Personalising the Funeral Service

Everyone is unique, and if the funeral is really to do justice to your loved one then the service itself also has to be unique. There are all kinds of ways in which we can make the service more personal, and below you'll find a few suggestions, based on over twelve years of experience of leading funerals. 

The Tribute, or "Eulogy"

Normally, I write and deliver the Tribute or "Eulogy" on your behalf. Sometimes, however, families like to write (and even deliver) the Eulogy themselves. There’s no obligation to do this, but families often find it helpful as a way of enabling them to feel they’ve been able to do something for their loved one.

If you do decide to go down this route, I can help you prepare something if you need it. As a general rule of thumb, you’re looking at writing a maximum of around 6-800 words, which should translate into about seven to eight minutes of actual talking. Here’s a few hints for writing the eulogy:

• A picture tells a thousand words. Sometimes stories are the best way of capturing a person’s spirit: those stories that people listen to and say “yes! That was Mike to a tee!” 

• Don’t just focus on the facts of the person’s life – helpful those these are. Try and include something about their character and personality and – if it’s not too difficult or painful - something of what they meant to you and those around you.

• If you decide you want to read the tribute yourself, practise it in front of the mirror. This will help you check the timings (people usually underestimate how long a piece will actually take to read), and get used to actually speaking the text out loud. 

Families sometimes find it helpful to write the tribute themselves...

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Sometimes, the lyrics of songs can express our feelings better than we can ourselves


It’s normally the case that we have a piece of music:

• At the beginning of the service, as we enter the chapel and everyone takes their seats.

• At the end of the service, as everyone files out.

Families usually like to choose a piece of music that is meaningful to their loved one – it might be a song by a favourite artist, or a piece of music that was important to them at a particular point in their life. One thing to bear in mind: there’ll be a lot of activity as the music is playing – people taking their seats, or filing out at the end – so people may not necessarily be listening that carefully.

In addition, families often include a piece of music to be played during the service itself – this is called the “music for reflection”. It can help break the service up a little bit, and give people chance to reflect and be still. It usually works best if the music is a little quieter, and more subdued – something suitable for a little bit of quiet, thoughtful reflection. 

Of course, it may be that your loved one didn’t have any particular interest in music, or you may not be sure if a particular song will be suitable. I’m always happy to provide a bit of guidance, and to offer suggestions for “something suitable” for entry, exit and reflection if you need a bit of a steer.

There’s no “rule” as to what is appropriate – it’s really your choice. People pick a really wide variety of music – the key is to choose something that was meaningful to the person we remember, and meaningful to you too. Sometimes, the lyrics of songs can express our feelings better than we can ourselves, and it may be worth giving a bit of thought to the words of the songs, to help you express your feelings as part of the service – especially when it comes to the music for reflection, during the service.

Once you’ve picked your music, you can check whether or not the crematorium has it available by going to this web site and selecting the crematorium being used for the service from the drop down list:


Families sometimes feel that they have to have a hymn as part of the service, for whatever reason: perhaps as a way of reflecting their loved one’s beliefs, perhaps simply because it “wouldn’t feel right” not to have one. There’s actually no obligation to have a hymn at all, but if you’d like some suggestions, I’m happy to offer a bit of guidance.

A couple of things to bear in mind with hymns: people often feel self-conscious singing, and sometimes it can be a real struggle to get through a hymn on the day. This can feel a bit awkward and slightly embarrassing. There are two ways round this: one is to pick a hymn that is easy to sing, and that most people would know – something like Morning Has Broken. The other is to pick something short! That way, if people don’t sing, any awkwardness or embarrassment will be short-lived – here again, Morning Has Broken is a good fit. Fortunately, most crematoria also provide versions of the hymns that come with backing vocals – basically, a choir singing the words in the background – this can be really helpful, because the sound of the choir singing can give the less confident singers in the congregation somewhere to “hide” and helps encourage the singing, as well as helping the less familiar pick up the tune.

See What People Are Saying

There's actually no obligation to have a hymn...

See What People Are Saying

This can be a good way of varying the content of the service a little ...


Some families also like to have a slideshow of photos from their loved one’s life playing on a screen as the “music for reflection” is playing. This can be a good way of varying the content of the service a little, and helping people engage in a different way – rather than just listening to the celebrant talking about the person’s life, they can also see photos and allow those photos to trigger a few more memories. A picture is worth a thousand words, after all! Not all crematoria can provide this facility, and most expect families to prepare the photos themselves – in practice, this means scanning the photos, and saving them as image files on a memory stick. It’s always best to check that the images will load on the crematorium’s screen before the day of the service, so that there’s time to sort out any problems – so please let the funeral director (or me)have the memory stick well in advance of the day if this is something you’d like to do.


There’s no obligation to include a reading in the service, but sometimes people like to choose a poem or short reading that provides a little comfort, or perhaps that puts into words something of the way they feel about their loved one. For a good sample of poems and readings, you might try this web site:

You don’t have to use somebody else’s words, of course: some families like to write a poem or reflection themselves – again, as a way of expressing the way they felt about their loved one.

Families sometimes like to read the reading themselves, as part of the service. As with doing the eulogy, I’d recommend you tried reading the piece out loud in front of the mirror before the service, just to help you get used to the text. Always remember: don’t rush it.

It can be very hard to stand up in public and read, so as with the eulogy please don’t feel you have to do it. If you are worried about breaking down, but determined that you want to do it, I can give you a few speaking tips that will help you cope with the emotion of speaking.

See What People Are Saying

Some families like to write a poem or reflection themselves

See What People Are Saying

Some families like to release a dove or doves at the end of the service...

Other Ways of Personalising the Service

There are a whole host of other ways of personalising the service. For example:

Placing flowers on the coffin, at the end of the service. Some families like to give everyone attending a funeral a flower; at the end of the service, people are invited to go forward and lay the flower on the coffin as they make their way out, perhaps touching the coffin as they go and taking a moment to say their own, personal, goodbye. 

Releasing doves. Some families like to release a dove or doves at the end of the service, once everyone has made their way outside – the doves can symbolise their loved one’s spirit set free, or simply their release from any pain they may have endured towards the end of their life. Releasing more than one dove can symbolise their being reunited with those loved ones who have gone before.

Attendance book. Those attending the funeral are given a card by the undertaker, on which they write their details – this can be a nice way of keeping a record of those who attended.

Keeping copies of the order of service card. Families sometimes like to keep spare copies of the order of service, to pass on to friends and family members not able to attend the service – this can be a good way of enabling those not able to attend still to feel a part of the service.

• Streaming the service. Some crematoria have the facility to stream the funeral service live over the Internet, so that anyone not able to attend the service is able to login and watch the service from wherever in the world they happen to be.