“So, Who Was the Funeral For?” | Creating Sacred Moments


I recently attended a service where the officiant said, “funerals aren’t for the person who died, they are for the living.” I initially disliked this idea, feeling that it sounded vastly self-serving at a time that was set-aside for someone who had died. This same officiant then proceeded to talk about himself and his own grief experiences, sharing almost nothing about the person who had died. My mind drifted off until a slideshow began playing and jogged me back to why I was there. This officiant’s failure made a sad event even worse. The service he performed wasn’t for my friend or for his family – it didn’t serve anyone but himself.

Photo courtesy of iStock Photo/simonox

Photo courtesy of iStock Photo/simonox

I continued to wrestle with this idea of just exactly who funerals were for and then I began learning about grief. As I delved into this topic I learned about how important meaningful traditions, symbols and ceremonies can be for the bereaved. I learned how important the component of storytelling is, how photographs and memorabilia help family to laugh and remember good times, how deeply those gathering need to be with each other.

So, here’s how I think funerals work:

#1: A funeral is and always should be about the deceased (and only the deceased), remembering and sharing their unique life-story that touched & left us with stories of our own.

But here’s the other half that is just as crucial:

#2: A funeral is and always should be for the family & friends left grieving.

This last part can be tricky especially for families who pre-plan and don’t think about their families needs when making arrangements. Getting your family together to talk about how your children or spouse would like to honor you when the time comes is a healthy and wonderful way to love and serve your family.

Understandably, many families aren’t aware of how a funeral can honor their loved one while also helping them. But, this is a mortuary blog, and we are here to talk about the tough stuff so here we go  . .

Based on what our families have shared with us, here are a few of the unique & deeply meaningful experiences available:

Viewing: “I saw my grandma at her funeral when I was a kid and it really freaked me out” – Seeing your loved one for the first time since they died is one of the most anticipated events we see families experience. But we have seen that when families choose to see their loved one (especially if the death was traumatic or due to an illness) they experience tremendous relief and peace. While this may not be for everyone, we encourage you to not rely on previous experiences to determine how your needs should be met now.

Photo courtesy of iStock Photo/IvelinRadkov

Photo courtesy of iStock Photo/IvelinRadkov

Celebrants: The goal of the Celebrant is to tell the story of the person lost and provide the family with a meaningful service. A certified Celebrant will meet with your family before the service to learn about your loved one so that when they speak at the funeral they have a fully detailed & illustrated picture of the life being honored.

Witnessing: One of the most unique experiences we offer is the opportunity to be present for the cremation. Families have expressed a sense of “getting to be with [their loved one] until the very end,” and felt that this was “the last way they could care for them,” – that “it just felt right”.

These are sacred moments.

We want all of our families to have moments like these. To have a beautiful service commemorating their loved one, to experience a sense of peace, to know that their loved one is taken care of, and most of all, to have the certainty that they did all they could.

These kinds of services that are about the person who has died, and that serve or are for the people carrying on.

Give your loved ones sacred moments like these.

Which of these experiences appeals to you the most?
Have you experienced a funeral that failed to serve anyone?
Have you experienced in a funeral that beautifully honored the deceased and served the family well?
By | 2013-08-14T05:00:08-07:00 August 14th, 2013|Ceremonies, Planning Ahead|29 Comments


  1. Lori August 14, 2013 at 7:14 am - Reply

    This is such an important post. Sharon was telling me about a family she met with recently. The woman was preplanning her own services. She kept saying she did not want it to be a big deal, something simple. Sharon pointed out that her family needed the service. I am not doing Sharon justice for the way she explained it.
    The point is that I learned so much from that. I knew it from working at O’Connor, but the way Sharon worded it just made so much sense.
    I have since “borrowed” her terminology a bit when speaking with families while taking first calls. They often refer to what Mom/Dad wanted and leave what they need out of the equation.
    Thank you for writing about this important topic.
    Great Job!!

    • Molly Keating August 14, 2013 at 11:31 am - Reply

      Thank you so much Lori! Pre-Need has obviously had a big bearing on what I wrote – having entered so many contracts that just call for a cremation and no services I want to do what I can to put an end to injustices like that. As a person you are deserving of a service and as a family you are deserving of a service for the person you have lost. It is SO important!

      Thank you so much for the encouragement, I’m so glad these ideas are shared by so many of us : )

  2. Neil O'Connor August 14, 2013 at 7:31 am - Reply

    Hi Molly –
    I have seen some bad funerals that left the family and friends wondering WTheck? I also have seen more funerals that have helped an entire community grieve together and move thru their pain as a community. We can never avoid death, yet we can help each other mover thru the pain as a community and family. I have hope for the future that we can start to help our communities heal with the right ceremonies and support. We are meant to live with each other and not live alone. I love the thought of completing someones burial or attending the cremation, it is the final act of love we can do for our family or friends.

    • Molly Keating August 14, 2013 at 11:29 am - Reply

      Thank you so much for your feedback & thoughts on this topic. You’re so right in saying that we are meant to live with others but that death will come and change the way each of us lives. The goal then become adjusting to that new life and wading through the grief in the healthiest and most fulfilling ways possible.

      Thank you for reading & sharing!

  3. erin moffitt August 14, 2013 at 9:14 am - Reply

    I have been to weddings where it was the same type of vibe from the officiant. They spoke more about themselves than the couple or about marriage. I think the two points you hit on about funerals being about the deceased and honoring their life, as well as for the family and loved ones. It is so important to create the space where people can reflect on the life of the deceased, honor their life + character, and for all who hear to be encouraged and blessed to have been a part of that person’s life. This all combines to help with the grief process.

    • Molly Keating August 14, 2013 at 11:17 am - Reply

      Absolutely! Erin, thank you so much for reading & responding like this. It makes me sad that you’ve seen this kind of situation play out but I love you were able to walk away with it with your wisdom and insight about what actually matters. It’s great to hear from you & a bit about what your journey has held.

      Thank you for sharing!

  4. Molly Keating August 14, 2013 at 11:13 am - Reply

    So true Chris. Thank you for reading!

  5. Molly Keating August 14, 2013 at 11:13 am - Reply

    That is such a simple phrase, but so poignant. Thank you so much for sharing that, Tom!

  6. Becky Finch Lomaka August 14, 2013 at 11:45 am - Reply

    Thank you, Molly. I recently experienced a memorial service that truly honored the person who died. Although he was taken from us at far too young an age, throughout the ceremony we were reminded of who he was, what he was passionate about, and how he lived his short life. Each of us left the ceremony feeling that we knew him just a little bit better. To be able to gather and share our grief as a community was very healing for those of us who are now left to carry on. As you so beautifully stated, it was about him but for us.

    • Molly Keating August 14, 2013 at 4:01 pm - Reply

      Becky, what a beautiful experience! I am so glad that you were able to leave the service with those sentiments – there’s no better way to walk away from a tragedy like that. Thank you for sharing your story and your testimony that just validates the ideas of this post.

  7. Molly Keating August 15, 2013 at 10:01 am - Reply

    Hey Michael,
    I had the privilege of hearing Ty at the training he held but I also got to listen in on Jeff’s formal training and sat through 15 Celebrant Services in just under 5 hours. It was intense but gave me a HUGE appreciation for what they do.

  8. Molly Keating August 15, 2013 at 10:04 am - Reply

    Wow! What a beautiful service you had! I love that you and your family felt the freedom to do what you dad wanted instead of following a traditional structure blindly for the sake of tradition. It sounds like you had an incredible experience and the joy that is in your comment makes it very clear that you did a great job celebrating and remembering him the way he was.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story – it’s beautiful and I hope you continue to encourage more people to have freedom when planning these events out the way you did.

  9. Molly Keating August 15, 2013 at 10:07 am - Reply

    Yes Kari, that all attests to this truth that value is not always found by following in tradition – sometimes you have to pave your own path and create something new and unique for your loved one, yourself and your family. I remember Glenda, one of the Celebrant trainers saying that someone came up to her after a service and said the same thing, “How did you know so and so . . . ” Glenda replied, “You know I never got to meet her, but I wish that I had” : ) Thanks for sharing Kari!

  10. Molly Keating August 15, 2013 at 10:08 am - Reply

    Thank you Amy!! It is so wonderful to work with a team that is so on the same page and excited about the new and valuable changes happening in our profession. Thank you so much for reading and for your dedication to our families!

  11. Molly Keating August 15, 2013 at 10:13 am - Reply

    You touched on a VERY important topic in your comment; that being the importance of keeping the memory of your loved one alive by talking about them. I remember my husband saying to me, “It’s really cool how you guys still talk about your Grandpa and enjoy the memories you have with him by remembering them together” – my husband never met my Grandpa but he has a pretty good picture of who he was based upon the memories I and my family have shared with him. I was surprised that he commented on that but then realized that many families don’t know how or are worried about what talking about the deceased might bring up for others so they avoid talking about them. In one of the grief books I’ve read the new widow shared that one of the worst things for her was when her friends and family hesitated or refused to say he late husband’s name, as if he had never existed.

    Keeping the memory alive is KEY and I love that that hit home for you and is a part of how you approach grief and your uncle.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

  12. Jeff Turner August 19, 2013 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    You have touched upon the greatest value and the failure of our profession. A service that is healing and meaningful and story told well is what people are thirsty for. It seems our profession demands excellence in every aspect of what we do, from the moment a family contacts us until we carry out all of their wishes and yet we tolerate mediocrity or less from those who actually deliver the public messages. No wonder we see the trends of families avoiding ceremony. They have seen no value in those services where the person conducting the service makes no connection. The true tragedy however, is the price the families and friends pay when their loved one simply “disappears” from life and nothing is done to mark their significance or value as a human being.

    The Celebrant movement holds the greatest promise for those who have not seen value or simply have no connection to any tradition where ceremonial honor is part of their experience when a life ends. Even faith communities would benefit by taking queues from and incorporating celebrant elements into their traditions. For those willing, it can even be a tremendous bridge for religious groups to care for their neighbors in a most relevant way.

    The stories of people are amazing! They are begging to be told and we know how to do it. Thank you for reflecting your experience. I wish it was not the norm but unfortunately for too many, it has been and continues to be reality. I believe changing the way services are designed and performed is our single greatest mission in the funeral service profession today.

    Thank you for your post.


    • Molly Keating August 19, 2013 at 2:57 pm - Reply

      I so agree with you & that is the mission we are on. By educating our families and the public, and beyond that, by training more people about how to deliver these incredible services, we are helping build a new platform for funeral service and creating an engine that I believe will be unstoppable.

      Thank you so much for being the leader in our community in education about Celebrants and enthusiasm over the beautiful job they do.

      You have inspired all of us & led the way for this company to change the funeral experience, 1 family at a time.


  13. Jenn August 19, 2013 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    The celebrant services are so amazing and personal, I am so glad that O’Connor is leading the way on this exciting new avenue of funeral service. I want to know about the person, who they are, what they loved in life and the stories they left behind to be told. I would definitely recommend a celebrant for any funeral service.

    • Molly Keating August 19, 2013 at 2:52 pm - Reply

      Right on Jenn! Thank you for sharing your enthusiasm for the Celebrants – they are an invaluable part of making the service meaningful and personal. Couldn’t agree with you more!

  14. Molly Keating August 19, 2013 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    I hadn’t thought about how the Remembrance service plays into this but it absolutely does. I’m so glad we provide families with that experience but I would be more at ease if they had had the service they needed sooner. We are just beginning to learn about the value of this and the deep, deep places that services & symbols help to heal.

    Thank you for your insight & compassion for the serviceless people – we’re on a mission to give them what they need!


  15. Molly Keating August 19, 2013 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much Mitch! I’m so glad that you’ve gotten to see first-hand the powerful and peace-giving presence a Celebrant can be. Ty & Keith are so amazing – maybe the next topic will be an interview with them!? You just inspired me! – Thanks for reading!

  16. Molly Keating August 19, 2013 at 3:08 pm - Reply

    I think you are so right. When we can get into the details and really put unique and personal touches on services and ceremonies like these they can somehow become easier (I know that’s not the right word but how do you say this?) or more endurable because each symbol is a mark of remembrance, of honor, and of love. I so appreciate your opinion on this given your experience. Thank you so much for reading & adding a validating voice to the conversation : )


  17. Molly Keating August 19, 2013 at 3:13 pm - Reply

    You are totally right. We all have extended families that we choose to love and surround ourselves with and they should not be neglected or denied a service – even if they have to throw it themselves. I heard recently of a Board & Care that had a staff member pass away – none of the staff was invited to the service for him. The owner/manager realized that the staff desperately needed to have their own service for the deceased co-worker and so they held their own private company service for him and found the experience tremendously healing & helpful.

    I love your insight & unique perspective – thanks for bringing that up and giving me a new topic for later : )

  18. Molly Keating August 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm - Reply

    You are so right! I recently got to experience a “tour” of the mortuary led my by dad who gave me the explanations he would give to a family on their first visit to us. I was totally floored by his presentation. I’ve attended many viewings for relatives in the very room we were standing in but as he began to paint the picture of how “a viewing can be an anxious experience” my heart raced back to those times just before I saw my grandparents – but then he talked about how we all have our own pace in terms of when we are ready to approach the casket and as I reflected again on my experience I could see that what he said was exactly true. My aunts & uncles were up there quickly looking at Grandpa and my Grandma “fussed” as my dad said many spouses to, over my Grandpa. For my cousins and I, well it took us a bit longer to go up. We lingered in the back for a while before going up in different groupings to see him. But oh the peace & comfort of seeing him like that – without the sickening look of cancer, restored & resting – it was incredible.

    All that to say Carrie, you are completely right when you talk about “developing the vision” or painting the picture for families – they need it and it can change everything.

    Thank you for reading!

  19. Molly Keating August 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm - Reply

    Yes! I know I already told you this but talk to Jeff and he’ll get you down on a list he’s putting together. : )

  20. Diana August 20, 2013 at 4:07 pm - Reply

    What a great blog! I have been to a few Celebrant services, two of our very own, in house here at O’Connor. Both Anne and Mark did a wonderful Celebrant service about their loved ones. I wish everyone did these services!

    • Molly Keating August 21, 2013 at 12:52 pm - Reply

      Me too, Diana! I’m so glad you are the first person people talk to & that you are such a fan of these kinds of services. Isn’t it amazing how different and special they are? Thank you for sharing!

  21. Elsa August 21, 2013 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    Great Read.
    As a director, it can sometimes be a challenge in explaining the importance of a celebrant service, but knowing the impact that they bring to a service gives me all the confidence I need to be able to assure them that it truly is the best way to go. I love to see the makings of a service from the initial hesitation that a family may have with the thought of an “out of the box” service to the peace that it brings them knowing that they truly CELEBRATED the life of their loved one with the guidance of a celebrant. It is such a great feeling knowing that you took part in creating a service that the family will cherish forever.

  22. Lauren September 3, 2013 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    This is a great post! By shedding light on the importance on having a view and witnessing cremation helps people see that doing these things are not “weird” but can really help them process some of what they are feeling. Your honesty about attending a funeral that did not create a meaningful experience to those attending was sad to read.