Funeral keepsakes

I never want the work to have a mindless, assembly-line feel. Each funeral is personal. Each program is special. With proper care, it becomes a keepsake.

My friend’s mother died unexpectedly in 2006. I sat with the family as they sorted through photos and told stories through their tears. There’s not much you can do to help in a situation like that, but I did the one thing I could: I designed and wrote the funeral program.

Three years later, when my friend’s father died, I was able to help with his funeral program too. It became a keepsake the whole family treasured.

keepsakeIn both of those situations, Funeral Director Mike Matthysse (of Matthysse Kuiper DeGraaf Funeral Homes) expressed appreciation for the work I had done. He recognized what a value this service would be if he could offer it to other grieving families. So we began to talk about working together.

Working together

I sent Mike a proposal, and he liked what I had to offer, but he couldn’t meet the price I had quoted. So I adjusted the quote to make it work for both of us—that is, I brought my price down, but I also decreased the time I would need to invest. For example, I reduced the number of revisions Mike could expect from me, eliminated stock photography options, and asked if there were parts of the work his staff could handle. In the end, we came up with an arrangement that works for both of us.

funeral keepsakeI enjoy working with Matthysse Kuiper DeGraaf because they have a system in place for gathering photos and information from the family and providing it to me quickly. That allows me to work within my strengths—I review all the info, clean up the photos, write a “life story” based on the details they’ve gathered, and lay it out in a format that Mike’s staff can print and fold in-house. I’m usually able to email a PDF proof the same day, and Mike and his staff show it to the family and ask if they have any corrections. The corrections have always been minor, so I can turn around a final copy right away.

Quick, yet mindful

keepsakeObviously, the nature of the funeral business demands a quick turnaround. And the more of these projects I do, the quicker I become, which is good.

But I never want the work to have a mindless, assembly-line feel. Each funeral is personal. Each program is special. Through the resource gathered by professionals like Mike, I get to know the people I’m writing about, and it’s an honor to share their lives.

funeral keepsakeGetting the writing right

It requires sensitivity, intuition, and empathy to get the writing right so that a funeral program can become a funeral keepsake. But the work pays off when you see clients read the program, and you watch them smile through their tears.


Note: A longer version of this article originally appeared as a guest post on Peter Bowerman’s blog,

Related post: Memorial Folders: a final tribute to your loved one’s life story

2 thoughts on “Funeral keepsakes”

  1. Mel, we love the programs you designed for Mom and Dad. They are as much treasured keepsakes as the photos you used to create them. Thanks for blessing us with your creative talent.

    • I loved working on them, and your family did a beautiful job of pulling together meaningful photos, favorite hymns, and special Scriptures that made both programs a very personal reflection of your parents’ lives. And, of course, it’s always a pleasure to work with Mike Matthysse. He and his staff really are good at what they do.

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