My niece Dianne recently married a wonderful fellow named Geoffrey. They had planned and prepared for the big day over 12 months.
It was a beautiful ceremony and reception at a nice hotel in the Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami, Florida. As our family started the joyous wedding weekend celebrations, I was struck by similarities between weddings and funerals.
Friday night before the wedding, out-of-town guests gathered for a family-style dinner at a nearby restaurant. My brother Lee, the father of the bride, had invited his boss to attend. The boss and his wife showed up late, just as we started to pack up the leftovers.
The reason for their delay: they had just come from a funeral for a young man who had overdosed on heroin and fentanyl. They showed me the laminated memorial card for the 21-year old. He looked like an All-American boy, fair-skinned, blonde, and handsome. During the course of his addiction, he had overdosed and been revived four previous times. The fifth OD on Sunday proved deadly.
Funerals and memorial services are the parties no one wants to plan. My niece and her fiancé took months to put together all of the elements of their wedding. This young man’s parents had the heart-wrenching task of creating a funeral in five days. Now imagine planning a wedding in five days. The less time you have to plan, the higher your stress level shoots up.
The similarities between weddings and funerals are striking. You need to find a place to hold the event, arrange for a clergy person or celebrant, decide on a theme or color scheme, write what will be said during the event, and prepare a reception. You need to invite guests for the event. How will you contact them? And how will you send thank you notes afterward?
My award-winning book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die, offers a wealth of information for planning a funeral. This advice also applies to wedding planning. Here are three top tips you can use for any life cycle event.
Use Checklists and Calendars
A checklist facilitates attention to details that might otherwise fall through the cracks. This list contains decisions that need to be made, action items that need to be accomplished, and who will do them. Use a calendar to chart out a timeline as an action implementation framework.
For example, establishing a date, time and place for the event usually comes before announcements and invitations. If a celebrant will be involved, his or her schedule needs to be determined before setting a date and time. You might leverage a holiday or three-day weekend to encourage guests to travel.
“Save the Date” cards for weddings are becoming common, as couples decide on a date and work on the other details before issuing a formal invitation. If a funeral isn’t held within a week, a family might do a “Save the Date” card or email for a memorial gathering at a later time.
Keep an Up-to-Date Guest List
Whether you are planning a wedding or a funeral, who will you invite and how will you contact them? Even with the prevalence of texts and other electronic communications, most wedding invitations are still sent by mail. In some instances, web-based invitations are being used for formal affairs such as bar or bat mitzvahs and quinceañera parties.
Funeral communications require speed to reach people within a three to five-day window. Options include phone calls, emails, social media, texts, and newspaper announcements.
One way to manage guest list communications is with a paper-based spreadsheet system. Keep an updated listing of names, addresses, phone numbers (ID which are for texts and which are only for calls), and emails. You might want to note the relationship details, such as whether the person is a friend or relative. A data management resource such as The Family Plot File from AGoodGoodbye.com can help you keep track of who has been contacted, who sent cards or gifts, and if the giver was thanked and when.
Another approach is to use the personal contact lists we carry in our smart phones. There’s an app for that for funerals: Everdays enables you to create memorial announcements that can be shared with your community via text. You can choose who gets those announcements. You can also make other people administrators to further share notifications to those in their contact lists. This app can help reach young people when there has been a tragic death, such as an overdose.
Write Thank You Notes
I am fully expecting to receive a written thank you note from my niece for a generous check given to the couple at the wedding. The memory of my grandmothers and great-aunts who drilled the importance of writing a personal thank you note still resonates in my psyche.
After a funeral, the writing of thank you notes can actually be a healing activity. While optional, writing provides an opportunity for grieving individuals to count their blessings. You don’t have to write a letter. It’s a note. You can say plenty in three sentences.
When the death of a loved one blows your world apart, thank you notes are little pieces of writing that add up to a quilt of gratitude for the people in your life that come together in support. And when you sign off, sign it “love” or “with love.” Expressions of love are what living is all about.
Whether the event is a wedding, a funeral, or another life cycle event, these tips can help you create a meaningful, memorable celebration without losing your mind.
Gail Rubin, CT, is a pioneering death educator who helps organizations connect with baby boomers about end-of-life issues. She’s the coordinator of Before I Die Festivals, an award-winning TEDx speaker, and author of three books on end-of-life issues. Download a free planning form and Executor’s Checklist from her website, www.AGoodGoodbye.com.