A Brief Guide to Funerals and Memorial Services
We use the ritual of a funeral to mark the passing of loved ones. A funeral helps people accept the inevitability of such passing’s, and to express their grief in the comfort of family and friends.
Beyond the sadness we all experience at the loss of a close friend or loved one, we celebrate their lives and honor their contributions in the funeral ritual. This gives us the chance to come together in love and remembrance, and begin our own healing processes.
Funerals and memorials: understanding the difference
Funerals generally occur with the deceased person’s body present, and within a short time after their death. Memorial services, however, can take place weeks, or even months, after a death to accommodate the various needs of friends and family members.
A memorial might make good sense when families have regular summer gatherings at the beach, for example, or when out of town family members need to purchase plane tickets. Having extra time to plan a memorial gives the opportunity for some real thought about an appropriate service, and relieves pressure from a situation that’s already fraught with tension.
Many people choose both options – a brief funeral ceremony for those closest emotionally and geographically, and a more inclusive memorial service at a later date. Helping to plan a memorial service can be therapeutic, and may relieve the feelings of helplessness we often experience when a loved one dies.
Planning the service
The first consideration might be finding the right setting for a funeral or memorial service. Think about the personality of the deceased person: would a formal or informal setting best suit them? Formal services for those with strong religious affiliations are best performed in churches, synagogues, and other appropriate places of worship. Without the dictates of an organized religion, an elegant funeral home makes for a dignified formal service.
For those who prefer a more casual memorial, settings may be as varied as the interests and pursuits of the loved one. Successful, beautiful memorial services have taken place in retirement communities, at beach side cottages, and outdoors on hillsides.
When organizing a memorial service, it’s best to ask the closest family members and friends to choose their own contributions. Perhaps they have a poignant memory, or funny story to share that reminds mourners of the deceased person’s love of life. Or maybe they have a collection of photos they’re willing to add to the memory wall or album.
There might be a family member with an interest in making a short video in honor of the deceased, to play before or after the service. And if at all possible, include music as part of the occasion. Whether the deceased enjoyed Bach or rock and roll, appropriate music will set the right tone as a service begins and provide emotional catharsis at the end.
Planning a funeral or memorial service for a loved one, no matter what approach is taken, provides a way to honor their passing. It allows us a chance to take action in a time that feels chaotic and out of control; to work through our intense emotions and take the first steps to emotional healing.