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How To Plan A Unique, Personalized Memorial Service For Someone You Love

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Sad woman is consoled by a hug

In the same way that individuals brainstorm the ideal wedding venue or the perfect song to be played at an anniversary party, the details of an end-of-life service can also come together to create an entirely personalized memorial. 

Does it throw you off to see the planning of a memorial service compared to the planning of a wedding? That will be the case for many. Traditionally, funeral homes present death as something to be mourned somberly; in a pastel-wallpapered room; using hushed tones.

But many people wish to find out how to plan a personalized and unique memorial service for someone they loved (or even themselves!).

Opportunities for personalization are fairly limited, yet this doesn't have to be the case. Somehow, over time we’ve come to accept these typical types of funerals as the way these things go. However, it is possible to curate uplifting alternatives that are unique to the identity of your loved one.

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Personalized memorial service planning

When close friends and family can land in a shared space to plan a memorial, suggestions will flow more freely and frequently. But due to geographic and environmental restrictions, there isn’t always an opportunity for this to happen in person. Typically, only one or two people take on the responsibility of visiting the funeral home, picking out the flowers, etc., leaving the potential ideas of other loved ones unrealized. 

The first step in planning your personalized memorial might be to choose who you want to be involved with. Ask friends and family members who can best speak to the unique characteristics of your loved one, with the intention of bringing each of those aspects to life. Next, find common ground on which to meet – literally or virtually. The goal is to create an environment that encourages ideas for celebration. 

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The 'little things' 

All of the “little things” that go into planning an end-of-life celebration truly make it a personalized memorial. This may be a good time to sit down and ask yourself what would make your loved one smile. What would make them think, “Only at my memorial would this happen!” 

In my work in end-of-life planning, my team and I have helped families bring the most unique ideas to life. For example, we recently held a service for someone who was very proud of his career as a commercial airline pilot, and his celebration of life included a video of the last flight he ever flew. Another service for a self-proclaimed non-conformist included a personal reflection from his dog and closed with the song “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” sung by Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg.

RELATED: How To Plan A Funeral: Step-By-Step Guide To Arranging A Memorial Service

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Consider the list of questions below as a starting place. Who knows what totally unique ideas you will come up with? 

  • What were your loved one's favorite songs?
  • Are there dates that were particularly meaningful to your loved one? Some families plan the memorial to take place on an anniversary or birthday.
  • Are there certain types of flowers that your loved one preferred? Maybe your loved one bought you irises every year for your birthday, planted tulip bulbs along their favorite walking path, or loved the color yellow. Whatever the inspiration, custom arrangements can help bring your loved one to mind.
  • Would a group volunteer activity be a meaningful way to honor your loved one's legacy? Choose a charity near and dear to your loved one and set a date for friends and family to lend a helping hand. 
  • Is there a keepsake you would like guests to walk away with, either in addition to or instead of a traditional prayer card? 

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Choosing a memorial venue  

Step out of the somber funeral home and into an uplifting space. A few things to consider when choosing the venue for your loved one’s personalized memorial are: 

Experience What kind of experience best suits your loved one? An intimate, candlelit ceremony or a boisterous event? Jot down a list of inspirations to brainstorm the perfect in-person venue. Alternatively, you can discuss how the experience you’re envisioning can be translated into a custom-designed virtual event.

Ease of gathering — Are relatives scattered across the country? You may consider a personalized online memorial to ensure the attendance of everyone your loved one would want present. 

Format — Some of the most personalized memorials are those that utilize pre-recorded material; whether that be home videos, favorite movie clips, video messages from family and friends, or excerpts from your pre-recorded ceremony. You also have the opportunity to combine both an experiential gathering and the convenience of virtual services through a hybrid format. 

Through a combination of technology, location, and curated experience, the memorial venue becomes so much more than a place. Rather, it is an expression of your loved one’s personality.  

I hope to have offered you a helpful start to your personalized memorial planning journey. Both the celebration itself and the planning process are unique experiences. And I want you to know that you do not need to feel alone.

RELATED: 30 Beautiful Funeral Poems To Read At A Memorial Service

Alexandra Koys is the founder of Lighten, which designs uplifting celebrations of life that reflect a loved one’s unique identity. More information is avialable via the author's website

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This article was originally published at Lighten Arrangements. Reprinted with permission from the author.