My high school speech teacher, a favorite to many, known as “BC”, was dying. I met with BC and her brother, to discuss possibilities for her service, listening as they recalled her interests, stories, and the many high school plays and student activities she had directed. I let my imagination run with the snippets of ideas to celebrate her life and shared some of the ideas with BC and her brother. The ideas included involving her former students in some way, perhaps a choir, or music ensemble. Perhaps elements from the many plays she had directed to showcase her interest in theater, and incorporating her favorite colors into elements of the service. They smiled and laughed and they revealed some of their own ideas as well.
They were beginning to see how the sad prospect of her impending death could become a creative way to honor her life and help friends and family in their time of grief. As we concluded, BC shared her thoughts and gave her permission for some of the ideas her brother and I suggested.
Later that year, I received the call that BC had died. At the arrangements conference we reviewed the list of ideas from our preplanning discussion, and decided which of those ideas would be appropriate. As we discussed how we would develop or imagineer those elements BC’s brother began to smile and remarked he was actually looking forward to the service. He chose one aspect of the service to develop and let us handle the rest. That would keep him from becoming overwhelmed. We met three more times over the week to give him progress reports, and get his input on details. He appreciated the role of being involved, but not having to “do it himself.” Over the week’s time the service developed into a full blown theatrical production at our local performing arts center with scripts for participants, music, staging, and lighting guides.
BC’s service included three video segments in between performances by a choir made up of former students, a brass quintet, eulogies from family and friends and scriptural messages from her clergy. As guests entered the service in the high school performing arts center auditorium they were presented with a “Playbill” themed memorial, a pin of her initials in her favorite colors, and popcorn served in purple cups, one of BC’s requests.
The curtains opened on a darkened stage with a lone spotlight highlighting purple directors chair embroidered with her initials in lime green. As the lights came up guests were presented with the scene of BC’s casket painted purple and lime green metallic, five life size posters of scenes from her life, and the large video screen above the stage with her marquis poster projected on it.
The service ended with the Michigan State University mascot Sparty and the MSU cheerleaders running down the aisles and leading the guests to the luncheon. Further details and photos of her service can be found on the Pray Funeral Home website.
Collaboration Built Hope and Excitement
The collaboration with the family helped them face the loss with hope. They realized that
others would see the facets of his BC’s life and carry a bit of her spirit with them after the funeral.
BC’s brother was truly excited and looked forward to the service as he knew this would be a wonderful tribute to his sister. That was a great comfort to him.
On the day of the service as I directed from behind the stage curtains, I could see his smile, I heard his laugh, and I saw his tears. I saw him begin to heal from the loss of his sister. Dr. Alan Wolfelt of the Center for Loss and Transition refers to that reaction as one of the many steps in the transformation from a relationship where a family member is present in our lives, to a relationship where they are always present in our hearts.
How would you develop such a funeral?
You, can develop similar services. First, share your favorite stories about the deceased with your funeral director. Your first question should be “How do you think your family member would want to be remembered?” The common reply of “She was a great gal who was helpful and loved everybody,” is a good start, however, share more details to help build a unique service.
What were the activities she loved to share? Hobbies? Favorite memories of family members are always important to include. For ideas on what to include look at our website page titled creative services. You might also want to check out the article Setting The Stage.
Use Your Imagination
The next step is what makes my profession enjoyable. We use our imagination and share the ideas with the family. There are times we propose a creative idea and the family says, “Really, we can do that?”
Expense Is Worth It
Expense is minimal for most creative services. In many cases there is no additional cost. In other cases there may be reasonable costs of photo enlargements, or other items that may be suggested for the service. The benefit of these items will be well worth the expense for your family and guests as you see how they add to the storytelling ability of a meaningful funeral.
A Rewarding Experience
The most rewarding services we develop are those that have meaningful personalization elements. I love when I present the outline of an imaginative service to our staff. They smile and say, “this will be pretty cool.” Pray Funeral Home is fortunate that we have staff members who are creative and enjoy the challenge. The best reward of a creative service is when the service ends with smiles and hugs from the family. In some cases we have even had services that end in applause from the guests. Yes, applause.
Building Future Expectations
Sometimes a family asks “This is what you did for our last funeral, what can we do this time?” I smile and ask “What did your sister like to do? And how do you want her to be remembered?” Then I listen and imagine.
My Favorite Response
I love it when I tell stories about some of our creative funerals and people say “You can do that at a funeral?” My answer is, “Sure, what should we do for yours?”