Sunday, November 24, 2013

Planning a Memorial Service

I know this is sort of a morbid post when my bloggy friends are all decorating for the holidays but I hope it will be a help to someone who Googles it.   
 I was gearing up for Christmas crafting when I got the call that my brother died. My focus has taken a different turn for the moment and to be honest I think my decor for Christmas will too. 
We didn't use a funereal home. 
Jim was sick for a long time with short term memory loss before he got cancer. Many of us felt we lost Jim a few years ago. I was in agreement, but immediately felt differently in the aftermath of Jim's death. Normally the funeral home guides the family in those early moments when they can't think clearly. I quickly realized that a funeral home is a big help. 
When we contacted all the family and friends, the first thing people asked was, "When is the service?" Once it became clear that people would come to a real service, not a loosey, goosey stand by the lake and sing Kumbaya service, I sort of jumped into action. I knew that a real service would help with my grieving.  
My siblings and I pretty much all attend mega churches. We didn't really want to use their facilities or pay big bucks to rent a chapel or even a small room. 
(Pet peeve alert here.) 
Really churches? Who gave you the facilities anyway?
Deep breath.
Okay, I'm back.
My private Christian school graciously  allowed us to have the service in the little lunch room. 
My school is in the old church we attended when we first moved to Texas. I got married in this building and my wedding reception was held in this same little lunch room so this is familiar to all of us.
It took a huge burden off of me knowing that my school family was surrounding me with support and this offer of help, at no charge, on a holiday weekend no less. :)
The other totally cool thing about it is the mural of Jesus and the little children.

Our home church growing up was Village Lutheran Church in Bronxville, New York. The staircase in the children's building had a mural going all the way up to classrooms. Many, many of our pictures at church were taken in front of that mural. I don't know who painted the mural at my school but they were used by God later to comfort me and I hope the rest of the family. 

The second item on the agenda was the officiant. 
My husband was an elder for several years so initially I thought he could lead the service 
(during the time leading up to Jim's passing when the  Loosey, Goosey, Kumbaya service was in the works.)
I knew that wasn't a good idea as soon as I realized that there is a reason people call in the professionals. 
We have a dear pastor friend who is now a missionary. We called him and he agreed to do the service. 
Day one - done!

The next steps were done by my brothers. They helped arrange travel for out of towers. It was an all day task.

 Food, Music, Scripture, Flowers and Memorial Table

The next day I woke up thinking about food, music and the memorial table. 
My school had offered help with food so I called them to see if they could help with side dishes. 
I plan to get a ham or two to plop in the roaster.
If my school family will provide sides we will have a lunch before the service at my house. 

Jim was a big fan of the Grateful Dead but I couldn't find a song with a Spritiual bent. Spirit in the Sky was not his scene if you know what I mean.

I love music, so I tried to come up with a mix of classic old time Lutheran music but with a rock ballad thrown in. 
It was healing to sit at my computer and search for songs. 
I continued to listen to my selections as I perused my photo albums for pictures.
I narrowed my music choices down and e-mailed the selections to my brothers. We could do a canned version of each (not ideal) but my sons are musicians so they may have a friend who will play piano for us.  

I took breaks to search Pinterest for ideas for the memorial table and a photo display.  
See my Memorial Service board here: 
I saw that what is used for a wedding or graduation is also appropriate for a memorial service so that is where I searched for ideas.
I didn't think that a memorial service needed to look straight out of the 1980s. I thought is could look updated.

I took into account Jim's favorite color-green.
His interests- fishing and nature. 

Instead of the bed spring, I will use an old door for the photo display.
The tables will have rustic crosses and candles, his picture and some antique fishing stuff on a green tablecloth.
The candles are going to be in canning jars.
My sister in law and I talked about flowers and she generously offered to get those for us. 
We wanted flowers but this really could be a no money spent area if we needed it to be. 

We'll have flowers or plants from any work people who send them but I could have decorated the table with fall leaf branches, completely in keeping with Jim's interests but it will be so nice to have flowers. 
Jim tried to explain to me once why the leaves weren't as pretty in Texas during the fall. I didn't understand what he was talking about. The day after he died, I noticed the leaves were prettier than they have ever been.

I made my list of shopping items. 
Table cloth (I should have no problem finding green during the holidays)
Twine and clothes pins.
An old door.
Copy shop and frame for photo.
Day two - done

Day three consisted of the program for the service and the obituary for inside it. 
My daughter came over with Photoshop and she created a gorgeous program. I found the program from my mom's funeral in one of my photo albums. 
We are using some songs and scripture from it. 
The old Testament reading was Psalm 130.
(Bill and I visited a little Lutheran church this morning because I craved the comfort of being at the same kind of church I attended as a child. The pastor did the reading and sermon from Psalm 130. I was stunned but not.)
Okay back to my timeline. 

We then went to the ReStore to look for an old door.

Instead we found two sets of narrow bifold doors.
These will be perfect and I can use them in my house later. 
They were $20.00. 
That was it for day 3. We had a late lunch and I took a nap. 
After my nap I began some cleaning. 

Day 4
I was pretty spent by day 4. I thought about painting the louvered doors myself but then thought better of it. Instead I called my painter. He will come pick them up and take them back to his shop. 
I bought a few crosses for the table and some needed groceries. 
I pulled out my Blue Willow but I'm debating getting paper. I just hate eating off of paper. I don't want anyone to have to clean up after us though. 
 Next week I will go to Kinkos to copy the picture and the program, finalize the music and stop in at Hobby Lobby for more clothes pins and twine.

I used to plan retreats and events for women. I see now that God in part used that experience to help me plan this service.
Thank you so much for letting me share. 
It is amazing to me how therapeutic blogging has become. 
I found solace in writing this stuff down and I hope it will help someone else.  




  1. My heart goes out to you over the illness and loss of your brother. I agree that the business of planning a service can be a helpful buffer for getting through the first painful days. I'm glad writing your post gave you some comfort. I think it will help many people.

  2. Katie, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss! It sounds like you and your siblings planned a wonderful tribute to your brother. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  3. I'm glad you found some comfort while planning this service for your brother. I hope you and your family can find peace and strength during this holiday season. It sounds like you have a wonderful support system around you.