Regardless of one’s religious affiliation, whether it be Christian or non-Christian, it is customary to hold a funeral service or ceremony of some type, as a means of honouring and celebrating the life of the deceased. If one does not profess a specific religious belief, consideration may be given to having what is called a ~humanistic, ~secular~ or non-religious service.
In this province, a request for a secular service is a rarity. However, in other parts of Canada and the United states, non-religious funerals are becoming more prevalent. This is particularly evident in large urban areas where there is a greater cultural diversity and the population is more mobile. On the other hand, people in smaller, rural communities who have lived together and known each other for all their lives want to say good-bye in the traditional way with visitation and a church service.
Planning a secular service
Unlike most religious funerals, where the liturgy and order of service are already established by the church, non-religious funerals have no specific guidelines or script to follow. It is, therefore, left up to the funeral director, in consultation with the family or Executor, to plan this secular service.
One of the first priorities is to determine where to hold the service. There are a number of options available, including a funeral home chapel or, depending on the anticipated attendance, other rooms in the funeral home such as the family lounge or visitation room. Some families might choose to hold the service in a location, which had special meaning for the deceased, like the chapel in a resident care facility or university, while others would simply prefer to have it in the family home. The only restrictions associated with the selection of a suitable location is whether the family wanted the casketed remains present. Obviously there would be certain locations that could not accommodate a casket. Other than the room size, there would be no restrictions when choosing cremation or having a memorial service without the remains present.
Involvement of family and friends
A secular service requires more involvement from family and friends than a religious service. Friends, business associates and family members are encouraged to take part. This may entail preparing and reading eulogy, reciting a favorite poem or passage, telling a funny story or expressing their grief and sharing their feelings.
Even though the deceased may not have wanted a religious service, often non-religious services borrow from religious traditions. One example is the reading of a few selected verses or lines from Scripture.
Not unlike a religious service, music is also an important component in a secular service. In this case the music selected is more upbeat, reflecting what the deceased enjoyed rather than hymns or other religious songs. With a traditional church service the organ or piano is usually the instrument of choice. In a secular service various instruments may be used, including acoustic guitars, drums, oboes, violins, even accordions and bagpipes. Taped music is also very popular, such as classical, jazz or rock and roll. A soloist is also a beautiful addition to any type of service and really adds to the dignity and mood. Most soloists will sing with or without accompaniment.
Memorabilia and Rituals
Other options to consider, particularly with memorial services, would be the use of memorabilia and rituals. For instance, a portrait or picture of the deceased, a photo album, war medals, special awards, paintings, plagues, pins and other regalia can be displayed very tastefully. This focuses attention on the deceased~s life and rekindles fond memories, while acknowledging and honouring the deceased~s contribution to both family members and the community.
Rituals associated with religious services may be adapted to a secular service or families may choose to introduce their own. The lighting of a candle at a church service symbolizes a Christian~s life within the church. At a secular service it could be used to symbolize a life lived. The glow and warmth from a candle or series of candles could also be used to symbolize those traits in the deceased. The placement of a single rose by each family member on the casket or urn at the graveside is an example of a family ritual.
For someone who enjoyed the beauty and wonders of nature, displaying cut flowers from a garden or a favorite potted plant is most appropriate. The warmth and elegance of fresh flowers will enhance any service.
The success of any funeral service will depend on how it~s coordinated. The design and coordination of a religious service is undertaken by the clergy after consultation with the family. It is the clergy who facilitates and monitors all segments of the service, introducing each participant and ensuring that those in attendance are following the proceedings. With a secular service a coordinator of facilitator must be found. In some cases funeral directors are assuming this role. It is not an easy task and thus requires someone who does not have strong emotional ties to the deceased and has experience speaking at public gatherings. Due to the uniqueness of each secular service, it would be prudent to have a personalized program printed and distributed prior to the service. This would be a big help for all those participating in the service and make is much easier for those attending to follow. The program may include information about the deceased or a poem or verse that everyone might reflect upon.
The common theme in all non-religious funerals is the celebration of life. They need not conform to any of the established traditions but may borrow from them to achieve the same goals, namely, to honour the deceased and begin the healing process.