *
Angel of Love – Cecilia, Inner Harmony album *
Angels – Robbie Williams *
Arms Wide Open – Creed
Baby of Mine – Bette Midler
Beautiful Boy – John Lennon
Because You Loved Me – Celine Dion
Borrowed Angels – Kristin Chenoweth *
Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel
Bright Eyes – Art Garfunkel
Butterfly Kisses – Bob Carlisle
Consider a table filled with pictures and memorabilia. Some attendees may only know a small portion of the life of the deceased, so this is a good way to paint a broader picture. Here are some suggestions:
• Use items that tell a story. Newspaper articles or letters of commendation? Group pictures from vacations? Hockey fanatic? Master gardener? If space and logistics allow you can include things like a surfboard, saddle, or motorcycle.
• Ask guests to leave pictures and mementos for the family. Make sure to mention this well in advance so guests will have time to gather their items to bring. Label items for significance (e.g., “The Green and Johnson Families, Adirondacks circa 1972”). These items can later be gifted to the family and compiled in the book. Or guests may decide to take them home after the gathering. Friends and relatives will likely have interesting pictures that you and others have never seen.
• Children can draw pictures of their recollections of their grandpa to be displayed at the reception.
• Create a video slideshow of pictures. The show can be running as people enter the lobby before the service or at the reception. This requires forethought, so gather pictures well in advance. You might want to assign this project to a tech-savvy teen to help get them involved in their family history. For a slideshow of pictures, consider adding descriptive titles, sharing details like who, what, where, and when.
Considerations when Planning the Reception
• How many attendees?
• Will most be standing or sitting? (This may depend on the age and ability of those who attended the memorial service.)
• What tone do you want to set?
• Do you want to maintain a solemn atmosphere through the reception? Or is it time to lighten up the mood, perhaps with the sing-along group the deceased belonged to for 30 years?
• How long do you anticipate people staying?
• Are there enough plates, forks, cups, and napkins? Where are the trashcans and trash bags?
• Do you want to include a table with pictures and mementos of the loved one? You may need to arrange to have someone move them from the memorial service space.
• Do you really want to serve alcohol? This decision could be asking for trouble. The sad can get sadder at a funeral, or those with a grudge against a family member may get belligerent. Consider who will be coming to your memorial service prior to making a decision on alcohol.
• A pianist, singer, or group of musicians, who may have been not-so-appropriate to enlist for the service, can add just the right touch as family and friends make the transition from mourning back into the real world during an after-service reception. Keep the music volume low enough for conversation to be heard.
• The reception is a good opportunity for people to share their anecdotes about the deceased in a more relaxed, less formal environment. Arrange in advance for someone to be the master of ceremonies.
• Do you need a sound system for music or shared remembrances?
• In a congregation, a care committee may take over the providing and serving of food.
• A catered event eases the burden on the family if it fits within your budget.
• Small groups may choose to meet at a restaurant to rest, relax, and remember after the taxing ceremony. Chinese restaurants usually have large round tables that make it easier to talk to everyone at the table.
• There may be more people who wish to share remembrances than time could be allotted for at the ceremony. Arrange for a microphone to be available at your reception or gathering after the service. If you had the service recorded, record this portion as well. It may well have significance for the family for years to come.
• If the reception is going to be held in a home, see our “Using Volunteers” section so that it can be run more smoothly.
“What Can I Do to Help?” Using Volunteers
Delegating Before, During and After the Service
You can’t do everything yourself and others want to help, so give them that opportunity and make it easier on yourself. After all, you are giving a gift to others when you permit them to give a gift of service to you. You may be reluctant to ask for help, but for many people it is an honor to participate. They may genuinely prefer to do something useful rather than simply sit around.
Recruit a home guardian and other trusted backups. Who is going to guard the family possessions?
When one man’s mother died, as her children were starting to straighten up and distribute her belongings, distant relatives opened the door, walked in, and started to pick up and pack belongings they claimed were rightfully theirs. The immediate family was too stunned to object, but this incident created a family chasm that is still difficult to cross.
If the reception after the service is in the home of the deceased, some visitors have been known to rifle through the jewelry box or linen closet. Valuable or sentimental items can disappear. Limit access to parts of the house you consider to be private.
The “No-Travel” Ceremony
This may hit the spot with some families and friends. Everyone can stay where they are while paying homage to the one they have lost. Here are some possibilities for a memorial service that does not require travel to a distant location:
• Hold a gathering on Skype or other video conversation / sharing sites, where family members from anywhere in the world can call in to share their thoughts and feelings of the one they have lost. Go to TimeAndDate.com/world clock to ensure that everyone knows when the gathering will begin and end. One person should be the organizer and keep things flowing. This is a good time to share remembrances or favorite readings.
• Create a compilation CD or DVD of photos, video, or music that can be posted on YouTube, Vimeo, or one of many tribute websites. There are memorial tribute websites, some even offered by mortuaries or funeral homes that enable families to post biographical information about their loved one and share their remembrances. Search for “memorial tributes websites” for an extensive list.
• Have a dinner party. Plan for everyone (wherever they are) to eat Uncle Bob’s favorite food on Friday night. (Pepperoni pizza? Chocolate chip cookies?)
• Buy fresh flowers or find a picture of Aunt Clara’s favorite flower.
• Watch a favorite movie that can be accessed via website or viewed on Netflix.
• Send a CD of favorite music selections to be listened to at the same time.
• Share remembrances that loved ones have written, either by mail or e-mail.
Consider having each of the participants do the same things at the same time or at least on the same day. Although this certainly isn’t required, it’s a bit more meaningful if you know that other friends and relatives are honoring your loved one in the same way and at the same time.
How Children Can Participate
Some of these suggestions have been covered in other chapters, but they bear repeating in this list:
• Invite related children to share a remembrance at the appropriate time. Let them practice what they are going to say so they will feel more comfortable when the time comes to talk. Have a microphone adjusted for their height or have something for them to stand on to reach the microphone. Show them how to use the microphone properly.
• Depending on their age and maturity, each can give their name and relationship to the deceased or the oldest can introduce each member of a group. Each one can share just one or two things they loved or remember about the deceased. It may be a good idea to have them bring something to read that an adult helped them to write.
• Staff a welcome table with older kids who know most of the family.
• A “Love Flag” can be created and used in a memorial service where there is a casket or has been a cremation. When the Love Flag has been put into the display case, there will be space behind it to store the remains in a decorative bag. In order to have the flag fold up into a triangle and fit properly into a standard display case, the fabric should be cut into a 32-inch by 68-inch size. See our website for other details.
• In a home funeral situation, or when a fiberboard or plain wooden box is made by friends or purchased in advance, children and adults can write and draw directly on the casket as a part of a more intimate service by a small group.
• Usher guests to their seats.
• Decorate the ceremonial space.
• Sit with and support younger children.
• Where appropriate, have a child sit with an elderly family member, holding her hand for emotional support.
• Share a reading or remembrance as a group, each reading or remembering a small part. Practice and have a plan to assist or take over if emotions require it. (You may be tempted to jump in right away to rescue the child from embarrassment, but it may simply help to give them a few minutes to regain their composure and move on.)
• Have an older child or teen read or share a remembrance independently.
• Discuss in advance what the child would like for you to do if they become overwhelmed with emotion. You could also have the child write what they would like to share and have someone else read it while standing next to them.
• Help with the reception and food setup.
• Play an instrument or sing as part of a group.
• Help direct car parking before the service.
• Individually, or as a group, have children and teens create a display board that can include notes, poems, family pictures, artwork, or memorabilia.
• Help select what the deceased will wear in the casket.
• Help select the music for the service.
• Offer tissues from a box or travel packs, before the service starts
Conversations and Activities During the Last Days
The dying process can begin long before the actual death occurs, and the grieving can go on long after. Pulitzer Prize winner Ellen Goodman has written The Conversation Project about the importance of having a real conversation about end-of-life wishes for yourself and others. Goodman says that the conversation is a gift that caregivers, parents, and children can give to each other.
In her book, Goodman reports that more than half of all Americans have not communicated anything about their death to those they love. This oversight places a heavy burden of decision-making on those left behind after a loved one dies. Some of the most important conversations can take place well before the end is near. Since we never know how or when the end will come, it is best to talk about the dying process and death itself well in advance, even when we are healthy. After all, most of us don’t plan to die at a particular time, so the sooner we talk about it the better.
Such conversations can be tricky. What to say? When and how to bring up the subject of death and dying? What should be talked about? No matter when you have the conversation, it will help your family make important decisions.
If possible, record the conversation and take notes to avoid confusion or misunderstandings with family caregivers and decision-makers. We have included ideas and activities that can be useful to you and your family in the lists below.
Questions to Stimulate Important Conversations
• Who do you want with you in your last days and hours?
• Which of your family and “friends” do you not want to be with you in your last days and hours?
• Are there things that you would like to say to particular people before you die? (love, forgiveness, regrets, etc.)
• Are there things left for you to do before you say, “I’m ready to die”?
• What guidelines should we have for medicating you for pain relief? What level of pain are you willing to endure in order to stay alert? If you are unable to talk, what signal can we use so we know when you have endured enough and want additional or no additional medication?
• Is there an occasion or situation that you want to be a part of before you let go of your life? Hospitals and hospices often report that people will rally to see someone in particular or to find out who was elected president.
• Are there religious or spiritual rites or rituals you want performed with or for you? Who would you like to do them?
• What extra measures should be used to keep you alive if you are awake, aware, or in a coma?
• What are financial considerations related to your care? Do you approve that your care providers can spend every cent you have or put family into long-term debt to keep you alive a little longer? Are you concerned that the money spent during your last days would be better spent going to the grandchildren’s college funds?
• Where are the papers that give the care providers instructions on whether to extend your life or let you go (for instance, DNR – Do Not Resuscitate, Durable Power of Attorney)?
Recording Family Personalities and Stories as a Legacy
When families are gathered, fond memories are usually shared; yet, so often, those stories are relegated to memory only. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a video is worth a thousand pictures. If you are considering recording, don’t put it off. Recording family personalities and stories provides a priceless legacy and there may not be another opportunity due to mental or physical decline or even death.
Weddings, graduations, memorial services, and other lifecycle events are in essence family reunions around a special occasion Take advantage of planned and unplanned gatherings to set aside intentional time to share and record the fond memories of and about your loved ones. This is a priceless gift to your immediate and extended family to pass on the history, personal anecdotes, and personality of family members at this point in time.
Plan a Meaningful Celebration of Life Party
Dave’s 80-something mom has admonished the family for years by saying, “I don’t care what you do about me when I die. Come and see me now, while I am able to enjoy the visit. Tell me what you want to say to my face. I won’t hear you when I’m gone.” While Dave’s mom is talking about a visit, let’s take the thought a step further.
While Your Friend is Still Here to Enjoy It
A friend who had been told he didn’t have much longer to live said, “I don’t want a funeral, I want a party!” What would that party look like if we knew that our friend would soon be gone? Think in terms of the old TV shows “This is Your Life” or the Friars Club roasts where celebrities made fun of and saluted each other. (You can see some of these shows on YouTube.) It’s time for a Celebration-of-Life party!
Friends of Chris Daley did just that. Diagnosed with a terminal illness and opting not to go through more treatment that would only delay the inevitable, Chris agreed to let her husband and friends put on a party of a lifetime… just for her. The place was packed. It was a potluck dinner, with friends coming early and staying late. There was a slide show, a table of photos, remembrances of friends from every phase of her life, music, dance, and a speech of appreciation from Chris to her family and friends. Many attended the local Center for Spiritual Living, so there were plenty of like-minded souls on hand to celebrate her life, not just grieve for her upcoming death.
A celebration-of-life party does not take the place of a funeral or memorial service that honors and acknowledges your loved one’s passing. We have included details about those kinds of ceremonies in other parts of the book.
Remembering You:- Many Times and in Many Ways
Times of remembrance come to us many times throughout the year, no matter how long it’s been since your loved one has been gone. Time has no relevance. Consider the seventieth anniversary reunion of the Allied Forces on the Banks of Normandy in 2014. Many gathered with their families to share stories, laugh, mourn, and still cry for friends who died and those who are still missing. Have your own moments of remembrance any time you wish.
Take advantage of the following opportunities:
• Locations you are thinking about visiting
• Music around you
• Foods you are smelling or tasting
You are likely to hear comments like this:
• Jimmy would have loved this.
• Grandpa loved this home place.
• Mom’s birthday is this week.
• It’s our first Christmas without Dad.
• This kitchen smells like Grandma.
• Ginny always loved red roses.
• This is my first birthday without her.
• It’s Memorial Day and I’ll never forget my buddies who never came home.
We can take these times to remember our loved ones in a more meaningful way. Days or decades are the same when it comes to missing your child or your mom.
When we attended a Death Cafe event (DeathCafe.com), a woman shared that she bought dozens of her deceased son’s favorite candy bars and gave them away to friends and strangers on the anniversary of his birthday. Friends may not have wanted to bring up the subject of his passing for fear of causing emotional pain, especially since he died a tragic death, but the fact that she was sharing gave them permission to talk about him and show that they cared.
You could even decide to print your loved one’s name or a special message on a give-away item to encourage openness and conversation about your loved one. Search the advertising of specialty or promotional products on the Internet to find an appropriate item that would suit your needs.
What Not to Say and What to Say
Relationships can be forever ruined when friends, family, or acquaintances make insensitive remarks to people who are going through terrible times. We suggest to say nothing, rather than spout something that can never be taken back.
What Not to Say to Someone Who is Dying
When someone is coming to the end of life, there is a tendency to want to put a Band-Aid on the situation to make it (you) feel better. We suggest that sugarcoating is a waste of precious time. Below are some statements where people are pretending that the end isn’t near. (In parenthesis is what the person dying might be thinking.)
• We’ll be back for a visit next week when Joey gets back from summer camp. (I won’t be alive then.)
• Now, you know that chocolate cupcake isn’t good for you. (I want to enjoy what I want while I still can.)
• Now finish up that soup – you have to get more vitamins. (I don’t like this soup and I resent your trying to make me eat it.)
• There’s a football game on… we can watch it together. (I would rather visit than waste precious time with TV.)
• I’m bringing your grandkids over for a visit. (They are way too loud and I am way too tired – please don’t.)
• Shouldn’t you be doing physical therapy? (My muscles don’t need to get stronger to die.)