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How to Plan a Graveside Service

What’s the difference between a funeral service and a graveside service?

A graveside service is generally a shorter version of a funeral service that’s held at the site of the burial. Graveside services usually take place after the casket is already in place, ready to be lowered. If there is no burial and the deceased was cremated, a graveside service takes place next to the mausoleum or place of internment.

Why would I choose a graveside service over a funeral service?

Graveside services can be a good choice for a multitude of reasons:

  • Graveside services are safer during COVID-19 since they’re almost always held outdoors, making social distancing easier.
  • They are generally less expensive than a full funeral service due to less fees, along with reduced transportation costs since the body goes directly from the funeral home to the cemetery. You might also see savings on event location fees.
  • Graveside services are generally shorter, which is a good choice for families or those who are struggling with interacting with other mourners during their time of grief.
  • They provide the same opportunities to honor a loved one without the need for a longer service.
  • They’re considered more simplistic than a full funeral service, which is appealing to some religions (Buddhism, for example).

Can I have both a funeral service and a graveside service?

You can hold both a funeral service and a graveside service; this choice is entirely up to you. It might even be a good idea to hold a funeral service for close friends and family and a graveside service that is open to all, or vice versa. Holding both also opens up multiple opportunities for loved ones to pay their respects and celebrate or honor the life of a loved one. Many graveside services allow people to read their own hymns or passages they feel are relevant, which is great if they didn’t have this opportunity during the funeral service.

Steps to plan a graveside service:

  1. Find a location. Start by choosing the cemetery or burial site where you’d like to bury your loved one. Some things to consider when choosing a cemetery or burial site are: pricing (don’t forget to ask about their opening/closing fees!), location, upkeep and general maintenance, cemetery rules or requirements (some cemeteries are religious or “eco-friendly” and have specific requirements for burials), and your general interactions when dealing with cemetery director or staff.
  2. Select a casket or urn. Choosing a casket is one of the major expenses involved in a graveside service, so it’s important to do some preliminary research. Purchasing a casket (or urn) online will almost always be cheaper than purchasing a casket through a funeral home or cemetery.
  3. Choose an individual to lead the service. Most often, the decedent’s religious or spiritual leader will be the individual chosen to lead the service, but this is not a requirement. If you prefer that the service has religious overtones, you can always contact a member of a local clergy or religious organization for assistance with leading the service. If you’d like a non-denominational service, you can ask a close friend, family member, or cemetery staff recommendation to lead the service. It should be an individual you trust or have confidence will be able to lead the service in an organized and respectful manner.
  4. Speak with the burial site staff or cemetery director. Many times, cemeteries and burial sites will have specific rules and regulations surrounding services and burial or internments. You’ll likely meet with the cemetery director or burial site staff to explore your options and get a solid plan in place for the graveside service. You’ll want to find out more information about the logistics and ensure that everything is in place for the services. (Where can seating be placed? Will the cemetery provide the seating? Is there a maximum number of people who can attend? How long will it take to open the site and place the casket?)
  5. Plan the itinerary. Even though programs are not required or necessary for a graveside service, having an itinerary is important to keep the event organized and coherent. You can plan out an itinerary and notify all attendees of the itinerary beforehand, so that everyone has an idea of what to expect and when certain events will take place (such as readings).
  6. Consider the weather. Graveside services can be beautiful, but they're also subject to the elements. Unless you're sure the weather will permit such an event, consider how poor weather may affect it. This may lead you to consider items such as awnings or protection for graveside attendees.
  7. Notify friends, family, and other potential attendees. Once you’ve planned your graveside service, you’ll want to notify friends, family, and your community of the event in case they’d like to attend. Even if the service is private, it’s good to notify people that services did take place to preemptively answer questions regarding services. You can notify friends & family of a graveside service and collect RSVPs by setting up a memorial website. Memorial websites are a great way to reach many people, quickly, which can help get the word out and ensure your community is aware of events.

What should I say at a graveside service?

Graveside services are similar to funeral services; condolences and readings are no exception. If you have the opportunity to interact directly with the immediate family, graveside services are a place for you to offer your condolences and support towards the family. Here are some things that you might say at a graveside service to comfort the family:

  • “I’m so, so sorry for your loss. [He/she] was a great [man/woman].”
  • “I’m so sorry for your loss, know that [he/she] will be greatly missed.”
  • “I’m so sorry, I’m not sure exactly what to say but I do want you to know that I’m here for you and am sorry for your loss.”
  • “[He/she] was a great [boss/coworker/mentor/leader/friend/etc.] and is irreplaceable. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
  • “Please know that I’m always here for you, anything you need, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.”
  • "Even though I don't know what you're going through, I want you to know I'm here for you and will support you with anything you need. [Name] was a great [man/woman/child/person]."

You can use these in combination with one another or some variant of any of these sayings. Overall, it’s important to convey your support, your empathy, and the importance that the deceased had in your life. If you weren’t close to the deceased, offering your support and empathy is still just as important.

What should I wear to a graveside service?

The attire you wear to a graveside service is, generally, very similar to funeral service attire. You should first and foremost follow the instructions from the family. Many families are requesting less somber attire or attire that’s specific to the interest of the deceased. If there is no direction from the family or requests, you can then follow some of our suggestions. Funeral service attire is usually tailored, subtle clothing such as dresses or suits that are in darker colors, most often in black. The only major change is to ensure that you’re wearing shoes that are appropriate for a graveside service. Most gravesites are near grass which can easily become muddy or difficult to walk through if you’re not wearing the right shoes. Women should pay special attention to this if they plan on wearing any kind of heel, possibly choosing a chunkier or shorter heel than they’d otherwise consider. For more information, check out our funeral service attire ideas for men and our funeral service attire ideas for women.

Graveside services are an important type of service to consider and can be especially helpful to families who want to honor their loved one but can’t quite cover the cost of an entire funeral service. Graveside services offer much of the same features, without the direct help and cost of a funeral home. That being said, even a graveside service has associated costs and features and can be difficult for many families to cover. If you’re struggling to come up with funds to cover the cost of a graveside service, consider creating a funeral fundraiser to collect donations.

Create a memorial fundraiser

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Last updated July 20, 2021
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