4 Ways To Think Outside The Box When Honoring A Loved One

think outside the box

“I was supposed to live to be 102 and be shot by a jealous husband,” one man’s tombstone reads. Another’s says, “Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go.” And a psychic’s reads, “I knew this would happen.”

It’s not disrespectful to be creative, even funny, when dealing with end of life matters. In fact, it’s likely to help cope with the grief.

Obituaries don’t have to be dry or formulaic. “After 96 years of laughing, loving, shouting, learning, teaching and building, Henry passed away,” began one in the January 31st issue of The New York Times. The writer described the deceased the way a good author constructs a character – showing, rather than telling. It went on to say, “Although he over salted everything, he managed to live to 96.” In these simply, short lines, we truly got to know Henry and understand why he will be missed.

That’s what a funeral service should truly do – tell the amazing, personal, detailed story of a person’s life. This means both the good, the bad, the funny and the sad moments. And sometimes, it means that you have to go out of the box to truly honor the life lived.

Focus On Moments That Will Kickstart The Healing

A 68 year-old woman was grappling with what was to say at her mother’s funeral. Their relationship had been strained until the last few months, when the 92 year-old matriarch finally gave her daughter the approval and love she’d craved.

When it came time to prepare her mother’s eulogy, she thought back on their relationship and she knew what she would most like to hear to help her heal and move forward… she didn’t sugarcoat her mother’s memory. “I will be grieving the mother I had these last few months,” she told the small gathering, “and I learned that it’s never too late to make things better. I intend to use my remaining years to do that with my own children.”

Their eyes filling with tears, her two daughters stepped forward and linked their arms through hers, remaining that way while the 23rd Psalm was recited. Instead of simply paying tribute to the dead, the eulogy served to communicate with the living and launch a healing process. Reminded by death that time is finite, we may be inspired to forgive and ask for forgiveness.

When It Comes To Memories, Show, Don’t Tell

Funerals, wakes and memorial services should be more than just a series of speeches. Photos, videos, music, activities, and personalized products can all make a service distinctive. Here are a few out of the box ways to make a funeral as unique as the life lived:

1. Share the loved one’s prized possessions

Are your families often concerned that they will be too choked up to speak? If so, suggest that they begin the service with the favorite song of their loved one. For example, a family who lost their grandfather played the Yiddish songs he’d loved at the start of his service. Not only was this a great way to inject his personality into the service, but the family also had some extra time to reflect and compose themselves before the eulogy.

loved one

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Another great way to add some personal elements into a loved one’s service is share the things that meant the most to them – literally. If in the eulogy you talk about what a great cook grandma was, give everyone a copy of her famous lemon cake recipe after the service. This helps to add a personal element into the service that will really help everyone reflect on the meaningful moments in a person’s life, and it will help their legacy live on.

2. Make the loved one the star of their funeral

If the loved one was the center of the party in life, why not help them be the same at their funeral? “Extreme embalming” is not widely available and may be too offbeat to have wide appeal, but many families have used this unique service as a way to truly make their loved one a part of their own funeral. For example, one flamboyant New Orleans woman got to attend her own funeral, having been embalmed and posed sitting at a table with a glass of beer and cigarette, a disco ball glittering above her head while another, an 83 year-old socialite was similarly done up with a pink boa and holding a glass of champagne. Others have been placed on a favorite rocking chair, motorcycle and in a poker game.

3. Lay loved ones to rest in a personalized way

Was grandpa or dad an enthusiastic handyman? Help your families really become involved in the funeral service by having them embrace their loved one’s do-it-yourself-mindset, and share with them this YouTube video that teaches them how to build their own coffin. Or maybe their loved one had another hobby that they were enthusiastic about, like music, skateboarding, ballet or bible study. One British company called Crazy Coffins will create a quirky final resting place that truly reflects the life lived, whether it’s a coffin shaped like a guitar, a Bible, or even their favorite sports car.

loved one's urn

And just because your families may choose to have their loved one’s cremated doesn’t mean that they can’t personalize their final resting place. Une Belle Vie creates beautiful urns that resemble a resin handbag, which is perfect for fashionistas. Another company, Personalized Urns, works one-on-one with families to choose colors and photos that best represent their loved one (and even their pets), to turn an ordinary cremation urn into a mosaic work of art that tells the story of a life lived.

4. Create memorials for all friends and family – not just those at the funeral

Because of the fast-paced nature of funerals, not every family member or friend has time to take off work or arrange travel to their loved one’s funeral…. especially when family members are spread across the country. This is why there is a great need for services that bring outside family and friends into the funeral service itself. Life Tributes’ webcasting software allows you to share the private viewing of memorials happening at your funeral with those all around the world – over the internet, in a safe secure location. The webcast can even be uploaded to the loved one’s tribute page on your website, alongside obituary information, messages of support and their Life Tribute video – creating a complete and lasting memorial page that family and friends can forever look back on.

To learn more about how you can bring funeral webcasting into your funeral home, all with no setup fees and no contracts, click here.

How does your funeral home go outside the box to host funerals that family and friends will remember for years to come? Share your stories with us in the comments below!

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  1. Dave Savage

    In our book and website we offer detailed ideas for officiants and planners.
    At a cemetery service, sing mama home. Historically the walk through the town to the gravesite by family and friends was an important part of the funeral; getting the body where it needs to be. A way to represent this tradition is to have the hearse park away from the grave site the distance it takes for the funeral guests to walk and sing a meaningful song.

    After the guests have gathered, the officiant asks them to meet at the hearse where a song leader passes of the lyrics to the song and people escort the casket to the gravesite holding hands or touching the casket as it roles along. If there are many people, long ribbons can be attached to the handles and people can hold their part of the ribbon in symbolic pall bearing. The song can be a favorite of the loved one or one that represented a memory of the family. HeartfeltMemorialServices.com

  2. colm nolan

    hi rilee,

    i really enjoyed reading your funeral blog i wonder if you could give me some suggestions regarding
    writing an inscription on my parents headstone.

    my mam recently passed away my father passed away in 1980, as he never lived to seen his
    grandchildren born or grow up we as a family are finding it difficult to come up with an epitaph
    that we think would honour both our parents

    one family member wanted the original in loving memory of my father, died…. ect than my mother and grandmother… ect. a lot of us felt this would not include my father as grandad ect but we cant put loving
    grandparents as this would not make much sense, i suggested maybe include grandchildren as this would
    cover bothof our parents on the headstone. in my family there are my brothers and one sister have you any
    suggestions of any incriptions you think would work? we havent really done much of this over the years.

    kind regards colm

  3. Rilee Chastain

    Hello Colm. First, I am sorry to hear about your recent loss. Some inscriptions to consider may include “Beloved grandparents,” “Dearest parents and grandparents,” “Cherished grandparents,” “Our dear parents and grandparents.” You can find several other beautiful inscriptions at this link: http://www.lanarkmemorials.co.uk/inscriptions.html All the best!