Those who are preparing for the end often contemplate
how to make things easier for the people who will be
left behind. Too often, their conclusion is some simple
disposal of his/her body with no service will be the
As a funeral director for the last quarter
century, I have assisted thousands of grieving
families and I have concluded that all of us need to
say goodbye. We see over and over again, when tragic
deaths occur, complete strangers build roadside
memorials. This shows our need for closure and
One common problem is that most funeral homes
have sold the same funeral for the last hundred
years and they don’t know how to do anything else.
The services they offer are deeply rooted in
institutional religion, regardless of the beliefs of
the person who has died. The only personal part of
the service is the eulogy and that depends on the
talent of the officiator. A few more progressive
funeral homes may offer to set up a table or easel
for the family to fill with photos of the deceased.
It is our responsibility to find an appropriate
way to say goodbye. The service should reflect the
person being remembered. The focus should be on the
fullness of his/her life, not on the pain and
suffering that frequently comes in the latter days.
There are things we should consider when planning
a funeral. Who is there that has a need to say
goodbye? What were the passions of the
deceased? What are things that remind me of him/her?
How do others know him/her? A funeral can only be
done once and it is important that it be done right.
When planning a service, consider family and
friends that may wish to be present. Often, those
who live farthest away may actually have the
greatest need to be there. These people have a life
that is connected, but not intertwined with the
deceased. This situation calls for closure more than
most. In some cases, feelings that he/she
wasn’t there enough for the person may require
resolution that only a funeral can bring. Having the
body at the service, even if the casket is closed,
can be very comforting and therapeutic to all who
Next consider the passions of the deceased. There
are many ways that a funeral can reflect the person
being remembered. The setting, officiator, music,
food and photographs can all come together to etch a
portrait we can carry in our hearts and memories.
Choose a place for the funeral that expresses the
deceased. If the person loves golf, then have the
service at a golf club. For antique lovers,
historical mansions; art galleries for art lovers
and yacht clubs for boating enthusiasts. Our funeral
home has contacted many venues like these and found
them to be very receptive to hosting funerals.
If the deceased was not religious, a member of
the clergy may not be the best choice for an
officiator. There are many professional
speakers capable of composing services that could be
more meaningful. Sometimes a group of family
members and friends may best express how to remember
someone. When using multiple speakers, it is
wise to select a master of ceremonies to weave
together all of the elements presented. Also,
with groups of speakers, impress on each one the
need for brevity. Otherwise, the service can
become repetitious and laborious.
The incorporation of music is another way to
reflect the deceased. Whether using live musicians
or compact discs, music can remind us vividly of the
person we’ve lost. Choose a style of music, favorite
songs or favorite singer. Any of these can touch us
deeply. Keep in mind that the selections do
not need to be mournful dirges.
Food often reminds us of people we have known.
Something as simple as passing out ice cream bars at
the service of someone who was known for her ice
cream socials can awaken a sweet memory.
Caterers can make serving food easier and expand the
range of options available. Remember that even the
smell of certain foods can remind us of people.
Displaying photographs is another way we can
remember the deceased. Whether mounted on boards,
shown in a video montage or displayed around the
room in frames, photos provide the opportunity to
show people as they would want to be remembered.
Always try to select a range of photographs sharing
the full life he/she had.
Weaving the elements described here can create a
meaningful service that can be a source of great
comfort and resolution for those who are left
behind. Many of the ideas suggested here add little
or no cost to the service and will result in a
Daniel Mandel is the
founder of Mandel Funeral Services of Northern
California. They specialize in planning personalized
funeral services. To ease the planning process, they
go to the family’s home for the funeral
arrangements. They have special settings for
funerals available throughout Northern California.
Daniel Mandel worked in Chicago for 25 years before
coming to California in July of 2006. He can
be reached at (866) 962-6335 or
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