If you recently lost a family member or close friend, you may have many difficult choices to make regarding funeral planning. You need to decide who will write the eulogy for the memorial service. You may be looking for funeral poems to use on the back of the program. It may also be your responsibility to find funeral prayers the officiant can read during the service.
One of the most critical parts of a funeral is the readings that you choose to share with those assembled. The texts are much more than simple funeral quotes— they should share your loved one's philosophies and beliefs, and reflect their meaning and purpose of life.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Funeral Readings for Mom or Dad
- Funeral Readings for a Sibling
- Funeral Readings for a Close Friend
- Secular Funeral Readings
- Funeral Readings from Literature and Novels
Here are a variety of reading ideas for a believer and a non-believer. We also included some that may celebrate particular relationships. Some are verses from the Bible, while others are poems or song lyrics. We hope this list helps you plan your loved one's memorial service.
Virtual funeral tip: If you're having a virtual funeral using a service like GatheringUs, you can still share your readings with your online guests. Coordinate with your planning team, make sure you have the right mics and speakers, and send online guests digital funeral programs with the readings included.
Share your final wishes, just in case.
Create a free Cake end-of-life planning profile and instantly share your health, legal, funeral, and legacy decisions with a loved one.
Funeral Readings for Mom or Dad
Your parents were important to you, and special consideration should be made when picking out readings for your mom or dad’s funeral. Instead of reflecting on your personal beliefs, the funeral readings should reflect those of your parent.
In fact, while looking through your parent's belongings, you may find verses or poems that they chose for such an occasion.
1. Isaiah 57:15
For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: "I live in a high and holy place, but also with the One who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
This promise of heaven as a "high and holy place," may comfort those mourning the loss of your parent.
2. John 11:25-26
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. ‘The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
This verse from the book of John tells believers about the promise of eternal life.
3. "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep" by Mary Elizabeth Frye
A housewife living in Baltimore wrote this well-known poem. She was not a renowned poet, but people often recite her comforting words at end-of-life celebrations.
4. "Neither Fire, Nor Wind . . . "by Siddhartha Gautama
"Neither fire, nor wind, birth, nor death, can erase our good deeds."
These words, spoken by Siddhartha Gautama, remind us that the kind things we do for others aren’t forgotten after our deaths.
5. "The voice of parents . . ." by William Shakespeare
"The voice of parents is the voice of gods, for to their children they are heaven's lieutenants."
This quote reminds us of our parent’s influence—we hear the voices in our heads for our entire lives.
Funeral Readings for a Sibling
Planning a funeral for a sibling can be heartbreaking, and at the same time, it also reminds us of our own mortality. Here are some readings and quotes you may consider having read at your sibling's funeral or your brother or sister's eulogy.
6. Psalm 23
This is one of the most famous Psalms that we hear at funerals. It begins, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters."
This Psalm speaks of how God comforts us during our time of death.
7. Psalm 42
This Psalm begins, "Like a deer that longs for running streams, my soul longs for you, my God; my soul longs for you, my God."
Several musicians turned this into a beautiful song that could be used at the funeral service, as well.
8. "Remember" by Christina Rossetti
English poet Christina Rossetti wrote these words in her poem "Remember."
"Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land."
You may consider reading this at your sibling's funeral as a promise that you will remember the one you lost forever.
9. "To My Sister…" By Allison Chambers Coxsey
The first stanza of this rhyming poet reads,
"I'm blessed to call you sister,
I also call you friend;
You've loved me unconditionally,
And stood through thick and thin."
Remember, even if you wish to speak at a funeral, it’s sometimes difficult to find your voice while you’re grieving. You could ask someone else to read the poem on your behalf or have the verse printed in the funeral program.
10. "The Importance of a Sister" by Shiva Sharma
This rhyming poem about sisters would also be a good choice for a reading at your sister's funeral. The first stanza says:’
"A sister is someone who loves you from the heart,
No matter how much you argue you cannot be drawn apart.
She is a joy that cannot be taken away,
Once she enters your life, she is there to stay."
Funeral Readings for a Close Friend
The family members of a close friend may ask you to share some thoughts at the funeral. If given the opportunity, you may consider choosing one of these readings.
11. John 14:1-3
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am."
This reading from the book of John would be perfect for a Christian friend's funeral.
12. Jewish Blessing of the Mourners
You might recognize that your friend's family is hurting. Consider reading this Jewish Blessing for the Mourners that begins:
"Those who are worn out and crushed by this mourning, let your hearts consider this:
This is the path that has existed from the time of creation and will exist forever."
13. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" by Yip Harburg
Harburg was an American song lyricist who wrote the words to this song from the "Wizard of Oz." Although not a popular choice for funerals, it may be appropriate in some instances.
14. From "Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White
Consider reading this section from E.B. White's classic children's book:
"You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that."
15. "Perhaps they are not stars . . . "by Inuit Legend
"Perhaps they are not the stars,
But rather openings in heaven where
The love of our lost ones pours through
And shines down upon us to let us know they are happy."
What a beautiful way to look at the stars, and what comforting words to read at a friend's funeral.
Secular Funeral Readings
Your family member or friend may not have had a particular religious belief that you knew of, so you may not feel comfortable choosing readings for a secular or atheist funeral.
Here are some poems and quotes that do not speak about the existence of a higher power.
16. "But Not Forgotten" by Dorothy Parker
The speaker in this poem is the person who died. The speaker says,
"I think, no matter where you be,
You'll hold me in your memory."
17. "Dear Lovely Death" by Langston Hughes
This poet from the Harlem Renaissance describes death as more of a welcome change instead of an end. This might be an excellent piece to read for someone who suffered a long illness before dying.
18. "Play Jolly Music At My Funeral" by Richard Greene
The speaker in Richard Greene's poem asks that music by Fats Waller or Scott Joplin be played at his funeral. Sounds like a great idea to us.
19. "A Song of Living" by Amelia Josephine Burr
This short poem reads,
"Because I have loved life,
I shall have no sorrow to die.
I have sent up my gladness on wings,
to be lost in the blue of the sky."
What a beautiful tribute this would be for a person who lived life to its fullest.
20. "[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]" by e.e. cummings
Experimental poet e.e. cummings wrote these short, but tender, words.
"I carry your heart with me (I carry it in
my heart)i am never without it (anywhere
I go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)."
Funeral Readings from Literature and Novels
One often looks to the words of a poet when finding something to read on a special occasion. But it would be a mistake to overlook the work of prose writers. Although these words are harder to find, many sections of great novels would be perfect for reading at a funeral. Here are some ideas.
21. "The Wind and the Willows" by Kenneth Grahame
Look at the section that begins: "He saw clearly how plain and simple - how narrow, even - it all was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one's existence."
If you know that your loved one would want you to go on with life, these might be the perfect words to read at the funeral.
22. "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury
Consider the section that begins, "Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said."
Your loved one who died made a difference in life. No matter how humbly or quietly a person lives, he or she made a difference.
23. "Bilbo's Last Song" by J.R.R. Tolkien
The second stanza of this poem says,
"Farewell, friends! The sails are set,
the wind is east, the moorings fret.
Shadows long before me lie,
beneath the ever-bending sky."
24. "Roads Go Ever On" by J.R.R. Tolkien
Was Tolkien a poet or a novelist? The answer is "both." In this poem, a long journey ends with a "turn towards a lighted inn." Tolkien speaks of the eternal rest that comes with death.
25. "Winnie the Pooh" by AA Milne
We dare you to read these words from Winnie the Pooh without crying:
"If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart… I'll always be with you."
Find a Fitting Reading for Your Loved One
We know that choosing readings for a funeral can be extremely difficult. You want to share the essence of your loved one's life with perfectly-chosen words.
The tricky thing about this process is that the person who died was different things to different people. For you, the person may have been a loving father; for others, he may have been a brave man. Do the best you can when finding the right words to read at a loved one's funeral, but know that finding words to describe a complex human's life is incredibly difficult.