Gathering information on the deceased and incorporating it into your talk at a funeral service is an art form. It takes experience so be patient.
Your main job is not to collect material but to be present for the grieving family and friends.
In other words, only secondarily are you there to gather material to make the service personal. You do that by collecting information on the deceased in subtle ways and with questions.
The quality of the service you can provide for the grieving family is dependent on the quality of your questions and knowing when to use them.
Remember you are not interviewing, be gentle. It’s a conversation.
Know when to quit asking as you are probably too assertive or they are so in grief they don’t want to talk.
If that happens give them some time and gather material from friends or other family members.
Try to remember we do not have the right to break open a person’s feelings. Our sensitive questions should be asked in such a way to provide an opportunity to talk if they can.
Try not to be afraid of silences and focus on them, not on gathering material.
When it’s ‘right’, ask some questions. Please just pick a few you are comfortable with.
To begin, ask some gentle questions.
Most importantly, find out the correct name the deceased went by, the name he or she went by each day and was known by to friends.
- Where was the deceased born and raised?
- Did they have kids?
- What kind of work did he or she do?
- Were they involved in the community?
- Was there any music he/she liked?
- Did they have any favourite sports teams?
- Did they have pets, enjoy nature, their cottage?
- Did he or she have a favourite saying?
- What where his or her hobbies? Did you share any of these hobbies together? If you did, do you have a funny story to share?
- Will friends or family be taking part?
- Any special music during the service?
Now it’s time to move deeper:
- Even though you say he wasn’t a religious man, was he in any way spiritual?
- What three words would anyone you use to describe the person.
- What where some great traits about…? Can you give me an example?
What did he or she like to do? What did he or she not like doing?
Did they have an achievement they were particularly proud of?
- Was he a member of the military, a lodge or a service club etc?
Now to the big, heavy questions:
- Do you have a special memory that you want to share?
- Is there anything about the ceremony that is really important to you?
- What is the one thing that you would like me to say about the deceased?
Talk to others – look at the pictures.
Always make sure you have permission to share what you were told.
Avoid anything that inadvertently could be interpreted as negative. Remember humour in such a sensitive situation is often dangerous. If in doubt, don’t use it.