How to Plan a Non-Religious Graveside Service: 9 Tips

Updated

Typically, a non-religious funeral service focuses on a life well-lived. If you find yourself having to plan a graveside burial service without mentioning the afterlife, here are some tips for you. You can also use this guide to help you pre-plan your own non-religious graveside service.

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We will give you some ideas for readings at the service that makes no mention of religion or the afterlife. We will also give you some ideas on how to organize the graveside service for someone who didn’t profess any specific belief or did not believe in a higher power. 

Tips for Planning a Non-Religious Graveside Service

A non-religious graveside service allows mourners to celebrate the life of the deceased and to say goodbye. No mention of God at the service may have been at the deceased’s request, or it may have come from the people who planned the funeral.

Here are some tips to consider when planning any type of graveside service.

Keep it brief

Unless you are lucky enough to live in an area with moderate weather most of the time, you may want to keep the order of service relatively brief. Wind, a surprise rainstorm, or temperature extremes may make it uncomfortable to outside for any length of time.

You may not have enough seating for everyone at a graveside service. Sometimes temporary chairs are set up for the immediate family, the elderly, and those unable to stand. If this is the case, you may want to keep the service brief for the comfort of those attending. 

Consider how to personalize the event

Since there is no mention of God or the afterlife at a humanist or non-religious funeral, you can focus on the life of the deceased. Consider how you can personalize the event so that your loved one’s life is the focus.

You may look for some graveside service ideas that allow others to participate, perhaps by sharing a brief memory of the deceased or placing a stem of a favorite flower onto the casket. You may ask others to share a talent, such as singing a favorite song. You could have a butterfly release ceremony to say goodbye to your loved one. 

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Readings and Poems for a Non-Religious Graveside Service

Coming up with a non-religious reading for a graveside service shouldn’t be too difficult. Some of the most popular funeral poems make no mention of God or any specific religious belief. You can also find other end-of-life readings that aren’t poetry, such as short essays.

“Funeral Blues” by W.H. Auden

This poem gained popularity after being used in the funeral scene of “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” It is written from the perspective of someone grieving a loss.

The poem begins, “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.”

“Song” or “When I Am Dead, My Dearest” by Christina Rossetti

Victorian poet Christina Rossetti wrote a lot of end-of-life poems. If your loved one wouldn’t want people to cry at her funeral, recite this poem. It begins, “When I am dead, my dearest, sing no sad songs for me.”

“Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Like the previous poem, “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” is written from the perspective of the deceased. You can read it at a graveside service because its title and opening line tell the mourners not to cry while standing next to the grave. Instead, they are told to think about the deceased as they interact with nature.

“Eulogy from a Physicist” by Aaron Freeman

If you are looking for a non-poetic, non-religious funeral reading, consider “Eulogy from a Physicist.” It speaks about death from a scientific perspective, specifically from someone who studies energy. 

The last few lines of the eulogy can give you comfort: “You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly.”

Non-Religious Graveside Service Program Examples

You may choose to pass out a program at the graveside service. It is certainly not a requirement, but you may consider it if the graveside service is the only service you have for your loved one. 

Funeral programs often include photos of the person who died, the obituary, information regarding memorial funds, and quotes or poems. You may also want to use it to list the order of service so those attending know what to expect.

What happens at a non-religious graveside service? It entirely depends on you (and perhaps the deceased if they left an end-of-life plan).

Here are some “orders of service” samples to help you organize your non-religious graveside service.

Example one

You can organize some non-religious funeral programs similar to those with specific religious beliefs. Here is one example of an order of service for a non-religious graveside service.

Welcome by a family member, friend, or celebrant

Ask the cemetery or funeral home director for a recommendation for a celebrant. Explain that you wish the person to have no ties to a specific religious institution. 

Music selection

Consider playing a favorite song of the deceased if it would be appropriate for an end-of-life service. You may decide to play something melancholy and sweet, such as “Time to Say Goodbye” or something hopeful such as “What a Wonderful World.”

Eulogy

You can focus on the life of the individual in his or her eulogy. You may want to talk about achievements, relationships, and more.

Poetry reading

The previous section gives examples of non-religious funeral poetry and readings. You may also consider “Play Jolly Music at My Funeral” by Richard Greene.

Reading of the obituary

An obituary often reads like a newspaper account of a death. The deceased’s family members are usually listed, as well as the person’s education, jobs, and interests.

Moment of silence

Having a moment of silence before the casket or urn is lowered into the ground would give those with religious beliefs an opportunity to say a prayer.

Example two

Some families choose to have a less structured end-of-life service for their loved ones. Here’s an example of an order of service that has more opportunity for impromptu sharing. 

Music

You may want to use a song at the beginning of the service to silence the attendees and to set the tone for the service.

Introduction and welcome

This introductory welcome gives the celebrant the opportunity to say kind words about the deceased. 

Opportunity for attendees to speak

Some funeral services give those in attendance the opportunity to speak about the deceased. The celebrant can encourage those in the audience to say “a few brief words” about the person who died.

Non-religious prayers

We know that the term “non-religious prayers” sounds like an oxymoron, but they do exist. Such prayers may offer gratitude to the universe for the life of the individual.

Closing and instructions

Some graveside services end with an invitation to a reception, repast, or “celebration of life.” If you wish to invite the entire group of attendees, this would be the appropriate time.

Example three

Some families choose to have a nontraditional graveside service for their loved ones. In fact, the graveside service may feel like an informal gathering of people who surround the casket and share memories in a natural, impromptu fashion. 

If this is your intention, you may forgo the funeral program.

Prearrange Your Funeral

Even though you will have a place of honor at your own end-of-life service, your family members will be the ones who ultimately organize the event. If you want your service to have (or not have) religious components, the only way to encourage this to happen is to make and pay for the arrangements before you die.

With the help of Cake, you can choose either religious or secular music for your funeral, choose readings from the Bible or non-religious poetry, and leave instructions for your family members on the tone you wish for your graveside services.

You can even write your own obituary and choose and pay for your casket or urn. Some people prepay for funeral expenses and leave instructions at the funeral home. 

Pre-planning your own funeral not only sets the appropriate tone for your service, but it is also one of the nicest gifts you can give to those you love. Instead of arguing over funeral plans, they can instead gather together and share memories.

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