8 Guilt-Free Alternatives to a Funeral

Coping with Grief Coping with Grief : Litsa Williams

Monday we tackled a reader question about whether it is ‘wrong’ not to have a funeral.  Like with so much in grief, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, but there are implications that always need to be considered.  It may be the right decision not to have a funeral, but not having a service may leave you feeling unsettled, guilty, or worried you won’t have a formal opportunity to say goodbye.  If there are children who are impacted by the loss you may be feeling concerned that they won’t experience the ritual, symbolism, and collective grieving that occurs at a funeral service.

If you are seeking alternatives to a funeral that may help meet some of the needs that are found in a tradition funeral, or if you are planning a memorial and trying to think a bit outside the box, today’s post is the post for you.  Today we will be sharing some alternatives to a funeral, large and small, and we are asking you to chime in by leaving a comment if you have other ideas.

1)  Create a shrine in your house.  Okay, the word shrine probably makes this seem creepy.  We aren’t talking about a creepy shrine here, just a simple area in your house that has photos, objects, and anything else meaningful that reminds you of your loved one.  The process of putting this together can be meaningful and symbolic.  It is something you can do by yourself, or together with family and friends.  Set aside a specific time to do this.  Especially with children, this is a great opportunity to share memories and say goodbyes.  They may wish to draw pictures, write a letter, or make other artistic items to add to the shrine.

2)  Hold a birthday or anniversary memorial.  You may have skipped a funeral, but this doesn’t mean you can never have a memorial.  If you are feeling a lack of resolution, pick another meaningful day in the coming months to have a memorial.  This could be anything from a memorial dinner to a formal memorial service – decide what works for you.  A memorial can actually allow an opportunity for more family and friends to attend, as there can be more notice given than for a funeral.

3)  Create a personal ceremony at the gravesite.  People have different feelings about visiting the gravesite, some people visit daily or weekly, and others never visit a grave.  There is no right or wrong – it just happens that some find the gravesite a comforting place, somewhere they are close to their loved one, and others do not.  If you are someone who does visit the grave, there are many meaningful rituals that can bring comfort.  In the Mexican tradition of Day of the Dead, thousands of people flock to the graves of their family members to clean and decorate the graves.  Though this may not be part of your cultural tradition, it can be a meaningful and comforting ritual to adopt.  Pick a day – it could be a meaningful day or any old day, and plan something meaningful at the gravesite.  You may wish to invite others and turn this into a time of cleaning, decorating, sharing stories, and saying goodbye.

4)  Spread the ashes.  Not every family chooses to spread their loved one’s ashes, but if this is right for your family it can be a nice alternative to a traditional funeral.  From going to a single meaningful location, planning a boat trip to spread the ashes at sea, or taking ashes to multiple locations to spread, this can be a meaningful time and space to say goodbyes.  This can be done alone or with a group of family or friends.  You may even wish to spread the ashes somewhere your loved one always wanted to go, but was never able (think Martin Sheen in The Way)

5)  Create a new tradition.  The process of creating a tradition can alone be meaningful.  It may be a tradition of volunteering in memory of your loved one, visiting somewhere meaningful to your loved one,  creating an annual family dinner in your loved one’s honor, or anything else that seems right for you.  Creating this tradition can be a way to grieve together, if you choose to involve others, or a way to thoughtfully say goodbye and remember your loved one every year.

6) Skip the church and the funeral home.  If you are considering your options and you are put off by the idea of a traditional mass and a stuffy funeral home, because it just doesn’t seem to fit who your loved one was, start thinking outside the box!  You can hold a service anywhere.  Really! Anywhere!  Your house, their house, the beach, a park, a restaurant, a community center, a Moose Lodge, a bar, an art gallery, on a boat, in a box, with a fox . . .okay, you get the idea.   You don’t have to have one officiant and a eulogy.  You can open the floor to everyone to share their stories, memories, music, art, or anything else they wish to share.  Find some inspiration in the full Beyond Goodbye video.  We shared the trailer on Monday, but you can view the whole video here.  It is truly amazing.  Okay, and because I love it so much, here is the trailer again.

7) Plant a tree.  Okay, it doesn’t have to be a tree, but create something out in nature that symbolizes your loved one – it could be a tree, a garden, a bench, or anything else that makes sense for you.  This can create a meaningful space for you to remember and feel close to your loved one, and a small ceremony is totally appropriate when the tree is planted, bench is placed, etc.  You may even want to get a little plaque or stone marker to place at the site.

8) Create a memorial book.  One thing that often saddens people if there is no funeral is that they were not able to share stories or hear the impact their loved one had on others lives.  Unlike just a scrapbook or memory box (which you also may want to make!), a memorial book is created when multiple people all create a page in the book.  They can fill the page with memories, stories, things that person taught them, messages for the family, or whatever else they want to share.  This can be a hand made book, or you can purchase one (like the one available here from The Guestbook Store that can even be customized with your loved one’s name!).

These are just a handful of ideas.  We are sure you have tons more.  Leave a comment, to give others some inspiration!

Let’s be grief friends.

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19 Comments on "8 Guilt-Free Alternatives to a Funeral"

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  1. Kuljira Sujirote  January 30, 2014 at 2:14 pm Reply

    CremainGem offers a novel alternative way to symbolize love and honor via a genuine object made from 100% cremains of beloved one. By accompanying physical, memorial and spiritual emotion, the CremainGem provides connectedness, peace and recollection for the holder.

    Only small amount of the cremains is required for creating a CremainGem, the rest can be spread in beloved one’s meaningful sites. Our innovation in restoring the cremain is adorable, portable, and durable. Each piece is unique in both meaning and appearance.

  2. Quin Trent  April 17, 2015 at 6:43 pm Reply

    I’ve never thought about these eight alternatives to a funeral before besides number four which is spreading the ashes. Good to know that there are multiple types of different ways that you can celebrate someone’s life and skip the normal funeral services. This is not something that I would usually think about, but are not bad ideas.

  3. Laila Keirstead  May 14, 2015 at 10:20 am Reply

    The memorial book and the anniversary/birthday celebration are both really good ideas. I think when my great grandma died we had a memorial book. It was more like novels because there were about three or four binders full of pictures of her throughout the year. I was really happy we all got a copy of this because there are a lot of memories in those pictures. https://szykownyfuneralhomeil.com/index.html

    • Litsa  May 17, 2015 at 10:43 am Reply

      Ah that is really nice, Laila. The funeral can be such a blur it is nice to have something tangible to hold on to.

  4. Correy Smith  September 17, 2015 at 4:04 pm Reply

    The last funeral services for me that happened 2 weeks ago sure was hard for both my family and I. Mainly for me because of a friend that I had befriended for such a long time. The tips that mentioned about holding a personal ceremony sure is something that it would help out especially for the family of my friend who recently passed away. https://www.serenity.ca/what-we-do/funeral-services

  5. Johnson McGee  November 3, 2015 at 1:54 pm Reply

    I like how you said, “…creating an annual family dinner in your loved one’s honor”. When my parents die, I’m going to do this. I think that it would be a good way to remember them. Also, I could have my dad’s favorite pie for dessert. How common are memorial dinners? https://www.hartsellfh.com/?page=ourservices

  6. Beth Morrison  March 23, 2016 at 2:56 pm Reply

    Scripture says cry at a birth and rejoice at a death. I have such great enthusiasm about going home that I want to do my funeral before I die so I can be there. My husband thinks people will think I’m not all there. Funerals are so morbid and they don’t express the fact that our Heavenly Father is bringing us home for a reason and we should not be sad. We should look forward to that re-union in the sky when we all go home. What do you think.. Is this a wild and crazy idea?

    • Suzy  May 3, 2016 at 3:24 pm Reply

      I love what you wrote here. My son died in January 2016 and I have been so sad…I have faith, but you have helped remind me that my tears should be of joy that he is at last at peace and not trying so hard to cope with his issues.
      You helped a mom today more than you know.

  7. Christine  July 6, 2016 at 5:07 pm Reply

    My father-in-law passed away a few days ago. The family has decided not to do a reception after the funeral. How do we state that in the obituary and tell people?

    • Litsa  July 6, 2016 at 6:02 pm Reply

      I am not sure if you are having a burial after the service, but often people say “private burial to follow” which avoids a reception. If you are not having a burial, or wish to have an open burial, I would ask the funeral director for suggests as I am sure they handle that often! I am so sorry for the loss of your father-in-law- take care

  8. Rosalind  December 31, 2016 at 7:12 pm Reply

    My husband is expected to pass away within the next 3 months or so. His two sons do not like him and will not visit him in his rest home. They said they would come to his funeral. My husband doesn’t want a funeral and I want to uphold his wishes. He’s going to be cremated, but we want it to end right there. We want to let people know in advance. Is that obscene? It’s a matter of simplicity. There are only 2 people besides myself who will truly mourn him. What a confusing time.

    • Ja Bush  January 1, 2017 at 3:22 am Reply

      Similar thing here. My husband has few friends. His children have only started visiting now he’s close to death. Not in 13 years have they bothered much. I and he agree with no funeral or service. But it’s other people who will give me grief when he dies for not having one. I’m no good at get together to listen to people saying how nice he was when they didn’t really know him

  9. Helen Isitt  January 6, 2018 at 2:35 am Reply

    My mother was cremated privately according to her wishes. Immediate family members gathered at a friends restaurant to be together at the time of cremation. We then held a celebration of her life with her friends. On her birthday this month, we are getting together again to spread her ashes. I was so distraught and overwhelmed when she died that not having to attend a funeral was a blessing. As it was, another friends mother passed the day after and her funeral was almost more than I could handle.

  10. Ivy Baker  March 15, 2018 at 12:59 am Reply

    This is some really good information about funeral services. It is good to know that it would be okay to just go spread ashes if you get your loved one cremated. It is good to know because my grandmother wants to be cremated. She would probably just want a little service and then have her ashes spread near her childhood home.

  11. Renee Gross  March 26, 2018 at 6:47 pm Reply

    I am beyond happy to learn of these alternatives as oppose to traditional implements regarding expansive options. I wish to emphasize that often times initially, it can feel like a tremendous pressure to accommodate “expectations” of others due to what took place in the past. Every “service” should not be designed as a “cookie-cutter” way. Meaning to say, to be able to honor* a loved one in a most personalized remembrance is absolutely beautiful! My Mother recently passed, and I plan to do just that with a Smile in my Heart and go non-traditional with respect to her brightness as a person to honor what SHE would appreciate, and it’s nice to have creative, personalized expansive* options to choose, indeed! The ideas mentioned from those above and for consideration is utmost wonderful and like myself, welcoming. My intentions were reinforced finding this page and a blessing* to me in indelible ways, thank you!

  12. Lorraine  February 19, 2019 at 3:05 pm Reply

    My husband is extremely ill and expected to pass in matter of months. We have discussed together and as we have no family near to us, we have decided to have a simple cremation, some of his ashes are to be made into a diamond for me…as diamonds are forever and he will be with me always. The remainder of the ashes will be planted in the garden along with the ashes of our 2 dogs, there for no need to go to a graveyard where no one will visit, also I will be able to sit in the garden with a drink and talk to him whenever I want to.

  13. Sadie Matthews  July 5, 2019 at 1:58 am Reply

    Home funerals are really known mostly in Asia but not all of the countries. This could be a good option if you want to save money.

  14. Pogrebne Usluge  August 26, 2019 at 8:24 am Reply

    The dead is final destination for all of us and no meter where you are, and how you want to do it . Keep it simple and modest. Make funeral to celebrate someone’s life not to be sad.

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