4 Elements of the Perfect Personalized Funeral Service

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I hate directing funerals that make me feel empty inside.

I hate listening to chaplains that haven’t taken the time to talk to the family and learn about the deceased in order to make the service special.

I hate “traditional” services that are all about the rites and rituals, and do little to provide comfort and solace in a time of grief and sadness. I helped plan one of these for my father 20 years ago. My experience inspired me to want to do funerals better.

In online forums and continuing education we learn that better funerals means personalized funerals. But what is a personalized funeral?  I mean, what is it really?

Is it a rake and a hoe and some gardening gloves tossed up on the casket for effect?  Is it the repetitive “I let them bring his Harley into the chapel and display it next to the casket” statements that we hear over and over again?

At Grace Funeral & Cremation Services, personalization is about listening to families, asking questions and discussing options. Personalization starts when you bring the deceased into your care, and  it continues from there.

There’s no handbook, no manual and certainly no magical personalization fairy. But with a little creativity, attention to detail and some elbow grease, personalization doesn’t have to be that thing you always wish you did, but never had time for.

With that said, here’s what personalization means to me:

Personalization is being observant…

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.  If they’ve got shelves full of VW memorabilia, or a house full of giant, slobbery Great Danes, or a quilting room with beautiful fabrics – I consider them prime options for a personalized funeral.

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.  They intended to bury his cremated remains at a local cemetery – but wanted something nice for the memorial service.

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 looked like old toys to me, but I really had no idea what they were.  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.

Personalization is being flexible…

We’ve filled Hot Wheels cars with ashes at the request of families. (Hot Wheels are not made to be keepsake urns and require a lot of superglue to encase the ashes and seal off the seams…. I learned this the hard way.)  We’ve also given away fortune cookies to guests in memory of the deceased who loved her weekly General Tao’s Chicken. Slobbery dogs are welcome at our funeral home before, during or after the funeral.

Personalization is being creative…

A funeral can be personalized as much or as little as the family or the funeral director wishes.  When there are young children involved, I always try to have special paper handy so that people can write a memory or share something special with the kids to read later on.  In one case, the deceased designed quilt patterns on his computer.  He wasn’t physically able to cut and sew quilts, but he designed them for his young wife to make. We took the digital images of the quilt patterns, added some special effects and used them as note paper.

Personalization involves the community…

At a funeral for a man with special needs, we placed his enormous collection of stuffed animals, clown figurines and other random items on tables for people to take as a keepsake and remembrance of his life.  He didn’t have any surviving family, and his guardian didn’t want a register book sitting around after the service, so I suggested blowing up one of his favorite pictures into posters and having people sign them. He was a huge fan of a local band and the posters were displayed at their concerts.

Whether it involves Hot Wheels, Harleys, Mickey Mouse or slobbery dogs, I truly believe that personalization is about giving families what they need.

They don’t always know exactly what they want or need at the time of arrangements, but if you simply open up your ears and close your mouth, you’ll find that it’s easier than you think. I’m proud of the personalization options Grace Funeral & Cremation Services offers, and hopefully now you can be proud of the options you offer too.


Looking to offer your families personalized funerals? Get a 30-day free trial of funeralOne’s Life Tributes all-in-one personalization software by clicking here.


Kristan New Head ShotABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kristan I. McNames, CFSP, graduated with a Bachelor Degree from the Mortuary Science and Funeral Service Program at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. After working for two corporate funeral providers, most recently as the General Manager; she decided to open her own funeral home in June of 2009, with her husband Bob McNames. Grace Funeral & Cremation Services is located in Rockford, Illinois, and has served over 240  families since opening.




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  4. Mike Collinge

    This is why you should always try and meet the family at their home. There they feel more comfortable, and you are able to get an idea of the deceased from the house. I have picked up some weird ideas that have turned out so special for the family. Like the time the whole family arrived at the chapel barefoot, and helped themselves to tequila before the service. Or the toolbox that was in the chapel for the guy who restored old cars 🙂

  5. Krystal

    Wow Mike, that sounds amazing! Home visits seem to be the #1 way to capture the best ideas for personalization. I’m happy to see this happening more and more recently.

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  10. Linda J Winston

    I love your ideas of personalizing the deceased. A long time friend of mine just lost her daughter who was 43 years old. She loved Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse was all over her house in every way you could imagine. I will be creating and designing her obituary. I am struggling with how to incorporate Mickey Mouse.

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  11. Krystal Penrose

    Hey Linda, what a wonderful thing you’re doing! Have you checked out our obituary guide? Hope this helps: https://blog.funeralone.com/news/obituary-writing-template/