Flowers and Personalization: They Go Together Like a Hand in Glove (cont.)

By Kim Stacey

Personalizing the Ceremony

It's time to incorporate those 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. These can include:

  • A visitation
  • Eulogy
  • Music
  • Selected readings
  • The procession from chapel to cemetery
  • The graveside service
  • A 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 – Using the Power of Words to Enlighten and Comfort

When personalized, the eulogy is perhaps the most memorable and healing element of the funeral ceremony. Sometimes called the remembrance, the eulogy is the speech during the funeral ceremony which speaks of the life and character of the person who died. Basically, the eulogy 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 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 to Personalize the Funeral or Memorial Service

In addition to having your florist create uniquely personal floral tribute bouquets, the funeral service itself should be as special as the life you will be remembering. Here are a few more ideas:

  • Create a column in the guest book for people to jot down a memory after they sign their name.
  • Display personal items or hobby paraphernalia on a table at the visitation, the ceremony and/or the gathering afterwards. It could be fun to have people bring in any photos they have of the deceased, to create a sharing table. These photos could later be compiled into an online obituary album.
  • Ask several people to share memories and talk about different aspects of the person who died.
  • Choose clothing for the person who died that reflects his or her life, interests, and passions. The clothing needn't be formal or somber. If I were in the casket, I would be fitted with my reading glasses, and have an open book (I'm not sure which one yet, as there are so many!) on my chest.
  • Create a personalized printed program for the ceremony. You can include photos, poems, and anecdotes. Your funeral director can help you with this.
  • 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, and incorporate them into a personalized floral tribute. For me, roses and star gazer lilies would be appropriate; for my father – an arrangement of snapdragons and tulips would be fitting. Think back to comments made by the deceased, or ask their friends, "What flowers did he mention as being beautiful?"
  • At the funeral, invite people to write down a memory of the person who died. Appoint someone to gather and read the memories aloud.
  • Create a funeral that captures the personality of the person who died. If he loved to laugh, don't be afraid to use humor. If she was loving and affectionate, why not have everyone 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. Today, the video tribute is becoming common, but as it's done by the funeral home staff, it takes away from the cathartic value to family and friends. One of the most moving memorials I've attending was for a long-time member of a local biker club, the Ghost Mountain Riders. Hundreds of riders from the surrounding counties attended, and it seemed everyone had photos to share from the dozens of 'rides' taken with the deceased. The memories stirred by these images brought laughter and story-telling that went on into the wee hours of the next morning.
  • Use music throughout the ceremonies; at the visitation, the committal, the reception, and the funeral or memorial service itself. Mix it up: include whatever the deceased loved. My sons already know what I want: Naïve Melody, by the Talking Heads. Over and over – all the versions, one after another; it speaks to me on a very deep level. For my mother, I would have chosen Please Release Me, by Engelbert Humperdinck. I have clear memories of her connected to this song; for better, or worse, it's my mother.
  • If appropriate, create a personalized grave marker. Include a poem, a drawing or a short phrase that defines the person who died. One of my personal favorites can be found in Mountain View cemetery in Oakland, California. It's a simple brass plate: name, relevant dates of birth and death, and two words: World Traveler. The images those two words conjure are so descriptive of the woman who rests beneath: exotic destinations, delicious foods, and a multitude of memories gathered in a lifetime of journeys.
  • Let the Remembering – and the Loving – Continue!

    When the service is over, and the guests are leaving, there is often a palpable sense of reluctance. People often don't want to leave, because they feel they are leaving the loved one behind – it becomes a tangible act of letting go, when many are (as yet) unwilling to do so. To ease their heartache, I think it kind to send a token along with them; it doesn't have to be anything large, or consequential.

    Provide guests with small gifts:

    • If the deceased loved to cook, provide guests with a stack of their favorite recipes
    • If your loved one was a photographer, provide guests with a favorite photographic print
    • If gardening was a passion, why not provide guests with a packet of flower seeds so they can plant them in their own garden in memory of your loved one
    • If nature called to them, ask your guests to release doves, butterflies, or other wildlife in their memory – planting trees, is also an option to honor the nature lover in your life
    • If ice-cream brought them joy, plan an old-time ice cream social for after the service
    • If volunteering was their passion, provide guests with the information of the places where the deceased volunteered, at and ask them to continue doing their work
    • Provide postcards that are addressed (to family, for example) and stamped, then, ask guests to take a few home with them and when they think of a special memory, they can write it down on the postcard and mail it. That way, special memories and stories can always be shared with the family

    I'll be honest with you in telling this little story. I lost a dear friend almost two years ago. He opted for direct cremation, and the gathering in his honor was very informal. I assisted his wife in putting some of his ashes in small jewelry boxes – with gold adhesive enclosures – and each guest received a box. The intention was that they find the perfect place –for them – to scatter his ashes; in a private ceremony of their own devising. Where are mine? In the top drawer of my dresser; I guess I'm not yet ready to completely let go. But when I do, the ceremony will be personal, and private. That's quite a gift, but one that you'll be unwilling, or unable, to give your guests.

    Final Thoughts

    A well-planned, inclusive, personalized funeral will touch the family, the friends of the person who died quite deeply. Instead of being an empty ritual, the personalized funeral or memorial helps you begin the healing process. And having unique, personalized floral tributes throughout the services or delivered in the days following the death of a loved one, can bring great comfort and a quiet joy. Much more so than only making a charitable contribution made in honor of the deceased.

    For more information on the importance of flowers in bereavement, visit

    Photos credited to the John Henry Company.

    Kim Stacey is a social anthropologist and freelance writer, living and working in Boulder Creek, California. She can be reached for comment via email at this address:, or by phone at 831-338-0220.

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