Whether or not your families explicitly state that they want a personalized service, there’s no doubt that customizing your funerals to celebrate the unique life of the deceased creates a more memorable, healing experiences for friends and loved ones. But since fewer and fewer families have the means to pay for these personalized events, it’s on you to figure out how to offer customized funerals without breaking the bank.
In addition to putting out picture boards or physical memory items (like a sports jersey, trophy or motorcycle helmet), check out any of the following ideas for personalizing a funeral service on a budget:
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Help write a clever obituary
Writing a creative obituary — rather than putting together a dry recitation of dates and relatives — is an easy (and free!) way to kick off the memorialization process on a personalized note. Check out our collection of clever obituaries for inspiration.
Select a creative central theme
Next, when you think about the funeral service itself, try to suss out whether your families will be receptive to basing the event around a central theme. This can be something as simple as “fishing” or as detailed as “1950s sock hop.” If a theme is selected, look for ways to carry it across everything from the stationery you choose to the items you display at the service.
Recreate a precious memory
Instead of choosing a central theme, why not use the service to try and recreate a special memory from the life of the deceased? As an example, Rachel Schad, a funeral director with Harvey Engelhardt Funeral and Cremation Service in Fort Myers, Florida shared the following story about a personalized service she helped bring together:
“Earlier in my career, we had a couple that loved to dance and Italian food, so we took all the chairs in the chapel and brought in circular tables to make it look like an Italian bistro with checkered tablecloths, danishes and more. We pushed everything else aside so that people had space to get up and dance.”
Forgo the traditional classroom-style setup
If you’re anticipating a small crowd, why not forgo the traditional funeral setup of rows upon rows of seating and arrange the chairs in a large circle? Or place chairs around several tables in order to create small seating clusters that encourage attendees to share memories with one another? Obviously, the furniture and layout of your facilities will dictate your options here, but if you’re able to be more flexible, don’t be afraid to get creative!
Seek special items to place around the casket or urn
Did the deceased love Disney memorabilia? Surround the casket or urn with treasured pieces. Was he a devoted fly fisherman? Fishing rods, tackle boxes and even a small boat can all help transform a service from practical to personal.
Set out the deceased’s favorite beverage in addition to water and coffee
I recently attended a funeral for a neighbor whose devotion to Diet Mountain Dew was legendary. And there — next to the water and coffee — were cans of the soda, which several guests cracked open in her memory. It was a truly special tribute that made a difference to her loved ones and couldn’t have cost more than $20 to pull off.
Give out the deceased’s favorite candy at the service
If the deceased didn’t have a favorite beverage, a preferred candy can serve the same purpose. Dishes of Werthers butterscotch candies, for example, might be a great way to personalize the service of a grandmother who was known for passing them out among her grandchildren.
Light scented candles with scents that were meaningful to the deceased
Scents are powerful ways to evoke memories, which makes scented candles a relatively cheap and easy way to personalize a service. As an example, if you’re serving the family of an elderly woman who was known for her baking skills, an apple pie scented candle burning in the service location can trigger powerful memories and positive associations among attendees.
Play the deceased’s favorite songs before, during and after the service
“Amazing Grace” and “I Come to the Garden Alone” are great funeral standards — but what if the deceased was a huge heavy metal fan? While you may not want to scare off guests with a Metallica CD on repeat, pulling a few songs that will remind guests of the deceased — no matter what the genre — is an easy way to amp up the personalization factor.
Incorporate unconventional readings
In a similar way, look to unconventional sources when it comes to service readings. While some guests will be comforted by familiar Bible verses, others will respond more strongly to readings taken from poetry, popular literature or other sources. To find these readings, ask family members if the deceased had any favorites or if they can think of any particular pieces of text that remind them of him or her.
Provide families with a complimentary memory box
Funeral services often lead to the accumulation of small trinkets — including photos, pieces of jewelry, locks of hair or other memorial items. Give families a place to store these treasured items by providing a complimentary memory box. For as little as $10-20 a piece, you can purchase an appropriate box that your families will appreciate and remember long after the services are complete.
Get the guests involved
True funeral personalization can be difficult to come by when the officiant or celebrant didn’t know the deceased personally. To combat this, get the guests involved. But instead of putting them on the spot in the middle of the service, set up a table with pens and paper at the entrance and invite guests to write down their favorite memories. Depending on the submissions you receive, consider sharing some of these contributions in the service for all to enjoy.
Create an “outside of the box” tribute video
Photos and home videos are an important part of tribute video creation — and tribute videos are an important part of personalizing a service. But you can do so much more to make these videos as customized as possible! In our recent post on “The No-Photo Solution for Tribute Videos,” we covered several creative photo alternatives, including physical items, stock photos associated with favorite memories and written tributes from friends and loved ones.
Distribute memories left on your online condolence wall
If your website allows visitors to leave online condolence messages, you might be surprised at the quality and quantity of the contributions you receive. Depending on the exact condolences left, you might find it appropriate to print them off and either display paper copies or read off great memories at the service.
Think of personalization as an attitude — not a process
Finally, keep in mind that all the little tweaks and service additions in the world aren’t what makes a service truly personalized. The easiest way to make a service feel personalized is to make an effort to really listen to your families when they speak about the deceased. If you spend the entire arrangement conference racing through template forms barely even making eye contact — it’s nearly impossible to make a family feel like you care about their needs enough to deliver a personalized service.
So think about personalization as you would an attitude — not a series of steps you take to appease families desiring these types of services. It’s a free and easy way to deliver value and to give customers the positive experiences that will help them heal.
Any other ideas on how to personalize your funeral services on a budget? Share your favorite recommendations in the comments below!