Personalising the Service
It has become increasingly customary to personalise the service to reflect the life, taste and achievements of the deceased. Many mourners find this helps them to see the service as a satisfying and personal tribute, rather than an empty ritual.
There are various ways in which a funeral service can be personalised. These can all be incorporated within the framework of a traditional religious service if required, or form the basic structure of a secular, non-denominational ceremony.
Music is customarily played before the service (while waiting for the congregation to file in and the chief mourners to arrive), during the committal (at a cremation), and after the service (while the chief mourners, and subsequently the rest of the congregation, leave).
Obviously the choice of music can reflect the tastes of the deceased, or can act as an evocative memory of an important period in his/her life… Many places of worship are completely liberal about the music chosen for funerals, so there is no necessity to adhere to 'sacred' music if this does not feel appropriate. However, if you are opting for a religious service, you should double-check with the minister to ensure that your choice is acceptable.
Perhaps you are lucky enough to know a musician, or singer, who was close to the deceased and is willing to perform in person.
Hymns, which are sung at traditional Christian ceremonies, should again be chosen to reflect the personal taste of the deceased, rather than mere convention - again double-check your choice with the minister.
It is customary for a funeral service to incorporate readings. Conventionally, these were from the bible (and in religious services it is usual for one reading still to be taken from the bible), but it is now quite acceptable to choose a selection of prose and poetry loved by the deceased, or at least considered appropriate to them.
In general, the readings are given by close relatives or friends of the deceased. Sometimes children or grandchildren of the deceased can be enlisted to read a favourite poem, and - as long as they are willing to do so and do not feel coerced - this can be a very moving tribute.
Depending on the desired length of the service there can be one or more tributes. These are usually, but not invariably, delivered by close relatives (sons, daughters, parents) of the deceased, or by very close personal friends. In a religious service, the tribute can be delivered by lay person, or can be 'embedded' in the sermon that is delivered by the minister.
This is, of course, a chance to draw the mourners together in personal reminiscences and recollections. The speech can follow a chronological, biographical framework, or it can rely instead on episodic recollections and anecdotes. It can follow the more traditional pattern of a eulogy, in which appropriate respect is paid to the achievements of the deceased, or it can be a deeply personal recollection of a close relationship.
The emotional aftermath of the death can make the prospect of delivering a cogent and dignified speech impossibly daunting. If this is the case, don't worry - you are under no obligation to deliver a tribute, and other mourners will understand. You may find that a more distant relative, or possibly even an in-law, is willing to give a tribute - in this case, they may state at the outset that they are speaking on behalf of the main mourners.
If, on the other hand, the minister or officiant will always agree to do the honours, but do ensure that any stranger involved has been given a full briefing about the life and times of the deceased. Do write down any specific, personal tributes that you would like them to relay to the congregation.