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How to Plan a Memorial Service

By Adrienne Crowther

When my husband died last summer, I had one week to plan his memorial service. At the time, it seemed daunting. In actuality, the planning became a wonderful process for remembering all that made him unique and wonderful. In this article, ideas and considerations are offered to help others with this task.

The first consideration is timing. In our case, we had some important schedule considerations for people who absolutely needed to be there. For example, his closest sister was leaving for a trip to Europe, and was in the middle of chemotherapy. Those were two important factors that influenced our decision about when to have the memorial service. Ours was one week after the death. Other considerations are availabilities of venue, key guests, officiants or clergy.

The next decision is venue. Many people opt for the traditional funeral home. Others, however, opt for something different, such as a favorite place of the deceased, the family church or other spiritual community gathering venue. In our case, we selected our backyard, with a rented tent and chairs. It was befitting of my husband's preferences to have it outdoors in nature.

Next, you'll need to decide on an officiant. It could be the family priest, rabbi, or minister, the funeral director, or friends and family. Our service was a blend of a Buddhist minister, readings by family members, and then a time for sharing from friends and family. The service borrowed from many beliefs and traditions that resonated with us. For example, we used a tibetan bowl ringing to set the ritualistic beginning and end of the service. We also read passages from the bible, poetry, lyrics to songs, a Baha'i prayer, a Native American blessing, and music. It was rather an eclectic celebration, but that seemed just right for my husband.

Some people asked to be part of the service, so we wrote them into the program. Others were undecided, so we left that sharing segment a bit loose and flexible. Once the main segments of the service were decided, we promptly wrote a program and timed each part of the service. We also included a slideshow which was accompanied by favorite music. We spent a good amount of time during the week before the service selecting images for the slideshow.

Time of day is yet another decision. We opted for afternoon because we had lots of out of town guests who might want to spend time together at our home after the service. That was a great decision, because that's exactly what happened. So, with that in mind, it was necessary to plan for food. Some memorials are catered. If this is the decision, then food and beverage selections are to be made. Potluck is another way to go, if you're willing to relinquish control over what is served. The advantages to potluck are budget and the opportunity for everyone to share a part in the offerings. Often, people will make food that was loved by the deceased, so the food becomes yet another means of celebration or honoring.

A guestbook is advisable. It can be placed in a central location, and attendees can be encouraged to write messages, stories, or simply sign the book. It's a great way to remember who was there, especially since the close family is often so distressed that the memory of every person there may eventually fade. Also, it gives people another opportunity to send a lovely message to the family, or to share a short story about the deceased. The guestbook can be as simple as a plain journal, or as formal as a leather bound book. There are many choices in between, but it's nice to have something a little bit special as a keepsake. We had a hand-bound silk covered book that was truly beautiful. It had my husband's name, dates, and a favorite quote inscribed on the cover.

Music selections are very important. Favorite hymns are often selected, as are favorite songs. Our music ranged from old spirituals to the Beatles. It's important to take time to reflect on the preferences of the deceased. If that person was a music lover, then it's very meaningful and powerful to play some of the favorites - whether live or recorded.

And lastly, it's fine to delegate. This is an incredibly emotional time for family. Friends are often willing to help. It gives them a feeling of participation, which is comforting for both sides of that offer. The immediate family, if possible, should be free to grieve, speak with people, and/or be present with the feelings associated with a memorial.

A memorial is most successful when it truly reflects the personality and preferences of the person being honored. A well executed memorial has the potential to be very healing for all involved. It's so important to take time for ritual, to truly honor all that made this person unique.

Adrienne Crowther is the owner and founder of Shine On Brightly, an online memorial art gallery at http://www.shineonbrightly.com. Shine On Brightly was launched in 2008 - the result of a lifelong passion for art, love for people and their stories, and lots of research on the changing trends around life and death rituals (especially among babyboomers) Fifteen months later, the most unimaginable turn of events changed my supposedly carefully navigated path. My husband of 29 years passed away unexpectedly. Eight months after that, his sister, who had been one of my dearest childhood friends, also died. At first, I felt paralyzed by these losses. But I quickly realized that I had created my own vocation. I am now, more than ever, committed to the importance of memorialization by honoring a spirit with art and beauty.

We hope that you'll browse our collection at http://www.shineonbrightly.com. Customer service is paramount to our mission. I am available roll free at 866-844-4469, or by email at acrowther@shineonbrightly.com.


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