Where do you start when planning a service for someone you love? This is one of the first questions families ask me when I meet with them to plan the service for a life celebration. When someone we love dies, it is hard to think about details like this so I put together a short guide for them, to help them get started. I hope it proves useful.
Your Celebrant or Minister will write the service for you. You can have as much or as little input into that as you wish and it is worth talking about the general feeling you want to create (I have carried out services that range from very respectful and traditional to highly festive and celebratory) and also sharing any wishes that were expressed by the person who has died.
I always encourage families to remember that the service is being created not just to honour the person they all loved, but also to provide support and comfort to those who mourn their passing. Before you meet with whoever will write and conduct the life celebration service for you, I recommend the following steps:
Where to begin: photographs tell stories
Human minds are strange and wonderful and behave in very unpredictable ways when we are grieving. There is no ‘right way’ to grieve and feeling confused and overwhelmed is normal and not something to worry about. What it can result in is that, when you are asked about the person who has passed, your mind goes blank. It’s as if all the years and memories you created together just vanished. I’ve watched this happen many times and the pain it causes is very real.
I have found that getting out photographs can help this a great deal. Almost instantly, memories come flooding back and people light up. It is a shame we don’t tend to print off our photos as much now, but well worth doing so with some favourites as these can bring great comfort.
Ask others to share their memories
One of the beautiful things that comes out of a very sad time, is when people hear stories about the people they’ve lost, from friends and family, that they had not heard before. I have watched people well up with pride as they hear how their parent or partner touched the lives of others. Asking for stories to be included in the service, is a wonderful part of the healing process and also allows others to share in your grief and offer you support.
You may wish to ask some of your friends or family to share one of their memories as part of the service. Not everyone wants to read on the day, but whoever is taking the service can be asked to read it on their behalf. Another way to include people’s memories, is to ask them to write in a book on the day, or on a card that can be left or posted later. These memories create a very comforting and special way for family and loved ones to look back when they need comfort.
Don’t try to say it all in the main service
There will always be more that you could say, always a story you think should have been included in the service. Time is strictly limited for services, wherever they are held, so rather than trying to say everything and then feeling deflated when you have to miss things out, instead I always encourage families to prepare two things: the stories they want in the main service and those that they want to share afterwards, when friends and family are together and can give one another hugs or supportive words.
Often, knowing this second chance to talk about some of the memories they want to share, or that friends can be asked to say something after the main service, relieves a great deal of pressure in planning what to include. Whether you want a formal speech session at the gathering after the funeral, or simply to ask people to share stories with others so that they are heard and continue to keep memories alive, there are lots of ways to let people feel they contributed.
If in doubt, ask your Support Team
The Funeral Director and Celebrant or Minister will be part of your support team and expect you to ask them for help. They deal with the situation you are worrying about regularly and, if they don’t have the answer themselves, they will know who to ask. We tend to be ‘brave’ and ‘cope’ with more than we need to when we are dealing with grief.
It is easy to forget that allowing those around you to help can also be a healing thing for them. Accepting help can be selfless. Reach out to friends and tell them how they can help as, often, they don’t know how to offer but will be just waiting for a sign from you.
Give yourself a break from Perfection
“I want it to be perfect”. No matter how much I reassure clients, I know they are all putting themselves under pressure to create the ‘perfect’ service. They fret about every detail and often send me thoughts the day before, asking if these can be added, only to take them out again an hour later. THIS IS ALL NORMAL. All good Celebrants, Funeral Directors and Ministers will understand your concern. And they will do everything possible to achieve what you want. Perfection looks different for all of us though, so remember to give yourself a break over things which are out of your control and trust the people who are there to make sure your wishes are taken care of.
I hope this has been of help. The most valuable things we have at these times is communication so let the people you have around you know what you need, and keep telling them. Mostly, they want to relieve your burden and be a real support to you at a difficult time.