Traditional funerals tend to have a specific order to the proceedings, but contemporary funerals can be anything you want them to be. This can be freeing but it can also be daunting, especially if you’re planning a funeral for someone you love. Here are a few general guidelines:

Find quiet. There is a flurry of activity after someone dies, but if your goal is to plan something meaningful, you need time to breathe. Retreat to a quiet space and think about your loved one. Consider what was important to that person, reflecting on his or her work, interests, passions and values. Create a framework from which to start planning, determine a structure for the service and then start filling in the blanks.

Enlist the help of friends and family members. If you try to do this all on your own, you may miss something important. Others who loved the person who died can have valuable insight and input. They may also have skills you didn’t know they had, and these can be used to make the service even better.

Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. If there are children who could be involved in a meaningful and appropriate way, include them. Find ways to involve people in the process, looking beyond the role of pallbearer and finding other ways they can help.

Consider adding elements that allow guests to be a part of the memorialization. Some will have a talent for speaking or playing music, and it’s easy to find places for them to fit into the service. However, there are several ways to make other people feel included.

  • A memory box provides a way to connect. Let people know before the funeral so they have time to bring in letters, mementos, photos or some other representation of a memory they shared with your loved one. You can also provide note cards for people to use to write down things they didn’t get a chance to put on paper before the service. Collect all these things in a beautiful box, and you’ll have a keepsake to treasure.
  • Messages to the deceased can offer closure. Provide note cards for people to write a final goodbye to tuck into the casket or a designated box or basket. This affords the opportunity for one more “I love you,” “Thank you,” “I’ll miss you,” or another sentiment they wish they’d had more time to express. You can keep these, bury them with your loved one, burn them ceremonially, or handle them in another way that feels meaningful to you.

Think about special “extras” you can incorporate. A dove release or special music are two examples of personal touches for a funeral service, but your funeral director can help you find others.

Don’t forget the reception, where people can gather and reminisce. Although there may not be time to speak to each other during the ceremony, the reception afterward allows people to share memories, connect with each other, and begin to heal. In addition to serving food, consider having music or a DVD tribute playing to further honor your loved one.

While you’re thinking about how to plan a funeral for a loved one, it may be a good time to think about planning your own. When you preplan, you can ensure that your funeral will be meaningful and that your final wishes will be carried out. Preplanning lets you choose your readings, music, speakers, and even the structure of your ceremony, and it alleviates your family’s stress during a difficult time.

Since 1909, Chapel of the Chimes Oakland has helped families in our community plan meaningful end-of-life services. We can help you whether you have an immediate need or choose to preplan. Call 510.379.5200 for more information.