Meaningful words to honor your loved one and words of comfort that can be shared during a funeral, celebration of life, memorial or ashes ceremony. There are of course many more to choose from but I have added some below to provide some ideas.
In choosing a reading or two for the ceremony, it can be helpful to focus on what sentiment your loved one would prefer and what words comfort you.
Spiritual Non-religious Readings
Perhaps, they are not stars, but rather openings in Heaven,
Where the love of our lost ones pours down through and shines upon us to let us know they are happy. – Alaskan Indigenous saying
I have loosed the bonds of the earth, to sail on the wings of the wind in the presence of my Creator. -Mark Pederson
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death, And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it, And ceased the moment life appeared. All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses, And to die is different from what anyone supposed, and luckier.
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain.
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush.
I am in the graceful rush
of beautiful birds in circling flight.
I am the star shine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom; I am in a quiet room
I am in the birds that sing; I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there; I did not die.
-Mary E. Frye
Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used
Put no difference in your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,
Let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was, there is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near,
Just around the corner. All is well.
-Henry Scott Holland
As long as we live, they too will live;
For they are now a part of us:
As we remember them!
At the rising sun and at its going down we remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter we remember them.
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring we remember them.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer we remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of the autumn we remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends we remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live, for they are now a part of us. As we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength we remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart we remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make we remember them.
When we have joy we crave to share we remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs we remember them.
For as long as we live, they too will live,
For they are now a part of us, as we remember them.
By Sylvan Kamens & Rabbi Jack Reimer
Dear lovely Death
That taketh all things under wing—
Never to kill—
Only to change
Into some other thing
This suffering flesh,
To make it either more or less,
But not again the same—
Dear lovely Death,
Change is thy other name.
By Langston Hughes
Excerpted from To Bless the Space Between us by John O’Donohue
Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.
Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives,
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of color.
Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was alive, awake, complete.
We look toward each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.
Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our souls gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.
Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.
May you continue to inspire us:
To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.
By John O’Donohue
Cast thy nets and hooks to claim the seas bountiful harvest as the ashes of my life shall drift forever upon the open sea. I pray God shall cast his net and catch my soul adding it to the bountiful harvest of Heaven. – unknown
Psalm 23 (New International Version)
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Gaelic Death Dirge
Thou goest home this night to thy home of winter,
To thy home of autumn, of spring, and of summer;
Thou goest home this day to thy perpetual home,
To thy eternal bed, to thine eternal slumber.
Sleep thou, sleep, and away with thy sorrow,
Sleep thou, sleep, and away with thy sorrow,
Sleep thou, sleep, and away with thy sorrow;
Sleep, thou beloved, in the Rock of the fold.
Sleep this night in the breast of thy Mother,
Sleep, thou beloved, while she herself soothes thee;
Sleep thou this night on the Virgin’s arm,
Sleep, thou beloved, while she herself kisses thee.
The shade of death lies upon thy face, beloved,
But the Jesus of grace has His hand round about thee;
In nearness to the Trinity farewell to thy pains,
Christ stands before thee and peace is in His mind.
Sleep, O sleep in the calm of all calm,
Sleep, O sleep in the guidance of guidance,
Sleep, O sleep in the love of all loves,
Sleep, O beloved, in the Lord of life,
Sleep, O beloved, in the God of life!
The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked advance against me
to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall.
Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.
One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.
Blessing of Saint Francis
The Lord bless you and keep you.
May He show His face to you and have mercy.
May He turn His countenance to you and give you peace.
The Lord bless you!
Excerpt from The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Atheist / Humanist / Agnostic
No direct mention of God or afterlife
To the living, I am gone.
To the sorrowful, I will never return.
To the angry, I was cheated,
But to the happy, I am at peace,
And to the faithful, I have never left.
I cannot be seen, but I can be heard.
So as you stand upon a shore, gazing at a beautiful sea – remember me.
As you look in awe at a mighty forest and its grand majesty – remember me.
As you look upon a flower and admire its simplicity – remember me.
Remember me in your heart, your thoughts, your memories of the times we loved,
the times we cried, the times we fought, the times we laughed.
For if you always think of me, I will never be gone.
If I should die and leave you here a while,
be not like others sore undone, who keep
long vigils by the silent dust, and weep.
For my sake – turn again to life and smile,
nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do
something to comfort other hearts than thine.
Complete those dear unfinished tasks of mine
and I, perchance may therein comfort you.
-Mary Lee Hall
Eulogy from a Physicist – Aaron Freeman
You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died.
You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed.
You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you.
And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all your energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell him that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time.
You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly. Amen.