Celebration of Life Event

"A funeral is not a day in a lifetime. It is a lifetime in a day."

Helping your family personalize the funeral

In the midst of planning a funeral, many families begin to feel overwhelmed with all of the details that must be attended to and decisions that must be made. Your natural and necessary feelings of grief make these tasks even more difficult. Our job at Smith & Kernke Funeral Directors is to assist you in making these decisions because we believe that every life should be celebrated in a unique way and every service should highlight what was important to the person who lived and the impact they had on friends and family. Over and over, our families tell us that the best funerals are those that are personalized life events.

Celebrant services

A Celebrant serves to provide a unique ceremony that is personalized to reflect your loved one’s personality and lifestyle. The Celebrant offers an alternative to a service provided by a clergy person for those families who are not affiliated with a church or who do not wish to have a traditional religious service. They have been specifically trained to design a service that is completely personal, incorporating unique stories, songs and experiences that defined your loved one. They do all of this by meeting with your family and hearing stories, memories, anecdotes and defining moments of your loved one’s life. The Celebrant will then design the service based upon that family meeting. Smith & Kernke Funeral Directors has a Certified Celebrant on staff, Dawn Mamer, and can help your family get connected with her during the funeral planning process.

Consider the unique life of the person who died

As you begin to think about personalizing the funeral, turn your thoughts to your memories of the person who died. Think about his or her qualities and what he or she meant to you and others. Consider his or her passions, hobbies, pastimes, likes, dislikes. You might try making a list of the following:

  • attributes or passions of the person who died
  • special memories to share
  • achievements of the person who died
  • important people to include somehow

Personalize the elements of ceremony

Once you've given thought to the unique life and personality of the person who died, it's time to incorporate those memories into the funeral plan. Be creative as you, together with your family, friends, funeral director and the person who will lead the service, brainstorm how to remember and honor this special person.
A good way to personalize the funeral is to personalize the common elements of funeral ceremonies:

  • the visitation
  • the eulogy
  • the music
  • the readings
  • the procession
  • the committal service
  • the gathering or reception

Each of these elements can be personalized in many ways. If you're having a visitation, for example, you could set up a display of photos, memorabilia, collections or artwork. You could do the same at the gathering following the ceremony. Choose music that was meaningful to the person who died or to your family. Select poetry and other readings that speak to the life of this unique person. Ask the people who were closest to the person who died to participate by playing music, giving readings, being pallbearers, making food for the gathering-whatever suits their own unique talents.

The eulogy is especially important

When personalized, the eulogy (pronounced EWE-luh-jee) is perhaps the most memorable and healing element of the ceremony. The eulogy is the speech that acknowledges the unique life of the person who died and affirms the significance of that life for all who shared in it.
The eulogy can be delivered by a clergyperson, a celebrant, a family member or a friend of the person who died. Instead of a traditional eulogy delivered by one person, you may choose to ask several people to speak and share their memories. There is also a growing trend toward having people attending the funeral stand up and share a memory of the person who died.

More ideas for personalizing a funeral service

The funeral service you have should be as special as the life you will be remembering. Here are a few more ideas:

    • Write a personalized obituary. Some newspapers allow you to express a little more than the usual who/what/why/where/when. Appoint a creative "word" person in the family to handle this task.
    • Create a column in the guest book for people to jot down a memory after they sign their name. Allow guests to fill out “What I Remember Most About…” Cards when they come to the ceremony.
    • Display personal items or hobby paraphernalia on a table at the visitation, the ceremony and/or the gathering afterwards.
    • Have more than one person deliver the eulogy. Ask several people to share memories and talk about different aspects of the person who died. Consider having a Certified Celebrant conduct the ceremony for a personalized experience.
    • Choose clothing for the person who died that reflects his or her life, interests, passions, etc. The clothing needn't be formal or somber!
    •  Create a personalized program for the ceremony. You can include photos, poems, anecdotes-whatever you'd like! Your funeral director can help you with this.
    • Show a video or slide show of the person's life during the funeral. Pictures tell a thousand words!
    • Ask children if they would like to write a letter or draw a picture for the person who died. Their "goodbyes" can then be placed in the casket alongside the body.
    • Select flowers that were meaningful to the person who died. A simple arrangement of freshly-cut lilacs, for example, might be perfect.
    • Create a funeral that captures the personality of the person who died. If he was zany, don't be afraid to use humor. If she was affectionate, have everyone stand up and hug the person next to them during the ceremony.
    • Display photos of the person who died at the visitation, the ceremony and/or the gathering. In fact, putting together a photo collage can be a very healing experience for the family in the days before the funeral.
    • Use lots of music, especially if music was meaningful to the person who died or is to your family. Music can be played at the visitation, the committal service and the gathering as well as the funeral service itself!
    • Create a personalized grave marker. Include a poem, a drawing or a short phrase that defines the person who died.


A final word

We hope you have been encouraged in your efforts to create a personalized funeral ceremony. While it may seem overwhelming right now, we can promise you this: a well-planned, inclusive, personalized funeral will touch your family, the friends of the person who died and you yourself deeply. The funeral will help you begin to heal and will provide you with great comfort and satisfaction in the months and years to come. Please discuss any other ideas you might have with your Funeral Director. As always, there will be no additional cost for personalizing services except for expenses incurred from third party vendors. In addition, we can arrange and cover other third party expenses, such as paying clergy, musicians, audio/visual technicians, catering, flowers, etc. and charge you only what is charged to us.