The secret to adding meaningful touches to funeral services is to ask families questions about their loved one to get to know their passions, preferences and what brought them joy in life. You might be surprised how a small fact about a person influenced big parts of their life. Using this personalized knowledge, and a little out-of-the-box thinking, you can create a meaningful memory for the grieving family and let them know how much you care.
Ask Questions to Spur Your Creativity
Did they have a favorite candy or treat?
Perhaps they always had mints in their pocket or handed mints to their children or grandchildren during church services. You could provide a bowl of peppermints for guests, with a note detailing the significance of the mints.
Did they have a famous recipe?
You could print recipe cards with their go-to dish for guests to take and remember their loved one.
Did they have a favorite flower or plant, or perhaps they liked to garden?
You could hand out seed packets to guests or squares of seed paper printed with the deceased’s name.
Did they have a close-knit group of friends? Or did they love spending time with their grandchildren?
For my grandma’s funeral, each of her grandchildren recorded a video sharing a memory or story of our grandma. The funeral director stitched the clips together and played them at the funeral.
Were they an avid reader? Or passionate about a certain issue?
When Homesteaders Marketing Campaign Manager Niki Smith’s mother passed away, Niki and her family had an idea about how to honor their mother. “Her last profile picture was a list of banned books. This was very representative of who she was, so we made a Facebook graphic that people could share in her honor,” Niki shared. “We also made the list of books into a bookmark that guests could bring home. This gave us a way to honor her beyond just the services—we now drop those bookmarks in free libraries and continue to share the Facebook graphic.” Read about other low-cost, meaningful ways to help families personalize funeral services.
Listen to the Details
Personalize the Casket
Holly Cully, Homesteaders Marketing Department Coordinator, previously worked at a funeral home and recalled a couple of unconventional, meaningful ways the home honored the deceased. One funeral was for a 21-year-old woman who died suddenly from Influenza. She had several tattoos by a local tattoo artist. Holly remembered, “My boss, the funeral home owner, had the idea to ask the local tattoo artist if he could airbrush some of her tattoo designs on the outside of her casket.” The family loved the idea, and the artist added designs to the purple metal casket.
Holly recalled, “The airbrush designs made her casket seem much more appropriate for her.” In place of the traditional casket spray of flowers was a large image replicating one of the woman’s tattoos. Underneath her upper body, the artist sketched “Est. 1991,” which was also one of her tattoos.
“It was moving to see and hear the response of people at her visitation. They all seemed to agree that it felt appropriate,” Holly noted, “This was an easy way to make a service so much more meaningful to that family.”
Personalize the Lawn Ornaments
At another funeral at the funeral home where Holly worked, the man who passed away was a farmer and very opinionated about tractor brands. Holly shared, “His favorite was International, and he always let people know how much better he thought they were than John Deere.” During his family’s arrangement meeting, the funeral home owner suggested they display two of his International tractors on the funeral home lawn during visitation and the service. “The family was elated to do this. While greeting people at the door, I heard many comments about how much he would have loved to see those tractors sitting outside his funeral as well as some chuckles about how opinionated he was regarding these brands.” Holly noted, “This was a simple idea that didn’t cost anything and gave the family a sense of personalization at their loved one’s funeral.”
Personalize Gifts for the Family
After my grandpa, who was a baker, passed away, my mother found his handwritten bread recipe. She bought wooden bread boards and had a local artist wood-burn the handwritten recipe onto the board and gifted the memento to her siblings.
Personalize the Seating Arrangements
As a previous funeral director, Homesteaders Senior Account Executive Jamie Dravecky has many stories to share. One family she met shared how their mother added place cards where she wanted everyone to sit for each holiday meal. For the day of the funeral, Jamie printed place cards to let the family know where to sit. Read more about how you can use stories to plan a funeral service.
Create an Event
A couple of other stories stand out to Jamie during her time as a funeral director, including one service for a high school student who died suddenly. As Jamie listened to the young man’s family talk about his life, one thing became clear: he loved high school. Jamie recalled, “His mom said if he had to die so young, she was so glad he had the experience he did in high school. It was everything to him.” He was a three-sport varsity athlete and popular among his peers.
Jamie shared, “I got the idea to throw him a homecoming. I decorated the funeral home to match a high school’s homecoming. I had balloons, M&Ms, plates and napkins in the school’s colors; I called the school and got his jerseys to display; I painted his school sports numbers on the door.” Jamie didn’t ask the family for permission before, but she did ask them to come an extra hour early for two reasons. “First, if they hated it, I wanted to have time to remove it all, and second, because he was so young, I wanted them to have an abundance of time before guests arrived.” Jamie said, “His family walked in—jaws dropped—and said nothing. I really thought I missed the mark. Then his mom said, ‘This is perfect.’ They were really blown away. It was such a cool experience.”
Another personalized funeral Jamie planned was for a man who loved black-tie events. So, she threw a gala for him. She remembered, “We rented a space at a hotel and had servers, drinks, hors d’ouevres. We even sent paper invites out!”
For a Jimmy Buffett fan’s funeral, Jamie transformed her funeral home’s refreshment room into a tropical oasis.
Incorporating even one detail from a person’s life into a service can bring back many memories for the grieving guests and bring comfort and even laughter during a difficult time. They can remember how special their loved one is and how unique a life they lived. Giving them the gift of recalling those cherished moments will be a new memory not soon forgotten.
Learn more about talking to families about preneed so you can help your clients prearrange a meaningful funeral exactly to their desires.