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How to Plan a Memorial Service

What is a memorial service?

A memorial service is a service that’s meant to memorialize the deceased. The difference between a memorial service and a funeral is that funerals usually have the body present while memorial services do not.

How long should a memorial service be?

On average, most memorial services last about 30 minutes to an hour. Keep in mind that memorial services can vary in length of time, especially depending on the cultural and religious practices of the family holding the service.

What happens at a memorial service?

A memorial service is very similar to a funeral service in terms of sections of the service itself. Here’s what a typical memorial service template/outline would look like:

  1. Welcome / seating. This is when attendees are welcome to the service and seated, if applicable.

  2. Verse / passages / readings. Families often select favorite passages, psalms, or other verses to be read at a memorial service. While many verses or readings are religious, any type of reading can be done (such as a poem or passage from a book).

  3. Eulogy reading. The eulogy, if there is one, is read and listened to. Eulogies aren’t required and, in some cases, aren’t desired.

  4. Pictures or slideshow. Many families make memorial slideshows or tribute videos that they can show at a memorial service.** These often include favorite photos, videos, and moments from their loved one’s life.

  5. Reception. During this time, attendees can share stories about the deceased’s life, offer condolences to the family, and come together in remembering the life of a loved one.

What to know when planning a memorial service

Planning a memorial service is very similar to planning a funeral, in that many of the components are the same. Here are some things you’ll need to consider or keep in mind when planning a memorial service.

  • Where is it being held? If you’re holding an in-person memorial service, you’ll need to find a venue. Funeral homes, family homes, churches, and public parks are all popular choices when it comes to venues. To save money, hold the memorial service in a public space.

  • How many attendees do you expect? Knowing the number of people who are attending is important, especially if you’re holding the event in a funeral home. Many funeral homes are restricting the amount of people that can attend due to COVID-19. It’s a good idea to set up a livestream of the memorial service so that those who can’t attend can still participate.

  • What kind of tone do you want? Memorial services can be formal or informal, traditional or contemporary, lighthearted or somber; the possibilities are endless and entirely up to you. Identifying the theme and tone of the event can help you decide on which aspects you’d like to incorporate.

  • Will you hold a reception? Receptions are common after memorial services take place and are a great way for your community to support each other after a loss. If you’re hosting a reception, you’ll need to consider the venue, catering, and what kind of COVID-19 restrictions and regulations you’ll want or need. (For example, instead of having a buffet, you could have individually packaged or packed to-go boxes.)

Ideas for a memorial service

Memorial services can be simple, traditional, or creative and complex -- there isn’t a set rulebook for how every memorial service should go. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Hold a traditional memorial service

Traditional memorial services mirror traditional funeral services quite closely. The event is generally somber and formal and can be held in a church, funeral home, or other venue.

Release lanterns

Ask your friends and family to join you in releasing lanterns (you can find eco-friendly lanterns online) into the sky as part of the memorial service. Consider releasing the lanterns near the end or during a significant reading or song to accompany the lanterns. Be sure there is open air space (no trees, powerlines) for optimal release.

Gather in a favorite park

Holding the memorial service in a favorite park or nature spot is a great way to integrate some of your loved one’s personality and favorite things into the memorial service itself. Memorial services in outdoor spaces are a good idea during COVID-19 too, to reduce the risk of exposure. Holding a memorial service in a public place such as a park is also a good way to reduce costs, since you won’t have to pay a venue fee.

Hold an online memorial service

With COVID-19, funerals and memorial services are considered large gatherings and are often restricted or prohibited entirely. A memorial service can even end up becoming what’s known as a superspreader event, causing many of those attending to catch COVID-19. You can avoid this by holding a memorial service that’s completely online. Ask your loved ones to join your Zoom meeting, or other streaming platform, at the designated time and hold a completely virtual memorial service. To get started, you’ll want to create a memorial website as a landing page for your virtual memorial service.

Gather during the night time and stargaze

Was your loved one a fan of space or enjoy watching the stars? Inviting your loved ones to an outdoor stargazing memorial service is a unique memorial service idea that can also save you money. You can ask folks to bring their own blankets and other items to keep them warm while you host a stargazing night at a favorite spot. (This is also a good way to save on decorations for memorial services, since no one will be looking at the decor!)

Theme the service around your loved one’s life

Memorial services can be fully customizable which means they’re a great opportunity to show some of your loved one’s personality. If your loved one was passionate about the ocean or being out on the water, hold the service on a boat; if they loved animals, you could hold it at a farm or do a walkthrough of a zoo as part of the service; if they were into cooking, ask your attendees to bring some of their favorite dishes in memory of your loved one; consider any other aspect of your loved one’s life and frame your service around that.

Planning a memorial isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be extremely difficult, either. Creating a memorial website is a great way to stay organized while planning a memorial service. You can communicate important event information, link to your livestream, collect memories and condolences, and more.

Create a memorial website

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Last updated April 14, 2021
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