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Home > Articles > For Families > Planning a Funeral or Memorial Service

Planning a Funeral or Memorial Service

In the hours and days immediately after a loss, it seems as though there are hundreds of decisions to be made.  With so many legal and logistical arrangements to be worked out, it's easy to forget some of details of the funeral or memorial service itself.  In providing this list of questions, I hope to help you think through the sort of service you would like, so you can communicate that to the professionals who will help you through the next few days.

Local customs, your faith tradition, your pastor, or your funeral home may determine the answer to some of these questions.  However, if you have a specific request, most professionals will do their best to accomodate your desires.  Thinking through these questions ahead of time may help you communicate with the funeral director and clergy, so that they can best help you put together the service you envision.

  1. What is the schedule of events?  In our region of the country,  typically visiting hours occur the night before the funeral, and the graveside service follows immediately after the funeral.  However, I've seen many combinations of these events in different orders.  As you consider the schedule of family members, you might consider a different structure.  If finances are a complication, you may be able to save money by having the visiting hours on the same day as the funeral.
  2. Will the casket be open or closed?  A variety of factors play into this very personal decision.  Many people prefer the casket to be open during visiting hours, and closed for the service (and some faith traditions expect this as the norm).  Many people find it particularly difficult to be present when the casket is closed, so you should communicate with the funeral director and clergy in this regard.
  3. Will there be a gathering after the service?  These gatherings are helpful times for sharing memories in an informal setting, and gathering with loved ones that you may not have seen for a while.  Your funeral home may be able to help you find an appropriate venue, allowing you to have this gathering somewhere other than at your house.  Your minister can announce this, if you would like.
  4. What tone should the service take? Certainly a funeral is a sorrowful time as we deal with our grief and loss.  At the same time, the tone of the service ought to reflect the life of the person; and our faith in Jesus and resurrection hope gives us reason to celebrate the gift of life.  While a service will probably take on a tone of its own, communicate your desires to the clergy and funeral home staff.
  5. Is there a family member who would like to take part in the service?  Speak with your minister about this in the planning stages.  From special music to reading scripture to sharing a few words or a formal eulogy, there are many opportunities to take part.  No family member should feel pressured to participate, and it's helpful to have their words written down in case their emotions take over at the last minute.
  6. Would you like to have open sharing?  While this is a popular thing to do, consider the dynamic of your family and friends before making this decision.  It can be quite awkward if the minister opens the floor for sharing, and nobody speaks.  It's helpful if there are a couple of people who are prepared to share--one to begin the sharing time, and one to conclude the sharing time. 
  7. Will there be music?  You might consider playing a favorite song, immediately before the service begins, during the service, or as people are dismissed.  There might be someone who would sing during the service.  Or you might be able to have an organist who can lead a congregational hymn.
  8. Are there particular scriptures or poems you would like read at the service?  Bring these with you when you meet with the minister, and see if he or she would be open to including them in the service.
  9. Who will provide the eulogy?  Is there a family member who would like to do this?  A colleague or student who you might ask to prepare something?  Or will the minister prepare this portion of the service?  In any case, be prepared to sit with this person and spend some time sharing stories and memories. Even if they know the person well, they will appreciate the ideas which come from creative sharing.
  10. Will people come to the front at the end of the service?  This is typically dictated by local and religious custom.  The tradition allows people to pay their last respects to the deceased, and to share comfort with the family (usually seated in the front row).
  11. Will there be family members who can serve as pallbearers?  Often, adult children or grandchildren will want to help with these responsibilities, both at the funeral home and at the cemetery.  If you don't have pallbearers, the funeral home staff can usually assist you with this. 
  12. Do you wish to remain at the graveside as the casket is lowered into the ground?  In my part of the country, this is becoming more and more rare.  Heavy equipment may be used, and more people seem to prefer to leave this responsibility to the funeral director (who typically stays until the cemetery workers close the vault).  On the other hand, if this is important to you, communicate it with your funeral director ahead of time, and the necessary arrangements can probably be made.

Certainly this is not an exhaustive list of planning questions, but if by taking your time to answer these questions ahead of time, you can better communicate your desires with the funeral home and minister.  It's my prayer that you can develop a service which will help your family begin the healing process.



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