As we all know, a bereavement is a very emotive and stressful event with families wanting to pay personal tributes to their loved one but not aware of how to go about personalising their Celebration of Life. As a celebrant, I am used to writing Celebrations of Life for families but recently I had the privilege of writing and conducting one for my niece Sophie’s service.
Here are 10 suggestions on how to personalise your celebration of life showing how our family paid their personal tributes to our much loved and adored niece and daughter Sophie.
Sophie’s funeral was at a local crematorium but this or a church service aren’t the only options for your celebration of life. It is possible, for example, to hire a room in a hotel, or the village hall and for the family to conduct their own service, for example, before the burial or cremation. This can take away the time pressure on the service. This could be run informally by the family or celebrant-led if desired. It is possible to have a ceremony in a favourite place of the deceased, for example, a woodland just make sure you ensure you get the right permission is it is needed.
Sophie’s Mum wasn’t keen on the traditional wooden coffins and she chose a white coffin for Sophie which she thought was more appropriate and modern for her daughter. There are many options now for coffins including cardboard, willow, colourful coffins and those which can be customised with appropriate pictures – I have seen horses painted on a horse-lovers coffin and pictures of the Sydney Opera House at an Australia themed funeral so, if you want something a bit different, ask.
Sophie’s favourite colours were bright pink and lime green and so, on the coffin (see above) the local florist made up the coffin wreath using these colours. Sophie also loved robins and so as a personal touch a robin was added in to the funeral flowers.
Sophie also loved her fur babies, she had two miniature Jack Russells one of the wreaths depicted her fur baby (as shown) and was placed on the catafalque during her celebration of life.
Other options I’ve seen are the wreath made out of vegetables out of the garden of the deceased who loved his garden as well as flowers taken from the garden and made up by family members into a number of posies to go on the coffin for the service then given to family and friends after the service. Do remember to ask the Funeral Director for the wreaths after the service if you don’t want them left at the church, chapel or graveyard.
Nowadays most people are aware that they can ask for music to be included in the service which has meaning for the family. Hopefully, as we move out of the grip of the pandemic, funeral attendees will be able to sing as well as listen to music. Sophie’s family chose four pieces of music which all had significance for them, Sophie’s favourite hymn, favourite family music, a song that brought back memories of Sophie’s trip of a lifetime to Hawaii and exit music to McFly as a reminder of one of the concerts that Sophie had attended whilst she was studying at University. Generally, most Funeral Directors will be able to source requested music and, if not, it may be possible to record your music onto a device to be uploaded onto a system – but check this with your Funeral Director as it will need to be an approved device so this option isn’t always guaranteed.
Order of Service
The family gave out an Order of Service at Sophie’s funeral which is very popular with families – apart from giving the running order of the service, it gave our family the opportunity to include some lovely photos of Sophie and also the opportunity to thank those who had supported the family plus a note about the justgiving page that was set up by Sophie’s mum in memory of Sophie.
Again, the colours were personalised – lots of green and robins dotted about the leaflet. The printing was arranged by the funeral director but families can design and print their own if they choose or can choose not to have an order of service. Extra copies can be posted to those who were unable to travel to the funeral (or couldn’t attend due to restriction on numbers) as it is a lovely reminder of a very special person.
Conducting the service
Sophie’s Celebration of Life was unique as it was totally delivered by her immediate family – her Aunt conducted the service; Sophie’s mum Helen, delivered the very powerful first part of the eulogy as she addressed her daughter directly; Sophie’s brother Matthew delivered his tribute to his sister as the second part and Sophie’s Dad, Stephen delivered the final part. Obviously, this is very unusual and is not for most people but if you or any member of the family want to take part in the funeral of your loved one, make sure you let your funeral arranger know. If one of the family want to lead the service, it is possible though not for the faint-hearted. It may be possible to ask a celebrant to write the service for you and guide and support a family member to deliver it, but do have a back-up as it is difficult to know if, as a family, you will be overcome with emotion on the day.
In some venues, it may be possible to display a compilation of photos of the deceased – for example during the reflection music. It may also be possible for friends and family to pre-record a message and for these to be compiled and played during the service – again, discuss this with your funeral arranger to check whether it is possible if you would like to do this.
Two poems had been written about Sophie and the family considered reading them at her funeral but decided on a well-known poem which Sophie’s uncle read at the funeral. A family member written poem is another lovely way of personalising the celebration of life of your loved one.
Livestreaming the service
Sophie’s family decided to have the service livestreamed which enabled those who couldn’t travel to the service or couldn’t take part because of restricted numbers to ‘attend’ the live service plus the family asked for a recording of the service to be available to selected family and friends for 4 weeks after the service – just one way of ensuring those who wanted to share in the ceremony are able to do so. Some venues don’t have livestreaming capability but could record the service and make it available to your family.
Sophie’s family had arranged to have the wake at an allowed venue – as we were still constrained by the pandemic limitations on numbers and allowable venues. When restrictions allow, there will be the opportunity to personalise a wake although see my blog ‘How to plan for and what to include in a post-Covid Memorial ceremony for your loved one’ where there are ideas for ‘Wakeaway’ bags to give to attendees of either the Celebration of Life or Memorial Service for more ideas on how you can personalise the wake for attendees.
Sophie’s family have said that they will be holding a memorial service for Sophie at an appropriate time when restrictions on numbers ease and when more people who knew Sophie will get the chance to contribute their memories of her where photographs, video’s, music, tales of Sophie will be shared and enjoyed. Memorial services are limited only be the imagination when it comes to personalising the event.
It is never too early to let your family know your wishes for your celebration of life when the time comes – it will take away some of the stress of making the arrangements and knowing that you are carrying out their wishes will be a comfort to you at a time of great stress.
So, through one family’s experience, 10 Ways to personalise the Celebration of Life for your loved one.
Get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to discuss your Celebration of Life or ways in which you can personalise your ceremony.
Val Marshall, Independent Celebrant