Party of a lifetime: Pre-planning and personalizing life celebrations

Guest blogger David Hass, managing director of the local Dignity Memorial network, sheds some light on how to go about planning a life celebration for you or a loved one. 

David Hass

For many families, the summer holidays are a time to come together, honor our fallen service members and remember loved ones who have passed. These holiday get-togethers also provide an opportunity to talk with living family members about how they would like to be remembered.

In a growing number of households, folks may be surprised at what they hear: Aunt Susan wants a memorial with a catered dinner, a live pianist and wines she has hand-selected, instead of a traditional black-crepe funeral.

She isn’t alone.

One in three Atlanta residents (37 percent) said they would choose to have a non-traditional memorial or life celebration instead of a traditional funeral service, according to the Dignity Memorial National Opinion Index (NOI), which tracks opinions on the topic in Atlanta and nationwide.

As people here break with tradition, the possibilities are virtually limitless. Memorials increasingly feature live music, full catering, a bar and personalized keepsakes – with guests walking to the car saying, “I didn’t know you could do that for a funeral.”

In fact, some individuals’ memorial wishes might completely surprise their family and friends. In Atlanta, 18 percent of survey respondents said they would choose to have their remains incorporated into an ocean reef, and 12 percent indicated they would opt to have their ashes put into a capsule and released into space. Out of eight options for a preferred final send-off, “standard burial” tied for last.

The goal, say many individuals and families, is to create a personalized event that truly captures the essence of their loved one. While many people create unique, celebratory services for loved ones who have just passed, others choose to plan their own services or discuss family members’ wishes in advance. Although it may seem daunting to start conversations around memorial planning, poll data shows that most people welcome them – and women are often at the heart of the discussion. In Atlanta, 76 percent of women said their living friends and family members have had conversations about their preferences for burial or cremation, compared to just 61 percent of men. Women here are ahead of the national rate of 70 percent.

Moreover, women want to know their loved ones’ preferences beyond burial or cremation. More women than men say that having conversations about preferences beyond burial or cremation – a loved one’s wishes for a memorial or life celebration vs. a traditional funeral, for example – are extremely beneficial.

You can start a conversation by considering a few questions:

·         What is meaningful to you? Are you passionate about travel? Sports? Dancing? Family? Elements of a lifelong passion can be woven throughout a service.

·         Are there favorite foods or styles of cuisine that you’d like to share with guests? Would you like to serve appetizers, a full dinner or desserts?

·         What type of music resonates? Will it be a live bluegrass band, a solo cellist or show-tunes piped in?

·         What flowers are your hallmark? Do you favor bunches of wildflowers or are you known for your prize-winning roses?

·         Would you like to give guests a personalized memento that they can keep? A cook might share a wooden spoon with a favorite recipe, or a monogrammed golf ball would be appropriate for someone who loved to play 18 holes.

Write down thoughts on these topics and discuss them with family members and close friends. Many people also opt to talk with a funeral director about their wishes, and even pay for their service in advance, both to ensure their memorial fits their vision and to relieve their family of some responsibilities at a difficult time.

The website also offers more inspirational ideas for personalized tributes, as well as a free booklet on planning a life celebration.



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