I’m feeling quite sad this week. A few days ago, I heard about the passing of one of my ski tribe. I thought about his partner and children, who like so many people at this time, are mourning without a supportive crowd around them. Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard about someone in my circle who’s had to endure a lonely funeral.
But I am looking forward to attending the memorial ceremony for this man, who was a talented athlete and musician. There are going to be a lot of these memorial ceremonies, because we don’t want this virus to stop us from being there for the people we care about. And because we want to define people by how they lived, not by how their lives ended.
I qualified as a funeral celebrant just before the virus began to close the world down. And I want to help you mourn your loved ones the way both you and they deserve. So, I’ve put together some ideas to help you plan a memorial ceremony for your loved one when restrictions are lifted. You can adapt your memorial ceremony to fit the type of person your loved one was and pay tribute to them in a really personal way.
The Two Types of Ceremony
There are broadly two types of memorial ceremony you can arrange.
The Story Of Your Life
You can organise an informal celebration for your loved one that tells the story of their life in music, words and pictures. Hire a venue that your loved one enjoyed going to, fill it with family and friends and feast on your memories. Invite people from different areas of the person’s life to tell stories about them and intersperse each one with songs the person liked.
Ideally, you’d have a talented musician in your family play them live, but you can also sing along to a recording. And while you’re reminiscing, you could arrange a slideshow of pictures of the person to play in the background. Just be sure you designate someone to be the MC for this event, so it all flows smoothly.
You can also have a more traditional memorial ceremony. This is closer to a funeral in form. But it can still be highly personal, a ceremony that celebrates the person’s life and the contribution they made to all of your lives.
Here’s a flavour of the elements you can include in your funeral-style ceremony.
Opening Remarks: It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget about welcoming people when you have so much to think of. All you have to do is say that everyone is welcome and thank them for coming. And don’t forget to use your loved one’s name. Your name is intertwined with who you are. By using their name, the name they were known by, you invoke their presence and bring them to life.
Readings: Did your loved one have a favourite poem or reflection? You can include that as a reading in the ceremony, to showcase your loved one’s personality. There are also readings written especially for end of life rituals. These are designed to give you comfort and to show you that the person can still be present in your life.
Depending on your loved one’s beliefs, you can choose a prayer, a spiritual reflection or a poem. You can spread readings throughout the ceremony: for example, a reading after the opening remarks, after the eulogy or before the final words.
Gathering of Memories: As this is a memorial, the memories you share of your loved one will form the centrepiece of your ceremony. This is the time to let your loved one’s personality shine. You can share these memories in a formal way, with a eulogy delivered by a friend or member of the family. Or you can ask a few close friends or family to tell stories about your loved one, stories that capture the spirit of your loved one and celebrate the high points of their lives.
Rituals: We all need rituals, and rituals can be powerful symbols of love and of life in the midst of death. A lot of people offer gifts that represent the person – maybe a football jersey, a newspaper or a souvenir from a brilliant holiday. You can also light a candle for your loved one, to show that their light will never go out.
Musical Magic: Music speaks to the soul and it reaches places that words can’t reach. Let yourself be inspired by your loved one in the music you choose. What tunes did they like? What did they dance to? Or is there a piece of music that you feel fits their personality to a T. Or maybe there was a song that your loved one always sang at family gatherings. What a fitting way to round off a ceremony, having everyone sing along to that party piece.
Closing Words: The end of the ceremony will be the most poignant part for you all. You already said goodbye at the funeral and now you’ll be saying it again. But the end of the ceremony is a good time to give thanks. Thank your loved one for the riches they brought into your life and thank all those who gave you support in many ways.
And finally, thank everyone for coming and let them know if you’ve organised refreshments for afterwards. Focusing on the gratitude you feel will take some of the sting out of that goodbye.
Have A Laugh: There’s still a feeling that we must be solemn at funerals and memorials and of course there are sad occasions. But they’re also celebrations of life, as I said. So, make room for laughter in your ceremony. Tell the jokes your loved one would have told. Share funny stories about the crazy things the person did. Let your laughter mingle with your tears and you will all leave with a happy memory.
I’ve produced a version of this blog post for the Irish Ethical Celebrants’ Society if you want to take a look at that. If you want more ideas or help with putting together a memorial ceremony, please don’t hesitate to get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org