The funeral is an opportunity to come together with friends and family after losing a loved one. While much of the planning is often on the funeral service or memorial itself, this mourning period doesn’t have to end there.
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Including some planning into things to do after a funeral is one of the many ways to answer the question of what comes next. The early days after a loss are the most difficult. Planning the funeral and after is part of the healing process. Though it’s difficult, it’s through these steps that you achieve real comfort and healing.
This guide helps you understand the things you can do after a funeral. Whether you continue to join with those who support you or you simply understand what to expect at a funeral and beyond, this is for you.
COVID-19 tip: If you're planning or attending a Zoom funeral using a service like GatheringUs, the order of service, etiquette, and timing will vary. Consult with the funeral director, event planner, or religious leader to see what changes will be made to the ceremony, wake, and reception.
Reception Ideas for Funeral Planners
If you’re hosting a traditional funeral or memorial service, it’s common to host a reception or a repast. That being said, no two services have to look alike. Whether you opt for a traditional or religious funeral or something else entirely, these reception ideas are the perfect fit.
1. Host a family meal
Food and grief go hand in hand. There are few things in life a good meal with friends and family can’t make better, and this is one of them.
Hosting a family meal for your closest loved ones or the funeral guests offers a less formal opportunity to process these feelings of mourning together.
2. Stream the reception for faraway guests
If you plan on live streaming the funeral, you might also want to stream the reception. You can choose to do this yourself, or opt to use a virtual funeral planning service, like GatheringUs, that will facilitate the reception, story sharing, and provide tech support.
3. Prayer time
Another option, especially for religious funerals, is to host a quiet prayer circle. While there will undoubtedly be prayers said at the funeral service, a less formal prayer opportunity is very healing.
Have a religious leader or family member lead this reception, and give everyone a chance to say a few words.
4. Slideshow or photo display
Another reception idea that’s perfect after a funeral is to showcase aspects of the deceased person’s life.
You can show a slideshow, memorial video, or other tribute. Include photos, videos, mementos, and messages from loved ones. Remember to bring the tissues. There won’t be a dry eye in the house.
5. Candle vigil
Candles are a powerful symbol for remembrance. In many cultures across the globe, lighting candles is how people remember the dead. This is something that is easy to incorporate into a post-funeral reception.
6. Scatter the ashes
For those who choose cremation, scattering the ashes is an emotional way to get some closure after the death of a loved one. While many keep the ashes in an urn, scattering them somewhere special carries a lot of meaning.
Inviting some guests or close family to go with you to scatter the ashes is a good alternative to a graveside service. Say a few words, make your final goodbyes, and let the ashes scatter in the wind or in the ground.
7. Graveside service
Similar to scattering the ashes, many people also choose to host a graveside service after the funeral. This could be religious or secular, and it’s an opportunity to lay a loved one to rest one last time. Like a funeral, this is usually more formal, but it’s still just as powerful.
While visitation is common before the funeral in many cultures, there are no rules about this being allowed after a funeral as well. In a visitation, friends, family, and community members visit the house of the grieving family.
They might offer food, gifts, and support. It’s a casual way to pay respects to a family in need. According to funeral etiquette, guests should bring something. However, this isn’t required either. The best gift is the presence of those who care.
9. Happy hour
For those who weren’t afraid to “cheers” to all of life’s great moments, a happy hour makes the perfect post-funeral reception. Join together with guests and other friends for a round of drinks (or virgin drinks) in honor of the deceased.
Share stories, offer kind words, and enjoy each other's company. To take things up a level, share their favorite drink in celebration of a life well-lived.
There’s something soothing about the Great Outdoors. Letting nature be a part of your post-funeral reception is an effective way to feel an extra dose of comfort. If the weather allows, host the reception outside in a favorite park or nature conservation.
11. Celebration of life
While many people choose a traditional funeral service, there’s also a push for more celebrations of life. A celebration of life is a party in honor of the deceased.
Unlike the funeral, it’s not sad or mournful. There’s a focus on living life to the fullest and celebrating all of these happy memories shared together.
What You Can Do If There’s Not a Reception
It’s not always possible to have a reception in-person, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy the company of the ones you love. These ideas are perfect for times when a traditional reception isn’t a good fit.
12. Virtual funeral
A virtual funeral is exactly what it sounds like. If you can’t gather in-person, gather digitally on a video platform. Stream the funeral or reception live, allowing people to contribute and “be there” digitally.
With more distance separating people than ever before, technology keeps us feeling close to those we love.
13. Group or solo travel
Travel is soothing for the soul. After losing a loved one, there’s a lot of nostalgia and longing for the past. Soothe this pain by traveling either alone or with trusted friends and family.
Visit places that meant something to you and the deceased, or explore somewhere they never got the opportunity to go. Either way, keep them in your thoughts along the way. This proves it really is all about the journey, not the destination.
14. Donation or fundraiser
If you can’t be together, you can still raise funds for an important cause. Donating is a powerful tool for closure, especially if the deceased was passionate about a specific cause.
For instance, hosting a virtual donation or fundraiser event in lieu of flowers allows their legacy to live on in a new way. Doing good is one of the best ways to heal yourself after a tragedy.
15. Online guestbook or memorial
Speaking of technology as a way to bring us together, you can also create a digital legacy that lasts a lifetime. An online guestbook or memorial is a way to share the deceased individual’s story online.
Invite friends and family to post images, kind words, prayers, and messages.
16. Plant a tree or garden
These are inexpensive compared to a reception, and they still allow for some closure and remembrance. Host a planting ceremony or dedicate a plaque in your loved one’s honor.
17. Make a memory book
Crafting is one of the many ways to create something out of a loss. When dealing with feelings of loss and mourning, being able to do something with your hands is a big form of relief.
Creating a memory book, similar to an online guest book or memorial, is an opportunity to tell your loved one’s story.
Death doesn’t always have to be sad. Sometimes good comes out of it as well. Bringing friends, family, or even just yourself together to join with a cause is always something to celebrate.
Volunteer in your loved one’s honor and encourage others to do the same. Breathe meaning into their legacy, and make sure they won’t be forgotten.
19. Make a memory box
Another option is to build a memory box or a time capsule. Creating this in place of a traditional reception is a service to a loved one’s memory.
Store all the things that mattered to them and store it somewhere safe. This is a moving memento to look back on in future years.
20. Write letters
The art of letter writing developed as a way to share feelings and experiences. Though it’s more common to write emails or text messages nowadays, you can return to this old tradition to honor a loved one after death.
Have friends and family write letters to the family. Share stories of the deceased, include photos, and don’t hold anything back. Collect all the photos to create one large memory book or box.
21. Try something new
Last but not least, try something you’ve never experienced before. Ask funeral guests to do something that scares them. Instead of a traditional reception, challenge people to live their own lives to the fullest.
Let them experience the small and big things that make life worth living. Though simple, this leaves the biggest impact. There’s nothing braver than living life without fear.
Honor Their Memory in Your Own Way
There are a lot of questions about what comes next after a funeral. How do you plan the perfect reception? Is a reception even necessary at all? In reality, there are no clear answers. We live in a time full of possibilities when it comes to end-of-life arrangements, and the post-funeral plans are part of this.
Whether you choose a picnic or a family event, these are memories that won’t fade. It’s important to remember that funerals are about the living. They’re a reminder that life passes quickly. It’s up to use to take advantage of all life’s moments, both big and small. This is the ultimate tribute in honor of a loved one.