These days, many people request that a funeral service or “celebration of life” held for them be completely non-religious. Some people deliberately ask those they leave behind to make an effort to be uplifting and funny when they speak at their service as they do not want their death to be all about mourning.
Most of us have been to a traditional funeral, and of course, many funerals use a standard order of service, which usually includes hymns, scriptures, and prayers. But if the family and/or the deceased do not want to hear the words of “The Lord is My Shephard” recited during the program, you don’t have to. No law says a burial service needs to be religious, in fact we have a huge list of alternatives to religious funerals to help with inspiration.
Organizing an event like this, especially after a death, can be daunting, but you can take several steps to make it easier on yourself. We’ve assembled tips and examples to help create the unusual and uplifting funeral atmosphere that your loved one wanted.
Choosing to have Non-Religious Funeral Readings
When people gather to remember loved ones and to say their goodbyes, there’s often a reading at the beginning of the funeral service to set the tone. When you approach the individual you want to do the reading, be clear and polite in letting them know the reading should be non-religious. To get them thinking about the reading, you may even want to send them some suggestions.
Many poems and essays can be used as tributes at non-religious services. The important thing is that the piece chosen resonates with the family and friends of the deceased. It is critical that those who are asked to speak at a funeral be clear on the service’s tenor, and ideally, this will be discussed beforehand with the family and close friends of the deceased. Sometimes people are asked to tell a funny story about the deceased, and this, too, can become very positive and uplifting for those in attendance.
Many funeral homes in the UK employ funeral celebrants. These celebrants are familiar with the process regarding services, cremation, burial, and any other choices that need to be considered when making final arrangements.
It’s important to realize that even when religion is not part of a ceremony, a celebration of life is still a very vibrant way to mark someone’s passing. Additionally, this type of service is a dignified, personal farewell. It is the perfect option for families who want a sincere, personal reflection of their loved one’s life.
For example, most of us are aware of the traditional Funeral Parade, such as those held in New Orleans, LA. Uplifting jazz music is played on the way to the burial, and there is dancing among the mourners. There are many ways to organize a funeral, no matter where it is taking place.
Even in this modern age, there are still people who believe that all funerals must be observant of religion. Sometimes such an opinion can be balanced out by the administrator/executor and the family. Other times the family will step in and control the situation. If such a problem occurs, friends and colleagues may suggest that they tell personal stories of something that happened between them and the departed. These stories would likely not be religiously oriented.
Examples of Non-Religious Readings
Below are three readings that could be used for non-religious funeral readings:
No Matter What
A popular and uplifting reading selection by Debi Gliori, titled No Matter What, found on Mumsnet.com may be fitting.
“Small was feeling grim and dark. He was playing toss and fling and bang and crash. Break and snap and bash and batter. Small said, “I’m a grim and grumpy little small and nobody loves me at all.” “Oh Small,” said Large. “Grumpy or not, I’ll always love you no matter what.”
Small said, “If I was a grizzly bear would you still love me would you still care?” “Of course,” said Large, “bear or not, I’ll always love you no matter what.”
Small said, “But if I turned into a bug, would you still love me and give me a hug?” “Of course,” said Large, “bug or not, I’ll always love you no matter what.”
“No matter what?” said Small, and smiled, “What if I was a crocodile?” Large said, “I’d hug you close and hold you tight and tuck you up in bed at night.”
“Does love wear out,” said Small, “does it break or bend? Can you fix it, stick it, does it mend?” “Oh help,” said Large, “I’m not that clever I just know I’ll love you forever.”
Small said, “but what about when you’re dead and gone, would you love me then, does love go on?” Large held Small snug as they looked out at the night, at the moon in the dark and the stars shining bright.
“Small look at the stars – how they shine and glow, but some of those stars died a long time ago. Still, they shine in the evening skies. Love, like starlight, never dies.”
Not How He Died… But How He Lived
Another reasonably unusual reading that could be part of a service is the following verse found on PoemHunter.com by Summer Sandercox:
Not, how did he die, but how did he live?
Not, what did he gain, but what did he give?
These are the units to measure the worth
Of a man as a man, regardless of his birth.
Nor what was his church, nor what was his creed?
But had he befriended those really in need?
Was he ever ready, with words of good cheer,
To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?
Not what did the sketch in the newspaper say,
But how many were sorry when he passed away?
Consider this unattributed short poem found on SilenceIsBeauty.com called Last Breath.
her final breath,
the sweet scent of
and not thinking,
even for one moment,
about the mess
in the kitchen.
It Doesn’t Need to be Religious
If you find it challenging to find something suitable and don’t have the time to write a verse yourself, consider visiting your local library. The librarians can offer suggestions for readings that would fit a non-religious service. Above all, don’t hesitate to choose what you think is right.
We are each unique, and there is no reason why one celebration of life needs to be identical to another. At the end of the day, whatever reading you choose should focus on reflecting the person you’ve lost and your feelings now that they’re gone.