When a loved one dies, we often hold a service in their honor. This can be a funeral, memorial service, or celebration of life event. It’s an important rite of passage that commemorates a person’s life. It can also be an important part of the healing process.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Modern Funeral Poems for a Family Member
- Funny Modern Funeral Poems
- Modern Funeral Poems for Someone Who Was Ill
- Modern Funeral Poems About Losing a Loved One Too Soon
- Modern Funeral Poems to Say Goodbye
These ceremonies can look very different, depending on who put the service together and who is being memorialized. But certain elements can be expected at many services. One such tradition you can expect is a funeral poem. Poems are often featured as readings at many kinds of end-of-life services.
Here, we share some “in loving memory” poems that will work at any end-of-life service.
COVID-19 tip: If you're officiating a virtual funeral using a service like GatheringUs, you can still share your poems 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 full poems.
Modern Funeral Poems for a Family Member
A lot of funeral poems and poems about death are a little stodgy and formal. Poems in more modern language are often more relatable to people at funerals or memorial services. These modern funeral poems offer a fresh take on a classic funeral staple.
1. “A Long Cup of Tea” by Michael Ashby
There’s something so perfectly British about the lines:
Death is too negative for me
So I'll be popping off for a long cup of tea
It’s true that we do often avoid talking about death because we don’t like to face the finality of it. Our parents in particular may have avoided bringing up this subject so as not to be an inconvenience. This modern funeral poem is ideal for someone who wouldn’t want to make a fuss.
2. “His Mother’s Hair” by April Ossman
When a loved one dies, we try to move on with our lives the best way that we know how. But sometimes something will happen that just derails us and reminds us of our pain.
In this poem, a hairdresser is reminded of his mother’s death when a client has the same kind of hair his mom did. It’s a bittersweet piece that reminds us that when our family members die, we will still see them in unexpected places.
3. “Your Clothes” by Judith Kroll
This poem beautifully captures how hard it is to sum up your relationship with someone after they’re gone. It uses clothing as a metaphor. Just because your mother dies, it doesn’t mean that her clothes no longer belong to her.
And just because your mother dies, it doesn’t mean you’re no longer her child. While this poem is explicitly about a mother, it is really a fitting tribute for any family member who died. The sentiments it captures are that universal.
Funny Modern Funeral Poems
When you think of funerals, you probably picture very somber affairs. But people are opting for less-traditional end of life services in increasing numbers. Celebration of life services, for example, often focus on achieving a more lighthearted tone. These humorous funeral poems are perfect for a less-serious ceremony.
4. “Pardon Me for Not Getting Up” by Kelly Roper
This tongue-in-cheek poem is told from the perspective of a deceased person who was once a consummate party host.
They apologize for being such a “stiff and unwelcoming host” at their own funeral. If the deceased was known for their hosting skills and their sense of humor, this would be the perfect funeral poem.
5. “Death” by Joe Brainard
There are a lot of poems about how little we understand death. Few of them take a humorous approach to how unfathomable death can be. This one is an exception, thanks to lines like this:
Sometimes it helps if we try to visualize things.
Try to visualize, for example, someone sneaking up behind
your back and hitting you over the head with a giant hammer.
Even beyond moments of levity like that though, it’s a thoughtful poem that would fit in well at a less conventional end-of-life service.
6. “On A Tired Housewife” by Unknown
Sometimes the act of simply living can be hard work. This holds doubly true when you’re responsible for the health and wellbeing of a whole household.
If your loved one who died joked about looking forward to being dead so they could take a break, this poem could fit in well at a memorial service.
Modern Funeral Poems for Someone Who Was Ill
When someone has to live with an illness for a long period of time, they have a chance to prepare for their own death. They may even want to plan their own funeral service. Here are some poems that an ailing person may select for their own funeral.
7. “A Chant Against Death” by Mervyn Morris
Even if someone has time to prepare for their own death, it doesn’t mean they welcome or embrace it.
Many people with terminal illnesses fight as hard as they possibly can just to stay in the world for one more day. This poem lists all the things they might fight for, whether it’s friends and family or a sunny day. But it also demonstrates acceptance that death is part of the cycle of life.
8. “Death” by Sean Hughes
This poem was written by a comedian about his vision for a joyful funeral. If you have a loved one who was ill who spoke of wanting their life celebrated, this poem is a perfect fit thanks to lines like these:
I know how boring funerals can be
I want people to gather
meet new people
have a laugh, a dance, meet a loved one.
It’s a beautiful tribute to someone who loved life and wants to be sure death to be just as fun.
9. “Death” by Bill Knott
This poem is incredibly short - in fact, here it is in its entirety:
Going to sleep, I cross my hands on my chest.
They will place my hands like this.
It will look as though I am flying into myself.
In just a few lines though, it contains multitudes. It can ultimately be read as hopeful. Someone who has been trapped inside their own body by a lengthy illness may enjoy the imagery of flying free.
Modern Funeral Poems About Losing a Loved One Too Soon
Sometimes death gives us time to prepare. But too often, death takes people from us unexpectedly. These poems are well-suited for a funeral for someone who died tragically, unexpectedly, or just far too soon.
10. “On News of a Friend’s Sudden Death” by Felix Dennis
This poem captures how the inanity of day-to-day life can be completely derailed by learning of the death of a friend. This line:
How narrowly, from breath to breath,
We plait our rendezvous with death.
Cleverly captures the omnipresence of death. It’s so entwined with our lives, and yet we can’t see it until it makes itself known.
11. “To His Mother, Whose Name Was Maria” by Attilio Bertolucci
There is a profound tragedy in seeing the death of someone who never really got a chance to blossom in life. With lines like these:
it’s you, mother eternally young, courtesy of death’s
plucking hand, rose at the fragrant point of unpetaling
This poem captures that beauty and sadness that coexists when someone dies young.
Modern Funeral Poems to Say Goodbye
While the funeral industry is changing a lot, at its heart, a funeral signifies what it always has. It’s an opportunity for us to say goodbye to a deceased loved one. These funeral poems make for a perfect send off.
12. “One Last Goodbye” by Michele Meleen
Many people have a hard time with the finality of funerals. This poem reframes the way we think about these end-of-life celebrations. Yes, a funeral or memorial service is about saying goodbye. But it’s not an obligation — it’s an opportunity. This line captures the soul of the poem perfectly:
You might find it hard, unfair, or sad,
but I see it as the chance
to reminisce about what we've had.
13. “Had Death Not Had Me in Tears” by Kofi Awoonor
When a loved one dies, it’s hard to appreciate the world around you. In this poem, the author laments all things they missed out on because they were so distracted by grief.
It’s okay to take your time in getting over the death of a loved one. Grief is not a linear process. But this poem reminds us that if you can’t say goodbye, there’s a lot you won’t get to experience.
14. “The Morning After My Death” by Etel Adnan
This poem reminds us that we must say goodbye to our loved ones who die because life goes on even without them. It also gently reminds us that the deceased know that and do not blame us.
Modern Poems For Funeral Readings
Funerals, memorial services, and celebrations of life give us an opportunity to say goodbye to our loved ones. Some people will share their personal thoughts on the deceased in the form of eulogies.
But we also may turn to pre-written content to pay tribute to someone who has passed away. Poets are exceptional at capturing the human condition in a few well-chosen words. These modern funeral poems will help paint a picture of the person you are honoring.