First of all, I would suggest simply not planning a funeral for a child. Do not make it dim and dark and morbid. Make it childlike. Let the service reflect the character of your child. Shayna was a partier. Shayna celebrated every day of life. Shayna liked for people to have a good time. We wanted the last thing people saw of Shayna to be a celebration. Every time someone said funeral, we said celebration. We are here to honor what this kid did in her fast and furious 15 years.
We had never done this (like 99.9% of people) and needed a lot of guidance. When we met with the woman who was helping us with the chapel where we would have the services, she handed us a suggested outline. The funeral director gave suggestions on visitation, funeral, burial ceremony, etc. We took this and made it our own.
We decided to go with everything on one day. That is easiest on the out of town guests and on us not having to gear up to perform two days. A late afternoon family visitation followed by a public visitation followed by the service itself.
As I mentioned, the chapel director gave us a suggested outline for the service. It was helpful. My wife asked “Can we do this?” or “Do we have time to do that?” I reminded her this was our service and we could do whatever we wanted. Don’t let anyone impose any rules on you.
We told them this would be a celebration of Shayna’s life. They said the visitation is usually with subdued lighting and soft music playing in the background. Nope. Turn up the lights and I’m going to play a slideshow with Shayna’s favorite songs and pictures of her 15 years showing her in action- living, laughing and loving. We included a video that Shayna had done when she was 15 years old- her singing the song Domino by Jessie J. She did an amazing production. She had done a video a few years before I always threatened to play at her wedding, but I didn’t want her haunting me, so I skipped that one. We also played a video of Shayna and her favorite cousin doing an original song called Peanut Butter and Jelly. It brought back memories of the hours they spent writing and choreographing that before they proudly showed it to us. It brought smiles to everyone. This video was on loop for the entire three hours of the visitation. Laugh, smile, remember me, tell funny stories.
As for the service itself, with Shayna being so young and being taken so suddenly we wanted to include her friends and make it as comfortable as possible for them. Shayna loved the color purple. We asked people “Please no mourning clothes.” and we informed them of Shayna’s favorite color. Many people showed up wearing purple in solidarity with us. Ty and I dressed casually in purple.
We asked her musical friends if they would like to do a song for her. They wanted to know what we wanted. We told them choose something they thought Shayna would want. They know her musical tastes better than we do. They chose Paradise Waiting by Relief. Fine. Go with it.
We asked any and all friends if they’d like to give thoughts about Shayna. If they weren’t up to reading them, they could have someone read them for them. We asked Shayna’s favorite teacher to speak. She couldn’t speak because she was out of town, but she wrote her thoughts up and the high school principal delivered them.
We had one scripture reading, given by Shayna’s uncle. I wrote Shayna’s eulogy. Unfortunately, I could only edit it down to six single spaced, 10 point type pages. So, the minister couldn’t deliver it all, but he painted a picture of Shayna’s life that let others know a little more just how special her time on Earth was.
There is a current song that had a lot of meaning for our family and Shayna. We played that video with the lyrics and had everyone sing along.
Every step along the way, the question was “What would Shayna do?’ I knew she wouldn’t like the picture I chose for the obituary because Shayna always had a better idea, but she wasn’t here to tell me, so I did the best I could.
I would suggest when you plan the celebration for your little one, throw out the rulebook and do what brings a smile to your face and to the faces of your guests. Plan something that you want to remember. Have your guests leave thinking that they just celebrated an amazing life and inspired to go out and live their own just a bit better.