Nathan Miller – October 20, 2017
Have you ever attended a funeral service not personally knowing the deceased? Maybe you went to support one of the family members. You were hoping to learn more about the deceased by the end of the service, but left not knowing any more about him/her than before you showed up at the funeral home. Now, let’s flip it around and make you the family member needing support in this scenario. Would you like it for someone to come to your mother’s funeral service and never learn anything extraordinary about her? How about your father’s funeral? Your spouse’s funeral? Your child’s? There is a definitive way to make sure that that does not happen – Personalization.
Samantha Kennedy, a funeral director with Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes for almost 15 years, stated that “personalization is important. It differentiates services. Hypothetically: Mrs. Smith orders the Sycamore casket. No personalization. Then, Mr. Thompson has the exact same thing. You can’t really tell the difference. Let’s say Mrs. Jackson orders the Sycamore casket and adds four music corners and the mother/grandmother cap panel. Anyone who walks by would know that Mrs. Jackson likes music and must be a mother and grandmother. If a service isn’t personalized, it’s generic. You can tell a lot about a person by the personalization.” Tailored funerals are not an unusual request today. There is no longer a “standard” service. Families want to be able to tell a story about their loved ones by having a unique service that reflects their lives.
Let’s look at a few methods that families have been using to personalize services.
The most obvious way to personalize a funeral is to involve pictures of the deceased and family members. How to display then can vary. Some families will simply bring in framed pictures that can be placed all around the visitation room. Another way of exhibiting the photos is to gather them up and make a large collage to be put on an easel. Probably the most commonly seen technique of late is to create a slideshow video of the pictures. Today, most funeral homes and churches have the capability of projecting a video of the deceased through a media file or a DVD. Putting one or more pictures on all of the items purchased from the funeral home is usually a possibility as well (keepsakes, programs, memorial books, etc.).
The next most obvious way to personalize a service is music. Playing music during the funeral service greatly enriches the ceremony and provides a tender addition. The music can be live or prerecorded. Make sure that the music selected were some of the deceased’s favorite songs. If the deceased was a musician, try playing some prerecorded music of his or hers. If the individual was a composer, hire musicians to play his or her music. Also, when creating the slideshow mentioned earlier, include a mix of the deceased’s favorite music to play in the background.
Timothy Gossett, a funeral director with Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes and the Southeast Location Manager, gave two examples of true personalization that he has experienced in his career. The first example he gave was a little, old lady that passed away and her three brothers were making the funeral arrangements. Whenever they started to discuss the times for the service, they laughed. Apparently, she had been perpetually late to gatherings her entire life. Mr. Gossett had the idea of involving her tardiness into the funeral service. Instead of starting the service late, they processed the pastors, pallbearers, and family in on time, and even started the service on time. After the welcome, short scripture reading, and prayer, Mr. Gossett knocked on the chapel doors loudly to get everyone’s attention. He would then process in with the casket. Once the casket had been placed, the minister stepped down, placed his hand on the casket, and said: “For all of you who knew this dear lady in life, you know that she was late for everything in life, and in true fashion, she is late to her own funeral.” The congregation laughed heartily and enjoyed the moment. Another example of personalization was about another little, old lady who passed away. She was known to collect angels. Her daughter said that the collection filled several rooms and closets in her home. The family did not want to keep them but did not want to throw them away. What was decided was during the visitation, the funeral home staff set up several tables throughout the rooms to display the collection. The family decided to let everyone who came to give their respects take an angel. This was a great way to remember the “Angel Lady” and perpetuate her collection
Let’s look at a few ways that families have been personalizing funeral items.
Caskets are being personalized more now than ever. Have you ever heard someone say “Just put me in a pine box?” Well, there really isn’t a boring “pine box” anymore. You can get a pine box, but do you want it with custom corners, possibly displaying a fireman’s helmet to honor your 30 years of firefighting, or do you want three bronze medallions in the cap, each one displaying a unique trait of yours. Or do you want a custom cap panel with the U.S. Army emblem to recognize your service to this country? You would be surprised of all the personal customization that can be done to caskets today.
Vaults can be personalized as well. Many people think that no one will see it, so there is no point to tailoring the vault. That is not entirely true. Some vault companies will set up the vault so that the lid will either be displayed behind the casket or propped up off to the side of the tent at the cemetery. Many vault companies will paint the vault or modify the lid with pictures or decals that are special to that individual.
Additional memorial items that can add to the personalization of the service include, but not limited to, memorial books, custom memorial programs with the deceased’s picture(s) on it, laminated bookmark obituaries, prayer cards, memorial tables for keepsakes and other personal items, planting a memorial tree, butterfly release, dove release, balloon release, and even catering. As long as it is legal and ethical, there is almost no limit to the personalization that is available.
A funeral service gives family members a great way to honor a loved one in an exceptional manner. Any formal service will present grievers with the opportunity to convey their anguish, but a personalized service will have a greater impact.