Fall is a time of rebirth and reconnection. For many of us, the falling leaves and the transformation of colours are a soothing and welcome entry into the colder months. However, when faced with an autumn funeral, we can quickly forget all about these beautiful, tranquil features.
Nature is a wonderful source of inspiration for funeral services. In this blog, Celebrant Rosalie shares her top five ideas to personalise an autumn funeral.
Personalising a funeral can be a cathartic way to say goodbye to a loved one in a unique and meaningful way. There are many things we can take advantage from within the changing seasons to add to this gentle sense of personalisation.
What unique ideas can you use for an autumn funeral? The joy of autumn is that it is bursting with deep meaning related to life and the paths we tread. Whether you are spiritual or not, these can add something very special to a funeral.
All of the below suggestions can be tailored to current Covid-19 restrictions. But please keep in mind, as these are changing regularly and may vary per crematorium or burial site we advise to check beforehand what is allowed to avoid disappointments. Your celebrant will be able to advise and help you tailor the idea to your specific situation.
Read on to explore five of my favourite ways to bring the essence of fall into an autumn funeral.
1. Make use of autumn leaves to pass on a message
This time of year, trees are changing colours, and their leaves can be found everywhere. These wonderful dry leaves are a great tool to use for message writing.
Use a white, water-proof pen or felt-tip to light up the message. You can also use paint, stickers or other crafts to decorate your leaf. If you have a collection of larger leaves you can also create a garland to go around or on top of the coffin.
During the service, the leaf messages can be collected and sent with the person who has died. If it’s a burial the leaves can be scattered into the grave as a final tribute.
It’s a great way to involve children in an autumn funeral too!
2. An autumn themed funeral can be a symbol for the ongoing cycle of life
In autumn, leaves are falling off the trees. They die and go back to the soil. This soil will nourish the tree again. In spring, new leaves will grow on the tree and the cycle repeats itself the following autumn.
This cycle of life – and of letting go – can feature in an autumn funeral as a reminder of the impermanence of life and the legacy we all leave behind: the death and renewal that are loved ones experience.
An autumn ritual example
Everyone receives an autumn leaf when entering the ceremony space. The celebrant explains how the leaf reminds us all of our own life. In our lives, we grow, nourish our environment, we give and receive. And one day, we will have to let go. But this is not the end. Our life will help others lives grow and flourish. We are individual leaves but also part of the bigger tree. How are we making a positive difference to those around us?
This is a popular ritual as this one special leaf – representing the person who has died – can be used as symbolism and a guide guide to share their life story. What type of leaf were they? What did their tree look like? How did they make a positive difference to the other leaves and the tree? How will they continue to nourish others after their death?
3. Autumnal spider-webs form a symbol of the threads we weave in our lives
Autumn is the season of spider-webs. These magical creations of nature can be a great source of inspiration for an autumn funeral. Just as the spider weaves its web, we are weaving our lives.
The design of our webs is defined by choices, by fate, and by the myriad ways in which others cross our paths. The person’s life story can be told using the web-metaphor. What are the threads they have woven in their lives? How are they intertwined with our own?
The thread-metaphor can also inspire to connect to the people attending the funeral and can be particularly powerful in a situation where social distancing is required. The celebrant can bring a long ribbon or piece of rope that people can hold on to during the service. By gently pulling the ribbon or rope, people feel they are connected.
4. After an autumn funeral you can take part in a memorial walk
In light of the current pandemic, we cannot currently gather for a reception or wake after the service. An alternative way to socially connect on the day of the funeral is to go for a memorial walk.
This is a brilliant way to still share the important moments of reflection after the funeral as a collective. You could gather in a favourite park, a woodland area or the person’s neighbourhood and in small groups share memories of the person who has died.
You can also look out for things that remind you of them: a particular bird, a shape in a tree or an object. If you’d like to get creative you can make an art work in their memory: you could draw something with a stick in the soil, or find cockers, leaves, sticks, pebbles and other treasures to create a tribute.
5. Songs and readings for an autumn funeral
Last but not least, a way to add an autumnal touch to a funeral service is choosing songs, music or readings with a theme related to autumn.
The song ‘Autumn Leaves’ is a favourite choice and many artists including Nat King Cole, Eva Cassidy, Eric Clapton, Miles Davis have recorded it.
If you prefer classical music, Vivaldi’s ‘Autumn’ from the Four Seasons is perhaps the most famous autumn track of all. For a more modern touch try Imogen Holst’s string music ‘The Fall Of The Leaf’ or, if rural folk is your genre, George Winston’s album with solo piano pieces ‘Autumn’ may be the right choice.
Many poets and writers have been inspired by autumn. Some unique and less conventional options can be found here.
Music and readings are very personal and what feels right depends on what the person who has died enjoyed, as well as personal preferences of those who are arranging a funeral and specific circumstances. If you are not sure, Google can help you find the music or reading that feels right to you. Your celebrant is also able to advise.
I hope this blog has given you some helpful ideas on how to personalise an autumn funeral. If you are currently arranging a funeral for a person dear to you I wish you love and strength, now and for the time to come.
I would like to end this blog by reciting the poem ‘Remember Me’ by Iris Hesselden that has beautiful and comforting references to autumn and nature in general:
Look for me when the tide is highAnd the gulls are wheeling overheadWhen the autumn wind sweeps the cloudy skyAnd one by one the leaves are shed.
Look for me when the trees are bareAnd the stars are bright in the frosty skyWhen the morning mist hangs on the airAnd shorter darker days pass by.
I am there, where the river flowsAnd salmon leap to a silver moonWhere the insects hum and the tall grass growsAnd sunlight warms the afternoon.
I am there in the busy streetI take you hand in the city squareIn the marketplace where the people meetIn your quiet room – I am there.
I am the love you cannot seeAnd all I ask is – look for me.
Thank you so much to Rosalie for sharing this valuable article. To find out more about Rosalie and the many other celebrants in The Celebrant Directory, browse our profiles page.
Photographer credit: Roshini McCartin Photography