The next time you attend a funeral, don't be surprised if it more closely resembles the last wedding you went to than the somber farewell you bid your grandfather 20 years ago.

In recent years, the funeral service has evolved from a formal or structured ceremony with religious music, scripture, prayers, and little or no information regarding the life of the deceased, to a true celebration of a life remembered.

The key to turning a funeral into a celebration of a life lived is through personalization.

Family, friends and visitors should be encouraged to share memories of the decedent and describe how they relate to the personalized elements of the service and the items on display.

Here's just a small sampling of some recent funerals that were customized to suit the life of the person they celebrated:

  • At a funeral for a well-known concert pianist, the family opted to have a Steinway and Sons piano moved to the gallery of the funeral home. The florist created a huge spray of white flowers cascading from the strings of the piano onto a large carpet of flowers surrounding the piano.
  • Another family brought in items related to the decedent's work as a professional horseman for his visitation. Saddles, boots, numerous bales of hay, partial fence structures and even a live horse in a make-shift corral transformed the funeral home.
  • For the funeral of an avid hunter, the florist turned the funeral home chapel altar into a hunting blind, and the deceased's hunting dogs were nearby, standing in hunting position.
  • The funeral service for a cycling enthusiast displayed the decedent's road bike and cycling medals next to the casket. At the cemetery, members from his cycling club escorted the hearse carrying his casket from the cemetery gates to the gravesite on their bicycles.

Other elements can personalize a funeral service in addition to creative décor. For example, music at a funeral service is not limited strictly to religious hymns. Funeral song selection can – and should – include the favorite music of the decedent.

Photographs can easily personalize a service as well. Today, it is commonplace to feature not only photographs, but also video tributes during a visitation. Dignity Memorial® funeral homes include the production of an Everlasting Memorial® video tribute with many of their funeral and cremation plans.

Many families also choose to host receptions, either at the funeral home or in the family's home, after the service. These receptions are typically elaborate catered events with entertainment.

Funeral services are changing to meet the needs of a generation that has different ideas about life – and death.

This is not your grandfather's funeral.

You, and those you care for, can expect more and demand more from the funeral planning process. Dignity Memorial funeral, cremation and cemetery providers can meet those demands.

By focusing the funeral service on things the decedent enjoyed, as well as the experiences shared throughout his or her life, it encourages the sharing of stories and discussions of the decedent and can be a good way to preserve family memories. In some instances, these discussions may allow the family to learn specials things about their loved one that they may have never known otherwise.

Molly Gligor leads the Houston area network of Dignity Memorial® funeral, cremation and cemetery providers. As a licensed funeral director for the past 20 years, she has assisted thousands of families during difficult times, helping them celebrate the significance of lives that have been lived and preserving memories with dignity and honor.

Visit Dignity Memorial

View full profile

You May Also LikeSee all guides >

Veterans' Benefits

Find federal benefits available to your family.

Home Care

How to find, hire and manage home care.

Caregivers' Survival

Everything you need to care for an elderly family member.

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!