Why do we attend weddings?
A wedding is a beautiful party celebrating an important milestone in someone's life. If the person getting married is important to us, we look forward to this celebration on their behalf. We are expected to show our support for them publicly, in front of their family and friends. Our presence is a testament to their place in our life. Oh, and they will notice and probably hold a grudge if we don't attend.
After we sit through the boring part, or the crying part, however we feel about the ceremonial "I do's", we can count on the fact that there will be food, drinking and most likely dancing. All good things.
What if we made funerals more like weddings?
If we love the person who has died then we really should show up to celebrate them and honor this milestone, their last milestone, the end of their life. They won't hold a grudge if we don't show of course, unless you believe in ghosts, but those who love them may hold a grudge and that can be bad, friendship ending, family feud kind of bad. We should be there with all the other people who loved them to tap into that love ourselves. We should be there to honor a life entwined with ours. Very similar to the reasons we show up to weddings. It's about respect.
Oh, and there will be food, and maybe music. Though it is almost guaranteed that there won't be dancing and it won't be a beautiful party. And maybe that's the problem with funerals. The fact that a funeral is a sad occasion and often after tragic circumstance is not being overlooked here, but if we can focus on the person being "celebrated" enough to pull together something better, it would probably be better for everyone impacted. The more people we are surrounded by who want to be there to honor our loved one and us, the more sense of support and community we feel, the sooner we are able to move through the pain of loss. Love and support help us move from fear to hope and from overwhelming sadness to a deeper appreciation of life.
So why not? Why not make the leap, and make funerals more like weddings; more people would attend, more love would be shared, more healing would occur. Celebrations of life might become something we actually look forward to.
Here are 5 ways to make funerals more like weddings.
1. Choose a theme and roll with it.
Don't just set up chairs with a casket or urn on a raised platform flanked by flower arrangements.
If they loved flowers, cover the place in flowers. Surround the urn so it is literally part of a floral arrangement. Hang a spray on the end of every row of chairs. Bring all the flowers to the celebration afterwords and set them up there also. Go to Home Depot and get any large flowering potted plants and put them by the doors, the end of aisles, in front of the podium. They can be planted after in remembrance or returned. In other words, don't hold back, go all out.
If they loved the the Saints football team have fleur-de-lis everywhere and make everything you can gold and black. Get gold and black balloons, put Saints memorabilia anywhere possible, cover tables in gold and black paper or table cloths.
If their favorite place was the beach, have the ceremony at the beach. Rope an area off so it feels like a venue. You can have chairs or simply place baskets at the entrance with rolled up beach towels. People can take one as they enter your sacred space. Have an empty chair and single umbrella set up near the waters edge to symbolize the person who has died.
Hold your celebration outside and set off fireworks. Before people leave, have everyone in attendance hold a lit sparkler while saying their final goodbye or while thanking them for the impact they had in their lives.
Flowers, balloons, lights, color, theme, just like a wedding.
2. Lighting and Music.
Set the mood with lighting. Think about the whole room or outdoor setting. Lighting changes everything. When we go to a restaurant and the lights are way too bright it almost kills our appetite. Control the lighting to set the mood.
Music, must we say more. We each have a soundtrack to our lives. Songs bring back so many memories. Don't sensor, play their favorite songs. The people who come will love it.
String lights make any party more magical, so hang them, a lot of them, for your celebration of life and watch people ooh and ahh as they enter.
Candle light is primal, warm and beautiful. Hold your service in the evening or dim the lights at some point so you can have the full impact of candle light.
Sunlight is another way to go. Choose a venue that is flooded with light. Drape long pieces of sheer colored fabric in front of the windows or hang kites so light streams through them creating a colorful rainbows of festive light.
Have a string trio or steel band. Why not?
Hire a DJ. Give them access to the person's iTunes and let them pull everything from their "favorites / most played" folder.
3. Encourage participation to make it an experience.
At a wedding we look forward to the procession of bridesmaids and groomsmen, the flower girl and ring bearer, the toast from the maid of honor and best man. When we think about it though, everyone participates at a wedding, by talking, dancing, congratulating, bringing a gift, signing the guest book, you get the idea. Participation makes weddings experiential. Lets do the same at funerals.
Once everyone is seated, have the family enter, walk to the front and have each of them light a candle before taking their seats, this adds ritual and formality.
Give everyone flower pedals as they enter and ask them to sprinkle them down the center aisle as they walk to their seats.
At a beach ceremony have those who want to, write a brief goodbye in the sand and watch it disappear in the waves.
If the ceremony is outside, have a fire so people write brief messages to the deceased and toss them in the flames.
Distribute stationery and have a family member ask everyone to write a memory while playing 2-3 of the person's favorite songs. Go a step further and tell everyone a few stories that would be great examples of a story to share. Have everyone walk forward and put their memory in the In Loving Memory Box when they're done writing.
Hand each person a candle as they enter. Dim the lights and play one of the deceased favorite songs. Pass a flame so everyone can light their candle. Watch as the room slowly glows to life. Then have everyone stand, bring their candles forward and place them all around the urn or the casket to focus the light on the person being celebrated. What a beautiful display and cathartic experience. Leave the candles burning as people leave.
Ask everyone to bring a photo of themselves with the person who died. Have everyone pin them to boards, clip them to strings, tack them to the side of a tree, fence, or lay them on a table as they enter. Collect them after the service and keep them in your In Loving Memory Box.
Hand out flowers and have everyone bring them forward and place them on the casket, in the grave, next to the urn, add them to a huge communal bouquet or throw them in the ocean.
When we participate we become part of the experience and we are able to connect far more deeply.
4. Serve food and drinks.
Food is life and we can't help but bond while breaking bread. Create a relaxed environment and serve food. If the deceased enjoyed the occasional alcoholic beverage, have an open bar in their honor. The first thing many of us do when we leave a funeral is to go get a drink, so offer it to them at the memorial. Keep them there and make it the destination.
Don't just have food and alcohol, serve every one of the deceased's favorite foods and drinks.
Cater food from their favorite restaurant.
Once everyone is done eating, bring out a huge cake with sparklers instead of candles. This will be their last cake so make it amazing.
A chocolate fountain, an ice sculpture that vodka pours through, a popcorn machine, anything that represents the person being celebrated. Think outside the box. Funerals don't need to be somber- just ask people in New Orleans.
5. Send people away with a remembrance, and we don't mean a memorial folder. Give everyone something that will last to remember this person by.
Give them something that represents something the person was passionate about. If they loved golf, send every person with a golf ball, print their initials on them. If they loved flowers, send everyone away with a long stem rose. If they loved to go hot air ballooning, hand everyone a discount coupon for the local hot air balloon company. If they collected stamps or coins, give one to every person. You get the idea. Just make it personal and truly reflective of them.
Cover a table with items that belonged to the person who has died. Tell people to take something as they leave. Watch as people look over these items as if they are treasure. They will cherish whatever object they choose.
Send every person away with a polaroid photo. Have a life size cut out of the deceased that people can stand with and have a polaroid picture taken. People will start laughing, telling stories and sharing, especially if the cut out is of the person with a huge fish they caught, standing on a mountain top, or in a dance pose. Again, let this reflect the personality of the person being honored.
So, if you find yourself in the position of needing to plan a funeral, don't distress. Try to look at this as an opportunity to really throw them their last party. Instead of getting on pinterest and instagram and looking at funeral ideas, go to the wedding section, be inspired and start planning.