Traditionally, funeral services have been tied to specific religious or cultural traditions. But as new generations come of age, there’s a growing trend that has shifted toward honoring loved ones through services that reflect personal beliefs and individual values rather than being centered around organized religion.
Currently, about 30 percent of U.S. adults are religious “nones” – people who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular” when asked about their religious identity, according to Pew Research Center. It should come as no surprise then, that funeral services for “nones” differ from services that are traditionally faith based.
Flower arrangements, dark clothing and a somber ambiance are all indicative of what many people associate with funerals. While funeral services are deeply rooted in tradition, that doesn’t mean that stepping outside the ordinary takes away from the impact of honoring loved ones in a meaningful way.
Unconventional funerals have the flexibility of taking a more personalized approach, incorporating elements that were important to the loved one being honored without the structure and boundaries of a religious ceremony. Whether it’s through music, poetry or reading selection or even the location, these services can be a way to truly reflect the life, personality and values of their loved one. In addition, funerals that are not based on religious traditions can be perceived as more inclusive of those who do not belong to the same religion or culture being honored.
Here are four tips for hosting meaningful funeral services for “nones”:
1. Personalize with options
For the average family, planning a funeral for their loved one can be uncomfortable and feel a bit unfamiliar, not to mention emotionally draining. They will most likely not know where to begin, and without the tradition of a standard religious service to use as a guideline, it becomes an even more daunting task. Funeral directors can gently guide the family through the various elements of the planning process by asking lots of questions and intently listening to what they are saying to offer suggestions and ideas to put together a service that is an eloquent tribute to their loved one.
One of the many benefits to this type of funeral is that you can get creative and have more flexibility than you might with traditional religious services, with the ability to personalize it from start to finish. Did their loved one have a favorite music artist? Feature their favorite songs throughout the service. Maybe their loved one was an avid photographer. Create a photo gallery or memorial wall of their best work to showcase during their service. Was their loved one a veteran? Consider hosting the service at the local VFW or inviting fellow veterans to speak during the ceremony. There are endless possibilities to create meaningful personalized services.
2. Offer a funeral celebrant
Even if a family belongs to a certain religion, that doesn’t necessarily mean they would like to have their church leader conduct the funeral service for their loved one. They might not feel comfortable with that person or may feel like that person doesn’t know their loved one well enough, but they may not necessarily have anyone else in mind to conduct the service.
Ensure that they meet and discuss their wishes with the celebrant so that he or she can put together a service that truly captures their loved one’s life story, values, and accomplishments. By having a funeral celebrant readily available, it immediately takes pressure off the family to find an alternative option and helps ensure a memorable service and overall positive experience for your client families.
3. Keep an open mind and think outside the box
Simply because something has always been done a certain way does not mean that works for every family and situation. It can be hard to stray from tradition, but something that would be almost unheard of during a traditional religious funeral might be just what a family is looking for in terms of honoring their loved one. A good funeral director will recognize elements of importance that come up in conversation and help guide the family through the many options and decisions.
Just as each person is unique, their funeral services should adequately reflect their uniqueness as well. It goes beyond the service itself too. Perhaps they are considering alternative options for disposition, or would rather direct donations and memorials toward their loved one’s favorite cause or charity. Having a variety of resources readily available to provide as options is great way to provide an exceptional experience for families.
4. Provide support and grief resources that are not specifically tied to a religious belief or organization
Often, families will hear the same types of generic condolences from well-intended family or friends that may not necessarily reflect their own personal views or those of their loved one. While many grieving families find comfort in their religious beliefs or church support system, that certainly doesn’t apply to all. When talking with families, ensure that you’re providing comforting and supportive words, while recognizing that everyone’s beliefs differ.
Ensuring that you’re providing meaningful aftercare resources is also important. Whether it’s through remembrance event opportunities, recognizing anniversaries and other significant dates, or even through sending text messages, it’s important that you simply take a sincere and thoughtful approach to each client family.
There are endless possibilities for creating personalized and meaningful services that honor your client families loved ones. By incorporating elements that reflect their loved one’s interests and personality, you can help create a service that truly celebrates the life and the legacy they leave behind. Following these four tips will ensure that each service is unique and meaningful for each client family.
How do you approach services for families who do not wish for a service based on religious traditions? Share your thoughts in the comments below.