"If there ever comes a day when we can not be together, keep me in your heart, I'll stay there forever." - Winnie the Pooh -
Planning the Ceremony
When planning a funeral there are so many options and choices, but at the end of the day, the ceremony and celebration of their life should simply be an authentic and fitting tribute to the person who has died.
In general a ceremony will include, but is not limited to, the following elements:
Below you will find some information of on each of these areas, along with ideas and downloadable documents where indicated, that may assist you with making these choices.
“Music is a language that doesn’t speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions, and if it’s in the bones, it’s in the bones.” – Keith Richards.
Music can be, one of the most important and beautiful parts of the whole ceremony. When you leave that ceremony, you may not remember everything that was said, but you will remember the music that was played and the emotion that you felt when listening to the music.
There are many opportunities to use music throughout the ceremony and the following are some of the times I recommend that the family utilise some music that they have chosen, or perhaps the person who has died has already chosen for them:
- Opening the ceremony – this just gives everyone an opportunity to “land”. There is often a lot of emotion and energy exhausted in simply getting there on the day, so it can be nice to just let people sit for a moment and listen to a piece of music, before we begin to speak.
- Quiet Reflection – I’m a big fan of having a time for quiet reflection during the ceremony. This is a chance to put on a piece of music and just journey inwards. There’s nobody speaking, it’s just the music and your memories and a beautiful chance for you to say your own quiet goodbye.
- Photographic Slideshow Tribute – if you are putting together a photographic slideshow tribute, then usually you will include one or two songs to play as backing music for this.
- Laying of Petals/Flowers – this section of the ceremony usually comes towards the end and is a chance for people to come forward and lay petals or flowers on the coffin and say their final goodbyes. The number of people attending the funeral will determine how many songs you think you may need for this section.
- Closing the Ceremony – this is the final piece of music that is played either as the coffin is being carried out or as guests are asked to stand and leave the chapel or ceremony space.
If you’re not sure what sort of music the person liked, maybe check out their CD collection, or their playlist on their phone. Alternatively, think about the sort of music that you would like to hear, because at the end of the day, the music and the ceremony is for you.
When someone sits down to plan a funeral, one of the first questions that is raised is the question of the eulogy. Who will write it, and who will read it?
These days a eulogy can take many different forms and it doesn’t have to just be a factual account of the person’s life, in fact, it’s often much nicer if we pull back on the facts and simply talk about who the person was. It can be read by one person, or perhaps shared amongst several peopl, working chronologically through their life – so maybe a sibling can talk about growing up them as a child, a school friend could recount their time together at school. Similarly, if they went to uni, a uni friend could cover this aspect of their life. They may have someone from work who could speak about their contribution to their job or if they were involved in community groups, someone from that area of their life may want to speak.
Where possible, I will always encourage my families and their friends to speak, as this is always going to be the most heartfelt and personal account of the deceased’s life. However, for some families, this is just too difficult, and in these cases I will work closely with the family to gather the information required to put together the eulogy and speak on their behalf.
The following points and questions may help you get started:
- Date and place of birth.
- Their parent’s names and occupations.
- How many siblings did they have and where did they come in the birth order?
- Where did they grow up/live/attend school?
- What were they like as a child – interests, hobbies etc.?
- What was their work history?
- When and how did they meet their partner?
- Did they have any children?
- Any stories that can be shared with regards to holidays, travel, pets etc.
- Did they have any hobbies or interests, including community work?
- Do they have grandchildren/great grandchildren?
- What were their final years like?
- What are you going to miss most about them?
You can also download my “Guide to Writing the Eulogy” here, which may also assist you with putting together a beautiful eulogy for your loved one.
As a celebrant, I always encourage other speakers at the funeral. This may have already been covered by looking at who is doing the eulogy, however you can also include speakers who simply want to say some words of remembrance, or farewell, on the day. It could also be someone who may wish to read a poem or a verse, that they or the family have chosen for the funeral.
In addition to the planned speakers, there is also the option to ask on the day if there is anyone else who would like to come and say something. This is something that I would always ask my families if they are ok with first.
Often people don’t want to share their memories, as they are worried they will get too emotional, however they still feel like they would like to contribute to the ceremony in some way. Asking them to choose and read a poem or verse can be a great way to do this. Poems can be used at any point throughout the ceremony and I would usually wait until I see what the family have chosen before I decide where we will place it in the order of ceremony.
You may have a particular reading in mind, or the deceased may have even specified one that they wanted read. You will also find a large selection of readings that I have put together over the years by clicking here .
Many people use visual aids to honour the person who has passed away. A photo on the coffin or a large print on an easel are commonly used as a focal point. I suggest choosing a photo that really captures the essence of the person and on that makes you smile when you look at it.
In addition to the photograph, including pieces of memorabilia or things that remind you of them can also be a really nice touch. This may include their favourite fishing rod, a quilt they crafted, their war medals, a football or basketball, a favourite teddy etc. At the end of the day, it’s what ever you want to include that means something to you. These can be set up at the front with the coffin when you arrive, or you can have them brought forward at a certain point as part of the ceremony. Again, all this is completely up to you and what feels right for you and your family.
Depending on where you are holding the funeral, a beautiful inclusion during the ceremony is a photographic slideshow tribute. Choose a selection of photographs that span the person’s life. Try to include ones that will bring a smile to your face as you look at them, even though you may be crying at the time, and also ones that may include several of the people who will be at the funeral.
30-50 photos is a good place to start. The slideshow can be created by a family member or friend, or often your funeral directors will advise a local company that they recommend to put this together for you. If you are doing this yourself, make sure you check with the funeral home, or facility where you are holding the funeral, as to what format you need to supply the slideshow in, and I highly recommend going in ahead of time and testing it on their equipment, to ensure it will work properly on the day.
There are several rituals or acts of symbolism that can be included in a funeral. These can take several forms, including a lighting a candle to begin the ceremony, releasing doves or butterflies, words of farewell, or the placing of petals or flowers. If you think you’d like to include something like this please just let me know and we can discuss it in more detail and also decide on the appropriate place to include it within the ceremony.