Traditions change from generation to generation. Here we not only provide ways to plan a funeral for a loved one but also ideas to personalize a funeral for your loved one.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How to Personalize a Viewing or Wake
- How to Personalize a Funeral Ceremony
- How to Personalize a Repast or Reception
- How to Personalize a Burial or Cremation
The ideas listed below offer ways for you to invite or forego traditional funeral etiquette to create your personalized version. Look for ideas that invite your loved one's little-known personalities to be shared among those in attendance.
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How to Personalize a Viewing or Wake
A viewing or wake is a chance to say a final goodbye to a loved one and receive closure. It’s also the last gift from your lost loved one to spend time together as family, friends, and neighbors, reflecting on the nature of a beautiful life.
1. Alternative coffin
Did you know that you can hire an airbrush artist to paint anything you can think of—including a coffin? Recreate Diego Rivera’s sunflowers or a mural of the birds inhabiting the Bloedel Conservatory. Apply anything meaningful for the person that passed.
After all, who said your loved one’s coffin is required to be traditional?
2. Personal music playlist
Today, most music is available via an online platform. So, why not make a playlist of their favorite songs? Or, if you have access, pick one of your loved one’s playlists.
Don’t worry about what’s on it or altering the list to suit other people’s tastes. Just hit play and fall in love with their eccentric personality.
3. Put personal items on display
Some people spend years collecting things like musical instruments or fossils. When you put them on display at a funeral or wake, it’ll be a sweet gesture, and it will help break the ice for some people who don’t yet know each other.
Your loved one’s friends and family will find comfort in chatting about the things that made them unique and wonderful.
4. Hold a candlelight vigil
Depending upon the order of the service, you can take a moment to pass a flame around the room as a metaphor for the way that your loved ones lit up the lives they touched.
Note: too many flames indoors would fall under fire code hazards. So, something outdoors and in a private backyard would make for a more acceptable hazard-free location.
5. Open mic
Place a sign next to a microphone that lets your guests know they’re welcome to flow freely. Whether they want to sing, recite a poem, or tell a story—it’s up to them.
And, if you keep a live feed on it, you’ll be able to share it with any friends or family unable to attend the service.
6. Live music
You know your loved one best. Choose from any style of music they loved and then hire musicians to accommodate.
Pro-tip: Choose a style of music befitting the element of conversation so that your guests can share memories, offer condolences, and grieve without wearing earplugs.
7. Create a nontraditional tribute video
On each smartphone is an album of seemingly random pictures of food, sunsets, beautiful flowers (cars, bugs, and more!). All of those random photos offer you an opportunity to invite the attendees into the beautiful mind of that hiker, fisherman, or grandma.
Accompanied by some wonderful funeral songs, a nontraditional tribute video offers a chance to display some of the wonderful things that went through your loved one’s mind.
How to Personalize a Funeral Ceremony
Are you looking to have a unique but meaningful funeral ceremony? Look below for some additional ways to honor a loved one and share some of their personality with guests.
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8. Giveaway books with programs inside
Put aside the books that have special meaning or ones that might have great value. Then, place funeral programs inside books from your loved one’s collection.
Not only will this save you a trip to the local donation store, but you’ll be giving a piece of their wisdom to each of the guests.
Pro-tip: go one step further to set up a yearly book exchange on their passing anniversary to celebrate their life.
9. Opt for a nontraditional guest book
Assemble a photo and frame in the center of a large squared rustic barn wood plaque. Then ask those in attendance to sign their names or write a few words in commemoration.
After you seal the wood, hang it up in the art room, garage, or another room where they spent most of their days.
10. Take home flower seeds
Personalize packets of seeds with a poem or a commonly used phrase from your loved one:
- First, research and order seed packets from an online marketplace.
- Opt to personalize the packets with the poem or phrase.
- Then, purchase native prairie seeds from a local nursery or feed store to fill the packets.
- Place the packets in a basket near the programs with a sign.
Finally, offer a page online for people to showcase their gardens in full bloom and share memories or stories about your loved one. If you’re not so savvy online, you can just start an email thread instead.
11. Use a family quilt as a coffin cover
If your mom or nana was renowned for her needlepoint, then drape one of her finest creations over her coffin during the funeral service. The blanket can stay wrapped around her right up until the gravesite, where you’ll remove it for safekeeping.
12. Charismatic pallbearers
Over the years, people have chosen quite the charismatic bunch of pallbearers from people in costume or teammates, and even some risqué or questionable NSFW choices.
That said, if your loved one had a passion or sense of humor, then don’t be afraid to let their personality shine one more time.
13. Hang pictures on trees
Host a nontraditional funeral ceremony outside. You’ll find quite a few options to decorate using what’s naturally around you. For instance:
- Laminate copies of what would be traditional memorial wall photographs.
- Punch a hole through the center top.
- Loop long lines of inexpensive twine or wire.
- Hang them on the lowest branches of a nearby tree.
Finally, set up the funeral beneath that tree with your loved one's remains on a table with flowers. This will invite people to gather near your loved one last time.
How to Personalize a Repast or Reception
Food feeds the soul in times of great grief. Scroll below for ways to integrate and share parts of your loved one’s personality and past times.
14. Purchase from a food truck
Serve dad’s favorite pupusas and curtido from his favorite Salvadoran food vendor—or whatever your loved one’s favorite meal.
First, call ahead to give them enough time to purchase the necessary ingredients. Then, set up accommodations for your small group in a nearby park.
Instead of a potluck or a traditional picnic, this option removes preparation on your part while keeping the cost low.
15. Hold a family fishing contest and fish fry
This idea works if your loved one spent every weekend during the summer (or winter for you ice fishers), sunup to sundown, on the lake, soaking in the water and nature.
Catch the fish, then stay a little longer and host a fish fry potluck with all of your family and friends while you enjoy a perfect sunset and a warm campfire.
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16. Attend an outdoor concert at a vineyard
If summertime concerts were one of your mom’s favorite things to do, then hold the reception in the very same venue she loved.
It’s a large enough venue to accommodate just about any size of the group. Plus, the entry fee alone could run about the same price as some hall rentals.
17. Serve their favorite foods or candy
Many catered events try to be uncomplicated with either a meat or fish option plus veggie and sweets plates. Instead of the basics, serve your loved one’s favorite foods and candies.
Unless it's gizzards or head cheese, the chances are that the food will be a hit, especially if it comes with a good story about back home and growing up on the farm.
18. Decorate with flowers from their garden
The floral bill alone can be a pricey endeavor, but you can skip that by using flowers from your loved one’s garden. Not only is this a far more green and ecologically friendly option, but you can display their love and passions for all to see and admire.
How to Personalize a Burial or Cremation
Burials and cremation ceremonies are occasions to say a final goodbye. By personalizing one, you’ll support your loved one’s unique personality.
19. Rent a unique hearse
Look for any number of options outside of the traditional funeral coach befitting the character of your loved one, from JCB diggers to a Land Rover and more.
Just type in a quick search online to see what’s available nearby.
20. Ocean cruise or water memorial
Rent a boat for a Viking burial or any other type of memorial at sea with their cremated remains. If your group is too large to fit on one vessel, you can ask friends to arrange a charter or use their own boat if they have one.
Pro-tip: A sober trip is a safe trip.
21. Cremains and fireworks
Find a local company to transfer a portion of your loved one’s remains into fireworks. After an afternoon of conversation and gathering, set off the display for a final tribute.
Note: this author has yet to discover companies within the US that can make this request happen.
22. Rent dune buggies and have a beach fire
Check with local authorities to determine if spreading cremated remains in the dune is a good location. Otherwise, conduct situational awareness to determine an appropriate time when the beach is free from onlookers who might be offended.
Note: spreading ashes is generally acceptable in public as long as the state allows it. Check-in with your local authorities for any restrictions.
23. Personal boutonnieres or pins
Use the flowers from your loved one's garden or backfield to make different boutonnieres for all people in attendance. Then, attach an additional photo or a quote from your loved one so that each guest has a unique opportunity to share and discuss the story on their lapel.
Note: Here's an excellent way to invite guests who are unfamiliar with each other to find a chance to chat with new friends.
Personalizing the Goodbye
Through personalization, families can share bits and pieces of a loved one's personality and strengths. Those that attend will feel welcomed into the spirit of their nature and life.