How can we arrange a nonreligious funeral?
My sisters and I are trying to put together a funeral service on our own for our mom. She was not religious and did not want a pastor or priest so we are trying to honor her wishes. But we are novices about how to do the order. Would a sharing time with readings and songs be best at some point during the viewing time or just the next day before going to the cemetery? And what should we do at the cemetery itself?
While it must be a struggle, especially while you are grieving, you are so right to put some time and thought into honoring your mom in a way that fits her best. You are already taking a big step by observing her wishes not to have a religious official involved if that was her wont; many people just do it out of convenience, even when it seems out of place or even offensive.
And that written, you should feel free to conduct whatever types of ceremonies she would likely want, in whatever order makes sense to you. One thing to consider is who is likely to attend each type of ceremony and whether they will be able to hear and see and feel comfortable enough to share memories and readings and songs.
Many people opt to keep a graveside ceremony private, inviting only family members and close friends. The setting may not be the best for singing and reading, which may be easier to encourage in a private room, either before or after the viewing, just from a performance standpoint. It is also best to make clear to visitors when the public sharing time will be held, as some people will want to opt in or out of it.
I have some experience at this. If you invite others to speak it is advisable to ask them to write it out beforehand and limit it to less than 3 minutes. That may seem unfair but most people who speak extemporaneously talk way too long, the attendees get restless and worst of all: they tend to talk about themselves and not the deceased or family members. By writing it out there is a safeguard as well, if they are overcome with emotion someone can step up and read it for them.
Respect the wishes of the deceased. You can state in the obit. no services per request of the deceased, you can add a e-mail site for those who want to write something, you can state service for family only. It is my belief that the deceased should be allowed to make their own decisions and when they have, they should be respected. The friends or family who are unable to respect that decision should have a prayer if they so desire-but should not put their own wishes above the deceased.
This service and lovely, green, personal approach is managed by a personal friend of mine who is totally good people.
A dear friend died recently for whom a religious service was out of character - her daughters held a memorial at the chapel of the funeral home where they spoke about her; two of her siblings remembered her; then two old friends were invited to speak - one of them read a suitable poem, the other remembered events/highlights in her life. It was very useful to have all who spoke put their expressions in writing due to the emotions likely to be felt, and as a control over the amount of time they spoke!! And they were guided by being invited to say "something short". At the graveside everyone joined in signing a song, and a few secular words were said - simply to mark the end of our friend's life among us.
My sister and I planned a Memorial Service to celebrate my mom's life when she passed away in August 2010. Part of her "service" was traditional but we also incorporated our own ideas as well as suggestions from the funeral home. We tied a "theme" to her celebration to reflect her favorite things, gardening, birds, flowers, butterflies. To do that we were allowed to have a memorial table at the service and brought in some of Mom's favorite things to place on the table. In our case we took a set of her wedding china, pieces of jewelry, to which we added gardening gloves, flower pots etc. We gave friends and relatives seed packets of "forget me not flower seeds" which we found on line from the American Seed Company. Since she also loved butterflies, we ended the celebration with a butterfly release and people who attended keep telling me how special that butterfly release was and how much it added to the celebration. It was meaningful for us as well because now when we see a butterfly it is a very special memory! After the butterfly release family/close friends went out to a luncheon at Mom's favorite restaurant. To me the planning helped because it was a time that allowed us to reflect on who Mom was and her favorite things. It is a difficult time, I won't deny that, but planning a special time to honor your loved one will create very special memories that will bless you and those you plan on inviting to attend your "celebration". Hope this gives you some ideas.
I would like to recommend a wonderful book called Celebrating a Life by Faith Moore. Here is a link to a story about Faith Moore and her book. It is a wonderful guide for planning a memorial service with dignity and grace....and how to celebrate the life of someone who has died. Hope it helps.
Looking forward to reading the book.
When my husband passed on 15 years ago, I held an "Open House Celebration of Life" He loved to have open house parties, so this was just what he would have wanted. He did not attend funerals so that would have been inappropriate for him. The "Celebration of Life" was a time for all his friends and family to get together to celebrate him. We laughed, cried and held one another. It was a very special day. My mother was still living at the time and she liked it so much, she told my sisters and myself, she wanted the same for herself when the time came. We did so, then released balloons to the skies for her, one from each daughter. Both were beautiful and meaningful experiences.