Nine times out of ten, funeral plans call for a religious official or funeral home director to oversee the proceedings at a memorial service. Although there are no rules about who can or can’t officiate a funeral, it is usually best to have someone who can provide comfort without breaking down in the face of such a sudden loss.
However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t opt to officiate a funeral on your own. If you would like to feel a deeper connection to the funeral planning process, or if you have a history of public speaking and would like to ensure that the funeral has a personal touch that everyone can connect to, you may wish to be in charge of the service yourself. If this is the case, here are a few steps for planning the ceremony.
- Euologies: While an officiant can oversee the proceedings, it isn’t a time for long-winded speeches. One of the best ways to create a memorable funeral service is to open the floor to family and friends (and to have them prepare speeches ahead of time, if needed). Everyone is grieving, and should be allowed to share that grief accordingly. Invite but don’t force euologies.
- Funeral Music: Music is a popular part of the funeral experience. You can opt for songs that the deceased favored or more traditional or religious songs. These are best played as people arrive, as they leave, or during a special moment of reflection during the service.
- Religious Ceremonies: It is important to only include religious undertones to a memorial service if the deceased and his or her family wish it. While religion provides comfort to many during this difficult time, it isn’t universal, and going too far within the religion theme can actually make people more upset. Be sure and include religious songs, passages, and speeches if asked—otherwise, stick to more ambiguous speeches that provide comfort without evoking any specific god. (This is called a humanist approach, where the focus is on people and humanity rather than religion.)
- Readings: You can read from a religious text, a favorite book, or even some of the deceased’s own writing. Poetry can also be a great tribute to the deceased.
- Location: While most people hold a funeral service at the funeral home or the burial site, there is no rule about when and where it has to happen. A semi-formal gathering at a pub, restaurant, or even private home is a perfectly acceptable memorial service alternative, especially if you plan to forgo the formal officiant.
One of the most important things you can do as the funeral officiant is to go beyond your own experience to include others. Most people who choose to oversee the funeral plans themselves do it because they want a more personal ceremony—which is fine, but you must remember that your relationship with the deceased isn’t the only one. Sit down with family members and friends to learn things you may not have known and to gain a broader perspective. The results will be a better ceremony for everyone involved.