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 decades ago.

In recent years, funeral services have evolved from formal, structured ceremonies with little or no information regarding the life of the deceased to a personalized celebration of a life remembered.

The key to turning a funeral into a celebration of life is planning a customized gathering that is representative of the decedent’s personality. Nearly every component of the event can be personalized these days, including the readings, music, displays, décor, venue and food.

Here is a small sampling of how some recent funerals were tailored to honor decedents’ unique lives:

  • 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 instrument.
  • 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 into a fitting tribute to a passionate equestrian.
  • For the funeral of an avid huntsman, the florist turned the funeral home chapel altar into a hunting blind. The deceased’s beloved 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.

While the examples above may strike some as peculiar, these personalized memorials are warmer, more intimate gatherings that encourage family and friends to reflect on the whole person and all the things they enjoyed in life rather than focus solely on their absence. Personal touches coupled with a less formal atmosphere also help funeralgoers feel more comfortable with sharing memories of the decedent.

Other elements can personalize a funeral service in addition to themes and creative décor. For example, music at a funeral service is not limited strictly to religious hymns. Funeral song selection can and should include the decedent’s favorite music. 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. Favorite religious passages, prayers, poems and other written works can be read at the service or printed in programs for an added personal touch as well.

Many families also choose to host receptions after the service, either at the funeral home, in the family’s home or at a favorite venue, such as a restaurant or park. These gatherings can be formal or extremely casual and usually include food and drink and sometimes entertainment. Receptions can be easily personalized with the decedent’s favorite music, activities, foods and beverages. Many are hosted pot-luck style these days in order to minimize the pressure and expense on the family and help guests feel more involved.

The bottom line is that funeral services are changing to meet the needs of a generation that has different ideas about life and death. You, and those you care for, can expect more and demand more from the funeral planning process. Making a plan in advance is the best way to ensure that one’s memorial service matches their personality and preferences.

By focusing the funeral service on things the decedent enjoyed and the experiences shared throughout their life, it encourages storytelling and discussion, which is an excellent way to preserve family memories. In some instances, these discussions may allow the family to learn special things about their loved one that they may have never known otherwise.