Honoring the passage of life into death is a very important rite recognized by cultures and faith traditions around the world. Funeral observances are intended to help loved ones express grief, to conduct relevant spiritual rites for the deceased and for the living, to celebrate and honor the life of the person who has passed, and to provide an opportunity for communal sadness and healing, among other things.
Performing a funeral is likely to be one of the most delicate and complex events ever overseen by a priest or minister. The emotional needs of the living must be considered at every stage and, in many cases, appropriate spiritual attention needs to be paid to the person who has passed. Virtually all faith traditions have their own version of funeral rites and prayers, as well as observances for grief and healing. That said, individual families and households may have very particular ideas about what role religion might play in the conduction of a funeral for their loved one. These practical suggestions will help you plan a funeral observance that is both spiritually relevant to the people involved and flexible enough to personalize in many different ways.
If you think you might need or enjoy more in-depth training on how to perform a funeral, we offer a complete how-to guide to performing funerals to aid you in creating and delivering this important rite.
What Is Being Asked for?
There are actually several different observances that fall under the broad category of funeral. Some people may wish a minister or priest to perform a eulogy; this might take place during a viewing, during a memorial service, just before cremation, or at grave side. The funeral organizers may wish for a full religious or semi-religious ceremony. To avoid unpleasant and potentially distressing conflicts, meet with the people planning the funeral to learn more about which services exactly they wish to receive.
Try to discover what time frame the funeral, viewing, or memorial service will take place during. This will help you create a meaningful message that will fit comfortably within the available amount of time. If the family members are unable to provide this information, contact the funeral home or the organizer of the venue where the service will be held at. They can help you determine how long your message should be.
You can download our funeral planning checklist to help you and the family of the deceased get started.
Religious or Non-Religious?
This meeting is also a good time to determine which religious background, if any, should be considered during or versions of scripture; identifying these volumes and utilizing them in your planning will provide an additional personalized touch to the services you offer.
There is an increasing preference for non-religious or humanistic funeral services, so a familiarity with these messages is important. You can find many examples of humanistic funeral services and eulogies online and in books on funeral service and ministry.
In lieu of scripture readings, humanistic funeral services may include selections of poetry or books loved by the deceased. There are numerous book volumes and online resources exclusively devoted to the collection of poetry on a theme. Historic and modern poetry with an uplifting, comforting, and calming message is ideal for use in funeral messages. Books can be a little harder to utilize, though if the family of the deceased has any particular suggestions on this point, they are worth exploring. An online search can help you identify noteworthy passages from the book, though if you have a time to conduct a more thorough examination of the book you are likely to find a few sentences that can be tastefully used.
Collecting Relevant Information
When speaking with the family and loved ones of the deceased, there are a few key points you should try to address. This information will help you craft a meaningful and personalized message to deliver.
- When and where were the deceased born?
- Did the deceased have any brothers or sisters?
- What where their parents' names and occupations?
- Education history, professional training, and work history
- Important achievements, qualifications, or awards
- Personality traits, endearing attributes, and less endearing attributes
- Favorite pastimes and hobbies
- Recollections about holiday celebrations and other noteworthy occasions
Take notes so that this conversation is recorded with accuracy. Pay attention to the reactions that loved ones have, too. Memories and recollections that bring a smile or laugh are ideal for inclusion into a tribute that will bring peace and comfort to the grieving; memories that appear stressful or distressing are probably best left out.
Organizing Your Information into a Tribute or Eulogy
If you have never written or performed a eulogy before, try to find sample eulogies to reference for structure. As you are writing, mimic the pace and organization of the sample piece and add personalized information as it is appropriate. This is where your notes will really come in handy. There may be appropriate spaces for poetry or literary selections, as well.
Once your eulogy has been composed, spend some time reading it out loud and making adjustments as necessary. This is a composition that will be heard rather than read so setting a nice tone and pace is very important. Once the composition is in its final form, practice speaking it several times until it becomes comfortable and familiar.
Take the Time to Collect Relevant Information
Talking with the family of the deceased is a vital part of composing the eulogy or tribute, though there is other practical information that will be helpful, no matter what your involvement in the final ceremony is. Contact the funeral director of the home the family of the deceased is using. The funeral director will be able to provide lots of logistic, practical information that will make performing the ceremony or delivering the tribute a lot simpler. You might consider visiting the funeral home to see the space that will be used.
At the very least, contacting the funeral director and introducing yourself is a professional courtesy that will be appreciated. The family members may have forgotten to tell you some practical information, so speaking with someone in charge of organization will certainly clear up some misunderstandings.
Conducting a funeral, delivering a tribute, or sharing a eulogy can be an intimidating prospect, especially for someone with little direct experience with participating in funerals. Taking time to get relevant information about the deceased and about the funeral event itself will help you craft a perfect message.