For About and By Caregivers
Funerals Should be Medicine for the Caregiver

By Daniel Mandel


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 least painful.

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 mourning.

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 are present.

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 precious memory.


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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