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Establishing Significance—Bringing Meaning

It has been said that “We can embrace the death of someone we have loved by re-embracing their life.” That phrase sums up a great deal of what a funeral or memorial service seeks to accomplish. We come together in order for our hearts, minds and spirits to confront, absorb and integrate into ourselves that someone that someone we love has died. There are many powerful and meaningful ways this can be expressed. Taking the time to listen to people helps them to communicate to you what would be meaning-making in expressing and honoring the life of someone loved. Another important phrase is to think of is “What does this loss mean to this person at this time in his or her life?” The answer to that question might be totally different for each family member or friend.

• Invite people into the process of planning by asking about meaningful scripture, poetry, readings, hobbies, and passions of the deceased person.

• Creating memory photo boards can be a wonderful process that ALL can enter into. The sharing of stories and memories while doing this is a marvelous way of getting people involved. Tell the stories behind the photos.

• Creating a memorial table helps to bring tangible, visual objects that express someone’s life. It can help, in a very simple and symbolic way to tell those present something more about the person’s life and loves. We have seen a handmade quilt draped over a casket, a guitar draped with flowers, a young person’s snowboard propped against a stand of flowers, and an embroidered cloth from the family table covering the table on which photos and other precious objects might be placed. When a baby has died, families sometimes bring objects that express the hopes and dreams they had for their child.

• Encourage people to write letters or notes expressing their thoughts or feelings that can be read during the service and then either placed in the casket for burial or into the cremation container. Children might prefer to express themselves through drawings or bringing objects that express their feelings about the person who has died.

• Music brings out so many emotions during a service. Depending on your tradition and what kind of music is permissible, choose music that expresses the feelings.

• Pallbearers, made up of family and friends, can be a different form of participation and service for some. Those who are not of strong stature can serve as honorary pallbearers.

• Candles brought from home or a number of candles that represent family members, children or grandchildren can be a powerful visual symbol of the light that continues on in their lives.

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