Dying is Not a Team Sport

Printed funeral programs have turned into family photo albums. What's up with that?

spotlight3If you have attended funerals and memorial services within the past 20 years or so, you may have noticed an interesting trend.

Funeral programs, those printed booklets that are handed out to mourners before each service, have become miniature photo albums.

While the tradition of placing a photo of the dearly departed on the cover continues, it’s on the inside pages where things get crowded. There you will be presented with a slew of pictures of the deceased with his or her spouse and blood relations, in-laws, outlaws, friends, co-workers and hangers-on.

The funeral program for my Aunt Katie is typical. She died in 1999. Her funeral program contains 18 photographs. She does not appear in nine of them.

What’s up with that? How did she and countless others lose the right to make their final exit without a dozen or so family and friends posing from the wings?

My guess is that surviving spouses got the trend started.

These early adopters decided — for whatever reasons — that it was OK to add a photo of them with the deceased inside the program. Attendees of funeral and memorial services took note. They become followers. When the followers were called upon to design printed programs for their deceased loved ones, “more is better” seemed like a good idea. Pictures of the kids were dropped in, then the grandkids. The floodgates opened. A new paradigm was established. Now, funeral programs with photo montages containing 20 or more photos are common.

Don’t do it to me, family. Upon my inevitable demise — which I hope is decades away — I have one request.

Please stay out of my funeral program.

Your template, family, should be the funeral program for Uncle Homer, who died in 2000. It is large, eight pages. Yet, the only photograph is a very nice head shot of him on page three, smiling. The rest is words: the obituary, reflections from friends and family, poems, the order of service, etc.

Uncle Homer is the focus of his handsome printed funeral program. Imagine that.

Don’t take this the wrong way, family. I love you all, and most of you are very photogenic.

I prefer, however, that you allow me to hog the limelight when I shove off. While no man is an island, it is also true that we don’t get a second chance to make a last impression.

Wait your turn.

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James E. Kenyon

James is the publisher and editor of Page One Post. He was a newspaper reporter in Detroit and Norfolk, VA, before working in the corporate communications departments at a number of Michigan companies. His last stint was 18 years at Chrysler Corporation, where he handled media relations, product and marketing PR and speech writing. He retired from Chrysler in 2007. He enjoys listening to jazz, good cigars and bourbon Manhattans, often at the same time. He and his partner, Melba, live in Detroit's Rosedale Park neighborhood.