Striking a Memorial Service Balance: What the Person Wanted vs. What Families Want


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The death of a loved one is a difficult, emotional experience, even under the best of circumstances. Planning a memorial service for a family member or close friend can add stress to the already complicated feelings of grief and sadness, often resulting in disagreements between those making final arrangements.

As a funeral professional, you have likely observed more than your fair share of arguments over the minute details of a memorial service, from the flowers and music to the location of the service and the menu for the luncheon. Frequently, these frustrations stem from disagreements between what those planning the memorial service prefer and what they think their deceased loved one would have wanted.

Even if the deceased planned and funded their funeral in advance, relieving family members of the burden of making the biggest decisions, you may still find yourself amidst disagreements when the deceased’s plans conflict with the preferences of the surviving family members. Here are a few tips which may help you navigate these difficult conversations:

Be creative.

Even if their loved one prearranged their memorial service, there are still many ways surviving family members can contribute to the end-of-life arrangements. Having loved ones share stories during the eulogy or bake their favorite family recipes for a luncheon are simple ways to incorporate everyone’s memories into the service. Try to think of creative ways to meet the needs of the surviving family members while still honoring their loved one’s wishes.

Find ways for everyone to contribute.

Part of the stress of grief stems from a feeling of helplessness. Many times, family members who are stubborn about their own preferences for their loved one’s memorial service are simply trying to regain some control over the situation. These individuals may benefit from having something concrete that they can contribute, like picking up snacks for the visitation or coordinating with a local print shop to distribute copies of their loved one’s favorite poem. Giving family members a purpose, something they can control, may reduce their feelings of helplessness.

Bring in reinforcements.

For families you know well, it may be possible to navigate through these sticky situations, ultimately ending up with a memorial service that satisfies everyone involved. However, it becomes much more challenging to resolve these disagreements when you don’t know the family members well and don’t have a strong sense of their family dynamics. In these situations, it’s okay to bring in some outside assistance. Pastors, mentors, family friends and other community leaders have the relational capital built up to address these situations and are often skilled at mediating these types of family disagreements.

Stay positive.

If surviving family members disagree with the memorial service arrangements their loved one made, remind them of the reasons the deceased made those selections. One of the most common reasons individuals choose to prearrange and prefund a funeral is relieving surviving family members of the emotional and financial burden of having to make those decisions. Explaining this to loved ones who disagree with these arrangements helps refocus their attention on the loving, generous steps their loved one took to avoid any stress or contention.

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