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

Expressing yourself

expressing yourself

Expressing yourselfI recently spoke to a Creative Writing class at a local high school. The kids were bright and funny and curious, and I enjoyed interacting with them.

“Self-expression” was a topic we touched on—briefly, but more than once—and it got me thinking later.

Of course writing is a way of expressing yourself, and wanting to express yourself is a legitimate reason to write.

But there’s so much more.

Writing is also a way to discover and process the larger, changing, complex, familiar world around you.

When you encounter something new, you are more likely to remember it if you can name it. And you’re more likely to understand it if you have to describe it.

In struggling to find just the right words to share that new experience or idea with someone else, you refine your own understanding of it. Without that struggle, the experience is more likely to fade.

Writing is not just about getting our ideas out. It’s also about getting new ideas in.

Looking ahead

Looking-Ahead_570New Year’s Eve seems like a good time to give you a chance to update your LifeLines subscription preferences.

Looking back

Looking back, if you realize that you rarely click on the blue headline that arrives in your email inbox each Wednesday, feel free to unsubscribe! I would hate to be considered junk mail. Plus, the more subscribers I have, the more I get charged, so if you don’t want to read LifeLines, I don’t want to pay for you!

Looking ahead

Looking ahead, I will probably spend less time writing about writing, and more time writing about topics relevant to churches and other nonprofits. (If you are a business or regular person, you might still be interested in these topics, so feel free to stick around, but don’t feel obligated.)

Looking around

Looking around this blog, I can see that some of my categories and tags need to be tightened up, so that you can more easily find the posts that are most helpful to you. I have started on that already, and I will keep at it until it’s finished.

Looking good

So things are looking good for 2015. I appreciate your readership, and I appreciate the conversations we engage in—here on the blog, but also in Facebook and in person. Your comments are encouraging, and your questions are inspiring. Thank you for that.

If you’d like to continue the conversation, please make sure your correct email address is assigned to your subscription.

And if you’re ready for a break from LifeLines content, that’s OK too. Go ahead and unsubscribe! You can always re-up if you change your mind later.

Either way, as you look ahead to another new year, I hope you are filled with a sense of curiosity and anticipation. Happy New Year!

Writing from a thankful place

thankful place

Thanksgiving2014_3233_560wIt’s no exaggeration for me to say I have MILLIONS of things to be thankful for. I shared some of those in last week’s Thanksgiving Top 5 post, but I saved a special one to focus on this week: the LifeLines office I moved into this year.

thankful place
It is a comfortable space, painted in calming-yet-refreshing greens, with plenty of natural light even on gray November days.
Thankful place
The view out the western window is rustic and colorful, and I’ve enjoyed watching the seasons change in the few months I’ve been here.
Thankfuk place
I found this piece of artwork in a furniture store and bought it because it reminds me of both faithfulness and creativity. Florida, family, a poem called “Sand Castles,” and a small rock given to me by a leader I respect—this artwork sparks memories of all that.
Thankful place
My little dog also finds the LifeLines office to be a comfortable place for meditating, collaborating, and hoping it’s dinner time, and I am thankful for his (mostly) quiet company.

So yes, I am writing from a thankful place this year. And while I am thankful for the physical space, and the view, and the surroundings, I hope that my inner place of thankfulness is not dependent on these outer blessings. With poet-priest George Herbert, I say:

“O Thou who hast given me so much, mercifully grant me one thing more—a grateful heart.”

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!