Most people can recognize the benefit of advance funeral planning when it comes to sparing loved ones the burden of making difficult decisions at an emotionally challenging time. But many may not realize that advance planning also allows you to personalize your funeral and cemetery services in ways that reflect your specific wishes.

Over the years, traditional funeral services have given way to highly personalized celebrations of life. Unlike the solemn, standardized services of the past, these memorials can feature themes, décor, pictures, videos, music and more. Working through a checklist and specifying preferences for all of these things in advance will ensure that the memorial reflects your personality and is a unique and meaningful experience for surviving family members and friends.

Decoration of the visitation room is one way to personalize your service. Items related to your work, favorite hobbies, such as fishing, hunting, sewing, gardening, or photography, or favorite sports teams can be displayed to reflect your interests. People have requested that their motorcycle helmet, fishing poles, musical instrument or favorite flowers be displayed at their service. There are countless options available for personalizing the décor and making creative memorial displays.

Photographs and videos of important events and people in your life can also create a very warm and inviting environment for the visitation or funeral service. These can be stored digitally in a file on your computer or on a flash drive, or you can put hard copies aside in a marked folder. Keep in mind that selecting the photos that you want displayed ahead of time also allows you to leave out the ones you aren’t particularly fond of!

In addition to decorations and displays of personal items, many people choose to personalize various elements of the service itself. Baby Boomers have increasingly begun to leave their creative mark by departing from the traditional in favor of selections that reflect their generation’s spirit of individuality. Many people choose favorite songs that they wish to be played or performed, passages, prayers, quotes, jokes or poems that they would like read, or even group activities such as sharing memories at an open mic or writing well wishes to the surviving family on notecards or stones.

The procession from chapel to cemetery also can reflect your interests and personality. An avid cyclist, for example, might wish for riding club friends to escort the procession, while a musician might choose a band to lead the way. A boating enthusiast who requested to have their ashes spread on the water may plan to charter a vessel to take family and friends out at sunset for the scattering.

After the service, receptions are more the norm than the exception these days. These gatherings can be held at the funeral home, a relative’s home or another significant venue, such as a favorite restaurant or park. The venue can be customized even further through the selection of décor, activities, food and drinks. For example, someone who loved animals and the outdoors may plan a casual cookout reception at an outdoor venue where guests can bring their dogs.

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It is also worth considering how you feel about some of the older funeral traditions, such as guests wearing black and sending flowers for the service. Do you have a favorite flower that you would like used? Would you prefer people to make donations to your favorite charity in lieu of sending flowers? Would you prefer that your guests wear colorful attire instead of somber hues? Are there other important details you wish to include in your plans or specifically rule out?

By arranging funeral and cemetery services ahead of time, you will not only help relieve family and friends of the stress of planning a funeral, but also create a highly personalized service that represents you and encourages surviving loved ones to celebrate your life.