How To Take Your Personalized Funerals From Good to Great

Photo Credit: Dignity Memorial

Photo Credit: Dignity Memorial

When it comes to funeral personalization, doesn’t it seem like everyone thinks they’re offering unique and meaningful services? Sadly, that’s not the case.

In fact, a study called “The Funeral of the Future” found that less than 5% of funerals were personalized in a meaningful way. It’s funny because many funeral directors will tell you they offer personalization, but when you ask them for examples of personalized funerals they’ve conducted, you’ll usually get the usual canned bagpipe get-up or some variation of a motorcycle escort theme. 

Another key finding “The Funeral of the Future” project found was that most funeral personalization isn’t even actually driven by the funeral director, but instead the family. This is all very interesting, but it’s also an issue we need to do something about.

These days, you won’t find a Baby Boomer who doesn’t want some sort of unique life celebration. But how can we offer them a meaningful, personalized funeral if we aren’t even sure what it really means to personalize a funeral?

These 9 funeral professionals explain what funeral personalization means to them, and how you can start proactively celebrating life in a more meaningful way:


Be observant during every stage of planning

“When I go on a house call, I try to be observant – attempting to see things that were meaningful to the deceased and still are to the family. I met with a family that was planning a memorial service and cremation. When it came time to select an urn, they were really struggling over the type of urn that they should choose. When I was at their home earlier in the day, I saw that there were shelves full of small to mid-sized plastic characters. They turned out to be vintage banks, and they decided to use the most expensive, retro Mickey Mouse bank to hold their loved one’s ashes.”

– Kristen McNames, Grace Funeral & Cremation Services


Honor every dimension of the life lived

“Many [funeral] directors will point at their military services replete with honor guard and bagpipers as being excellent examples of a personalized service. But doesn’t every life deserve the respect and honor that we bestow on our fallen heroes? What about the rest of their lives? Most people live multidimensional lives, where service to their country is one part (albeit an important one). I believe the memory of the entire life should be honored and symbolized during the funeral service. In fact, I have often wondered if we are actually doing a dis-service to the families left behind by not recognizing all the impact that life had on them and the world.”

– Lajos Szabo, funeralOne & Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Service


Inspire healing and laughter

“My main goal is to create an environment for sharing and an atmosphere of healing and laughter. We’ve had medical service vehicles line the entire parking lot and a medical helicopter fly over during the service in honor of the deceased, we’ve had hog roasts, motorcycle and classic cars parade to the cemetery.”

– Brian Love, Bailey Love Mortuary


Offer a crowning performance

In the study, consumers described their funeral as their “crowning performance”. They wanted to be the writer, director and the star in their “show”. This means they want to write their story, choose the setting, props, costumes, soundtrack, location, as well as many other aspects of their funeral service. There are some practical aspects of this that will be considered in a moment. But, more importantly, are the funeral directors of today the right people to guide these efforts? My guess is probably not. As we speak, people such as Celebrants and Event Planners are lobbying for this space and you’re going to have to earn your way back in. Can you do it?


Make every family experience unique

“Every family’s experience is different. I am amazed when some people say what they want to do… but I am not shocked. It’s more personalization now. People aren’t as traditional now as they used to be. And trends change. My father said the families that celebrated their loved ones’ lives accepted it better… it wasn’t as sad as those who had more traditional services. They’re more reserved; they grieve inward. But those who are celebrating mourn outward. They laugh if they need to and cry if they want to.”

– John Beckwith, Golden Gate Funeral


Think about how you’d plan a wedding

“All the unique things that are incorporated into weddings nowadays are just as relevant and special to have at a funeral. Tribute videos, favorite foods, colors, quotes and passions are all things that can help you personalize your service. There are so many ways available to us to celebrate a unique and wonderful life through simple but significant acts. A funeral service is shown to be one of the most helpful and pivotal moments in the grief process. So have a service that your loved one would laugh & smile at. Commemorate THEM, and don’t worry about the tradition.”

– Molly Keating, O’Connor Mortuary


Invite funeral guests to take part in the service

“When guests participate in services – even in some small, symbolic way – it raises the level of value for all involved. Whether it’s reading a verse, placing a flower, releasing a balloon, or sharing a great story, funeral professionals can help guide families and provide examples of how other families include guests in the remembrance.”

– Lacy Robinson, Aurora Casket Company


Help families spark ideas for personalization

“There are two ways you can do this. One is to set your selection room up in a way that sparks ideas relevant to the funeral ceremony, not just the products. Try using graphics and video that will stimulate creativity by showing examples of what can be done. Another way is to create a “memory table” in the selection room so you can easily start the conversation as to what kinds of objects would represent the life of your loved one. Explain how objects can also be placed on the table by family members as part of the actual ceremony.”

– Jeff Staab, Cremation Solutions


Use the right language with families

“Baby Boomers aren’t attracted to words like “funeral” and “visitation”. Instead, they want to hear the progressive words like “Ceremony”, “Tribute” and and “Final Goodbye”. The traditional language you used with your families is stale and outdated, so try communicating with them using the same language they do. You’ll establish a deeper, more valuable connection with them.”

– Bill McQueen, Anderson McQueen Funeral Home


Ask lots of questions and record your conversation

“When you meet with a family, don’t tell them about what you do, ask them questions about their loved one.  What better way to get your families talking than to say “so tell me about your mom. What did you love about her? What did she do for fun?” When you’re asking families these questions, record what they say and give it to them so they can understand how they can create a memorable eulogy for their loved one. Tell them to go home and talk about, think about, and look at memories of their loved one.”

– Jeff Gitomer, Author and Professional Speaker


Last thoughts

Funeral personalization isn’t just about a military service or motorcycle escort. It’s about listening, observing and planning a ceremony that uniquely represents the life lived. Hopefully these insights will give you the inspiration you need to take your firm’s funeral personalization from good… to great.


What’s the most unique funeral you’ve ever arranged? Tell us about it in the comments below!


Ready to start creating personalized services your families will love? Create stunning tribute videos, funeral webcasts and personalized print materials. In house. In minutes. To get your 30-day free trial, click here or call 800-798-2575, ext. 5.

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  1. Funeral Blog. The official blog for the funeral & cemetery professions. » Blog Archive 5 Funeral Homes Doing Personalized Services Right » Funeral Blog. The official blog for the funeral & cemetery professions.

    […] must bring the meaning back to the idea of personalized funeral services. In order to do this, we’ll need to start offering […]

  2. Iris Smith

    I appreciate you mentioning that many funeral directors would cite their military funerals, complete with honor guards and bagpipers, as superb instances of individualized offerings. My granddad was a former soldier. I’ll hire a funeral bagpiper to play at my grandfather’s funeral in his honor.