There you are, reeling from the loss of a loved one. What you most want to do is go home and lie down. Unfortunately, it may be a while before that's convenient. First you must climb a mountain of paperwork, and make arrangements with a thousand and one details.
And there is the Memorial Service. If you are one of the lucky ones, the deceased wrote out instructions for you ahead of time. Count your blessings, and follow them to the letter.
This article is for the rest of us. Where do we start?
PERSONALITY. What was Loved One (LO) like? Really like. If LO was a loving, outgoing person, this part will be easy. But let's face it, we all have LOs that were difficult to deal with. Try not to let your own emotions get in the way of your planning. Please note that it does not say here that this is going to be easy. Dig deep into your memory and concentrate on a time LO was okay. Focus there.
Whoever LO was, it will be helpful to talk to people that knew LO. Especially if LO was young, friends may have suggestions that you'd never think of, but find meaningful. And they knew a side of LO to which you were probably not exposed. Kids are like that.
LOCATION. At the funeral home? Your church? The decedant's church? The nursing home? The high school? The park? Where did LO consciously enjoy spending time?
LEADER. If LO was not a religious person, someone from an organization, or a family member, may be called on to facilitate. If this person is comfortable 'saying a few words' about LO, good. Please make sure to ask family members. After the fact is the worst time to find out a grandchild had a poem to read.
PRESENCE. Will the remains or cremains of LO be present? If a casket is included, the funeral director takes care of everything concerned with that. You need to designate actual and honorary pall bearers.
If you have the cremains, decide how they will be included. Up front with a small flower arrangement? On a side table with family photos? In the middle of the bar next to the favorite licquor? On the dock next to fishing gear? Be respectful, but honor who LO really was. Don't let people's comments upset you.
CLUES. Look in a Bible. Even if LO never read it, for some reason people tuck meaningful things inside this Book. And while you're rifling through it, look to see if anything is written inside. Are any passages marked? Memorial cards from other funerals may be a reading that meant something to LO.
The back of the closet may also help. Yearbooks and photos may be stashed there. Momentos may be found. A word of warning here. You may find things that touch you deeply, and stir strong emotions. Just as strong may be the lack of anything to remind LO of anyone. If you find the gift you gave, untouched, from some past occasion, try to put it in context. You are raw, not rational, at this point. Journals might best be set aside for reading much later. You may also be shocked at what you find. Again, context and time are your aids.
RELIGION. It's hard to put aside your own belief system at a time like this. But you really must look at LO's spirituality, and let that guide you. As an example, many Roman Catholics left the Church at Vatican II, or after a divorce or some trauma. A funeral Mass may be inappropriate. But the Hail Mary and a decade of the Rosary would honor LO and comfort those in attendance. If LO spent a life time speaking against organized religion, then make the service 98% about LO's life, with a mere mention of God and God's grace.
MUSIC. Pay attention to LO's age when making decisions here. For the contemporaries of the Depression or WWII, secular music would be an insult, unless LO was a musician. For those involved in Korea, secular and sacred music may be combined. For anyone younger, to leave out secular or popular music of their time would be amiss. Again, this is about LO, not you. You may still hate the Beatles. But if LO asked to hear "In My Life" on more than one occassion, play it here.
PERSONAL TOUCHES. If LO tatted doilies for family members, gather them and display them at the memorial. Veterans should have a military salute. Musicians should have someone playing an instrument. A photographer should have work displayed, and plenty of photos taken that day. Dancers, film clips, collections, pictures of pets, a company logo, all can be tastefully represented.
FLOWERS. This tradition is slowly disappearing. The days of trucks full of blooms are a thing of the past. While a few arrangements are included, most often the money is designated for a more practical use. What was meaningful to LO? Did LO volunteer for an organization? Would family members need financial support after LO's loss? Can LO be honored with a scholarship? If all else fails, medical research always needs support. Or the paramedics, hospice or care givers can benefit.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER. Regardless of the theme of the memorial, someone with practice can put it together for you, whether they're involved or not. Your Pastor might be willing to create the service for you, even if it's not a religious event. Ditto the funeral director. A teacher or administrative assistant would also have gifts for this. So don't be afraid to ask them. They'd probably be honored.
The bottom line is not to try to do this alone. Reach out, and let someone help. Not just for the memorial, but with the details left afterwards. When people ask if they can do anything, they usually are sincere. Give them a chance. You need the rest.