Chapter 1

When Death Comes

When death comes, we feel like lost children. In these moments when the unthinkable happens and life screeches to a halt, we long to feel joined to something greater beyond our own limited immediate spectrum. In these times we seek solace in words, actions, services and ceremonies that help us to grieve our loss, honor our loved one, and feel held by something greater than ourselves. 

In my work as a bereavement counselor, I meet people who are searching for answers that brings sense to the senselessness that life often hands them.  Especially during times of death and loss, people find themselves searching for a deeper understanding. They question what is truly important in life; examining what gives their life meaning. 

Funerals, memorial, remembrance and burial graveside services as well as “celebrations of life” are ways family and friends choose to gather together to remember the person who died. When done well, these moments can be a sacred, memorable and meaningful chance to mourn while offering and receiving comfort and support from others. Many services and ceremonies provoke as much laughter as tears. Yet, even under the best circumstances, arranging a service can be an emotional, and sometimes exhausting, process. This is why I offer a resource to help guide you through hard times and navigate difficult decisions.  

Obviously, the amount of time you have to plan and arrange a funeral or memorial service depends on when you are doing it.  Is it in advance of death -- perhaps for yourself or with someone with a life-limiting illness -- or immediately after a death?  Of course, the best scenario is when the person for whom the service is planned had the opportunity to write the funeral or memorial service in advance and had a frank talk of their wishes with a close family member or friend. Quite often, this is not the case.  Instead, these decisions are handed on to the remaining family.

If you are thinking about planning a service for yourself, or you find yourself in the situation where the person has died and you are to make decisions, there are some considerations to keep in mind. To assist, this book offers steps you might find helpful to plan a service for a loved one, or perhaps, even yourself.

While the need to mourn has not changed, the ceremonies we use to help us through the process have. For example, with cremation becoming more the norm, families are choosing to hold a memorial service rather than a traditional funeral. Holding the service not immediately upon the death allows more flexibility.  With relatives living long distances this allows family members not to be tied to a specific time or place. Another advantage is that it gives grieving family and friends the chance to recover from the death, fulfill work obligations, make travel plans and care for any legal duties. Whatever type of event you decide upon is a matter of family discretion and personal choice. .And, for many, traditional funerals seem too impersonal.

Within these pages I have laid out a ceremony template to help you envision what might be possible. Next, I have pulled together some of my favorite readings, many that I have used in funeral and burial services. There are poems, passages, and prayers you might wish to use. The final chapter offers a dozen ready-to-use services and ceremonies that I have facilitated myself. You may find pieces within these that you will want to pull for your own service.

Whether a funeral or memorial is organized according to the religious orientation of the family, or created to express sanctified or unique expression, there are ideas here to consider for different kinds of end-of-life ceremonies. My motto is to get the family involved in the moment. It is to impress upon them that this is it. This is now. No moment will ever be quite the same again.

All this is so that you can imagine and create what fits the person you are remembering and honoring— a loved one, or even yourself.  Moreover, while it may seem like it’s a lot to think about, once you get started you’ll be certain to create an event that is the perfect final sendoff to celebrate a unique life.