New York State Funeral Directors Association

Creating New Funeral Traditions

Over the years, funeral service and memorialization customs have evolved to reflect a particular culture's religious beliefs and lifestyles.

Because of the ancient Egyptians' strong belief in the hereafter, their tombs were elaborately outfitted with everything the deceased might need after death including food, tools, eating utensils, jewelry and favorite objects such as games. For centuries thereafter, religious rituals and customs changed to reflect the prevailing culture.

Today, with the decline of institutional religion and changing belief systems, traditional rituals may not be preferred by everyone. Even with these behavior shifts, the need to express grief and memorialize the deceased still remains a fundamental element of human nature. Today's generation of Baby Boomers is seeking unique ways to personalize funerals and ensure that family and friends remember them in a special way. Their funerals are an outlet for grief in addition to serving as a creative expression of how they lived. Funeral rituals that would be considered sacrilegious a few decades ago are commonplace today. For instance, it is currently popular for deceased sports fans to have sports equipment -- golf clubs, tennis balls, favorite team jerseys -- interred with them. Some have even had a small television set placed in the casket so that they would not miss important upcoming sporting events. The ancient Egyptians would certainly approve of this practice.

For those who are concerned with ecology, Eternal Reefs is a Georgia-based company that blends cremated remains with concrete to craft spheres that are lowered into the ocean at selected sites to help build up fragile reefs and provide a fish habitat. Families may visit the reef and be comforted by the fact that these reef memorials greatly benefit the ocean's ecosystem while they provide a long term remembrance of the loved one.

In Idaho, Celebration Forests plants and cares for memorial trees that have ashes of a loved one scattered around their trunks. Some funeral homes will arrange to have a tree planted for each funeral service they perform as a way of providing a living memorial honoring the deceased which helps to renew forest life.

Communication features provided by the Internet have made even more dramatic changes in the way we memorialize loved ones. Funerals are broadcast on the Internet to accommodate those who can't attend services. Internet-based memorial programs give family members many options to memorialize their loved ones electronically so that life stories may be shared with family members and friends around the world as well as at home. Many funeral homes operate websites where friends and family can leave special messages when they are unable to attend the memorial service in person.

Discuss personalization with the family funeral director when preplanning a funeral for yourself or a family member. Eulogies, a display of family and personal photographs, playing tapes of favorite music, readings of selected biblical passages at a religious service and family members giving witness to the life of the deceased are memorable ways to personalize a funeral. Your family funeral director can advise you about these and other options that will help you to plan a funeral service that will honor a life well-lived in a very special way.