Need Help Planning a Funeral/"Life Celebration"

My mother’s aunt died Tuesday at the age of 80. Since I was in the ministry for a few years many years ago, the family always calls on me to officiate weddings & funerals.

The trouble is, “Aunt Jean” hadn’t set foot in a church in 60 years. She believed in a “higher power” but not in a god, per se. She called herself “spiritual” and she “worshipped” (for lack of a better choice of words) wolves, horses, cloud formations, rivers, trees, etc.

The family doesn’t want me or expect me to do any kind of pagan ceremony. Basically they’re asking me to emcee a sort-of party that they’re calling a “life celebration.” It will consist of poems, music, eulogies, etc. There will be no prayers, no invocations of God’s name, and no hymns.

I have no problem doing this, as nothing in my religious beliefs prevents me from emceeing a party. The problem is that the only funerals I’ve ever done have been run-of-the-mill Christian burials. Nothing in my manual mentions anything like this.

I’m trying to think of a minute-by-minute program for this, but I have no idea where to start. I have a general idea of where I want to go with this, but I’m short on specifics. Here’s what I have in mind:

-Guests enter the building as some kind of music plays. The family will probably pick a CD with like classical guitar or something, as “Aunt Jean” wasn’t much for church-y music.

-I welcome them. I’m at a total loss for what to say. Any ideas?

-I read the obituary.

-I read a poem. I have one in mind, from the Lord of the Rings books. It goes like this:

“Though here at journey’s end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.”

-A song is played. The one I have in mind is “100 Years” by Five for Fighting.

-Eulogies (I ask if anyone wants to come share memories).

-Two more poems (the family has two picked out).

-Another song?? (any ideas???)

-Thank everyone and dismiss them (again, no idea what to say).

If you think you can help me with this, I appreciate it.

These are actually pretty free-form events. When my father died, a priest handled the actual memorial service and was careful never to mention God. (My father was an agnostic who thought that maybe something was out there, but couldn’t put a handle on what.) Since my father did enjoy some old hymns as music, we played a couple of those.

There are enough passages in the Bible that I’m sure you can find one that celebrates nature without even mentioning “God.” If you can’t, go ahead and read Thoreau.

Without minimizing your contribution, if people remember anything it will be the shared memories. Try and find someone who can tell funny stories about Aunt Joan. You’ll need the break in tension.

My family just went through this, as my dear mother passed a month ago.

We too called the event “a celebration of life”. The signs we put out directing people where to go had my mother’s name and " a celebration of her life".

We set out many photos of her, representing the different stages in her life. My brother had made a wonderful slide show for my parents’ 50th anniversary a few years ago, so we had that looped during the whole event.

Also, instead of having a guest book where people just signed their names, we got a journal type of book (it had the "“Footprints” passage on the front)and asked everyone to write their fondest memory of her.

As far as the ceremony, if you want to call it that, it was as kunilou put it, pretty free-form. My brother opened it with a poem(my hysteria at the time prevents me from recalling it)and then basically invited anyone who cared to to say a few words.

I wouldn’t worry about orchestrating too much, as I think it will basically flow on its own. Remember, it’s not really about people coming to hear you officiate, but to remember and mourn in their own way.

Good luck, and my condolences on your loss.

If you don’t think it is too much of a LotR feel the song Into the West might do.

More music, if you do it like my family does it.
The eulogies last quite a while. You should figure them on 3/4 of the whole thing.
Cookies, cake and cocktails after, where you’ll play more music.
If you can do it, a slide show featuring pictures of your aunt and the people she loved.

The Parting Glass is a great Irish song.

Does “Thank you for coming together to celebrate the life of Aunt Jean” work?

Make 'em laugh. I think the best thing you can do at a funeral is to remind everyone of a happy memory of aunt Jean. If you weren’t that close to her then find someone who was and pump them for some old stories. Make it too somber and you’ll lose the audience.

You don’t sound comfortable with this responsibility but better you than a complete stranger to her. When my grandmother passed away my aunt for some reason known only to her got the chaplain from the local horse racing track to do the service. This guy wasn’t ready for the majors, he wasn’t even ready for single-A ball. He read a eulogy that several sons and daughters contribugted to and it had a theme of the love she made in her kitchen with her food. Now I should point out that my family on that side is Mexican and the chaplain was angolo. After reading about the memories her children had of her kitchen he said “you know, when I go to my reward and get my mansion in heaven I want to have a Mexican cook just like Bea.”

We managed to resist the urge to strangle him on the spot but at the reception my cousins and I all noted he never knew how close he came to having his lifeless corpese being found in the dumpster behing the funeral home.

I really like your references to LOTR.

If you are holding the ceremony outdoors, it might be nice to have a tree planted (you said she liked trees and nature) in her name at the site where you are holding the service.

The ultimate “life celebration” is a New Olreans-style jazz funeral.

I’m back with a song suggestion if you want to go the jazz route. The one thing that says “jazz funeral”, other than A Closer Walk with Thee, is Second Line. iTunes has a couple of good Second Line tracks, check out the ones by DeJean’s Olympia Brass Band and Pearl Street Jazz Band.

These are some good suggestions.

My father was a lapsed catholic and was not a religious man by any stretch, so we purposely had a non-religious service. As such we felt like a graveside service was best. It started with the funeral director reading the eulogy that we wrote, which was a brief biography followed by mention of the characteristics he possessed that endeared him to people and made him such a success.

Then my sister read his favorite poem “High Flight” (he was a pilot in the Air Force for 21 years, after which he continued to fly for a living in the corporate world until he was medically grounded).

Next a friend sang his favorite song, “Sweet Dreams”.

Next was the 21-gun salute and the presentation of this flag. (A little side note to this - since there were no active duty available to serve since they are all deployed, we asked one of the local disabled veterans groups to serve. It was very moving, to see a line of men in uniform, in wheelchairs, giving the salute.)

And then we all went home to be with family and friends and celebrate that we knew him, or that he was our father, or that he was our husband, as the case happened to be.

Keep it simple, keep it personal to her by including any of her favorites, as appropriate, and then go home and celebrate that you knew her.

That would be my suggestion, because it’s so much more meaningful.