This week we had the opportunity to have a Celebration of Life for my Father-in-law. I call it an opportunity because I firmly believe as hard as it is to lose someone you love, it is also an important time to come together and cherish the memories. Gathering with family and friends, sharing stories, shedding tears, it is all a key part of the grief process.
|Memorial Service Program Cover|
This particular event was held at an out of the norm venue for a Memorial Service. This was the first service in our family that was not at either a church or funeral home. My Father-in-law was not as much the formal, religious type as he was a hard working, giving, get 'er done, kind of guy who grew up in the farming & construction world. He donated to and believed deeply in the cause of our local Deming Logging Show - and so...that is where we had his service.
As wonderful as the venue is it does not come with all of the support people who usually assist you in the process of performing a memorial. So, since I have quite a long list of these sad but real losses in my own life over the last 10 years I know a bit of what is required to put one together. Programs, music, order of events, flowers, speakers, technology, food, logistics, a lot to consider when planning.
Needless to say, when planning a funeral or memorial there is a bit to wrap your brain around. A good place to start is sitting down with the family and getting ideas of what they feel is important to include in the service. Find out if anyone has anything in particular that they would like to contribute to it. I would suggest you let everyone know this is a brainstorm session and final decisions aren't being made - just throwing out ideas. Then later process the ideas and go over them with the spouse first (next of kin), to allow an opportunity for honest conversation about what they are comfortable with. It is important during this time to make sure everyone's feelings are considered - and try to fit in a version of what everyone feels is their #1 most important thing to have included.
We made this service unique by adding a time to present Grandma (the spouse) with a rose from each Grandchild. Many of the Grandchildren could not attend the service so we had every Grandchild, attending and absent, write out a note of encouragement to Grandma on a tag that would hang from one rose. The Grandchildren who were present handed her one or two of the roses with tags attached and gave her a hug. In our family there are 12 Grandchildren total so Grandma ended up with 12 long stem roses with individual notes hanging on them for her to keep as a token of love. During this time we played the song "I won't let go" by Rascal Flatts. This part of the service was a beautiful surprise to Grandma. It ended up Grandma had her Son read a letter from her to those attending - it was really touching and followed the rose presentation beautifully.
I personally don't believe there is a right or wrong anymore on what a memorial service should look like - as long as it is honoring to the person who passed away and all immediate family members. If you are planning one, I would encourage you to try and make the service have the flavor or style of the person's life you are celebrating. Our venue and style fit the personality of my Father-in-law perfectly! We decided on a somewhat formal, typical service for the first part and finished off with a potluck/reception/party at the end where people would feel free to hang around and continue to tell stories.
The Guest Book Table with flowers, a receptacle for cards and some photos. We had two of our young boys passing out the programs as people entered.
Since this was a manly man's service and at the log show grounds I knew the centerpieces needed to be a bit rustic. I found some evergreens at the store on clearance, wrapped them in burlap and used mini wooden clips to attach photos. Then for the candles we took mason jars with rocks and a tealight in the bottom, wrapped them with a photo and tied them off with some jute string. These centerpieces came in at about $3 total. So inexpensive and still a nice bold display.
We had two tables of memorabilia that so many people flocked to.
You can't see all 250 chairs we had set up to the left - but we filled those up and had people sitting at the round tables, and some standing as well. SO MANY PEOPLE~! Once the memorial service portion was complete we slid out the tables sitting along the perimeter of the room and moved them to the center to be used with the chairs that had been in rows.
I have tried to give you a few extra ideas here besides the typical funeral or memorial video / slideshow, music type details. Although, I will let you know what we used for our musical selection. We played Alan Jackson's Amazing Grace as the family walked in. During the video we used Family Tree by Dave Barnes, You've Got a Friend in Me by Randy Newman, Brad Paisley's When I get where I'm Going and as mentioned earlier, I Won't Let Go by Rascal Flatts for the Rose Ceremony.
When making the video I work pretty hard to make sure the words to the songs match the photos as closely as possible, that the songs chosen fit the person and are authentic in their message. The program I use to create the video has a lot of features available for special effects but I typically choose to keep the video transitions simplistic and let the music paired with the photos remain the focus to tell the story. If you pay attention to the music and the photos you will be amazed how they can come together and draw quite the emotion.
Our event went off pretty smoothly. It was true to the character of the person it was in honor of. It allowed the freedom for everyone to feel involved or have an opportunity to say what they wanted. It started at 6pm with a one hour semi-formal service time followed by a relaxed reception setting that was still going strong after 9pm. You could see family and friends gathering and mingling throughout the evening laughing, crying and telling heartwarming stories. A few of us extended the night camping on site, sitting around a campfire telling stories.
It was a wonderful evening absolutely FULL of HEART! What could be better? I know Don would have been humbled and honored to see everyone there that he had touched during his life.
I walked away from the evening with a strong reminder to let people know you love them, hug everyone as if it were the last time you were going to see them, don't let the sun go down without making things right.
In Signing off on this post I would like to end with two simple words, ponder on them and then act: