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Simple Guide to Planning a Memorial Service

Gabrielle Applebury
Always Remembered Plaque

A memorial service can feel overwhelming to plan on your own. Creating a guide or checklist, breaking down larger tasks into smaller ones, and asking loved ones for help can allow you to plan a beautiful service to honor the individual who passed away.

Getting Started Planning a Special Memorial Service

A memorial service is a wonderful way to honor your loved one. With the right organization, planning a memorial service can go seamlessly. Before you get started diving into the details, it's important to come up with a budget. More than one person can contribute towards the memorial service and there are several options for any budget.

Using a Free Printable Checklist for Planning a Memorial Service

Using a printable checklist can help you stay organized in the planning stages of the memorial service. Simply click on the checklist and print so you can keep track of relevant contacts, purchased made, and tasks left to do.

Printable Checklist for Planning a Memorial Service

Picking a Location for the Memorial Service

Memorial services can be held anywhere you want. Unlike funerals, memorial services can take place at someone's home, at a park, on the beach or a lake, on a boat, near the mountains, in someone's backyard, at a hotel, restaurants, or an event space rental. Basically, if public gatherings are allowed, chances are you can hold a memorial service there. When thinking about a location for the memorial service consider:

  • Your budget
  • If you have enough attendees that you may require a permit to hold an event in a public space
  • If you prefer to have the service outside or inside depending on the weather
  • If your specified choice allows chairs or seating arrangements to be brought in

Picking a Theme and Decor

Memorial services don't necessarily need to have a theme, but should have a cohesive feel. If you would like to throw a themed memorial, you can consider:

  • Favorite memories of your loved one, using treasured trinkets, clothing items, jewelry, and pictures to decorate
  • Highlighting your loved one's personality by decorating the memorial service with all of their favorite places and things
  • Selecting their one special defining feature and highlighting that aspect of their personality in the decor
  • Using your loved ones favorite color and decorating based on that
  • Using their favorite travel locations to dictate your decor

Suggesting a Dress Code

Dress codes aren't necessary at memorial services, but it's a nice touch to let guests know how casual or formal the service will be. You can also suggest a dress code that coincides with the theme of the memorial. Dress code options include:

  • Formal
  • Casual
  • Semi-formal
  • Themed- this can include wearing your loved one's favorite clothing like big hats, certain shirts, or certain colors

When to Have the Memorial Service

The memorial service can be held at any point, however you are more likely to have a large attendance within weeks after your loved one passing. If you don't mind having a smaller memorial, or you'd prefer to have a smaller one, you can push the service to months after the passing.

Selecting Flowers

While flowers aren't required at a memorial service, sometimes they can add a nice touch. This can be especially so if your loved one had a favorite flower. Flowers don't have to be over the top. You can do a few simple arrangements yourself or speak to a florist about what you have in mind. If your budget is tight, you can use simple glass jars or your existing vases to house the arrangements.

Silk flowers on a gravestone

Selecting Music

Music can totally set the tone for the memorial service. Keep in mind to check with the location to be sure they can play music. If you are doing a smaller service outdoors, you can bring a portable speaker. Although not required, it can be nice to listen to some of your loved one's favorite tunes. You don't need to pick something somber for the event. So, if your loved one loved upbeat music there are no rules saying you can't remember them while enjoying their favorite songs.

Deciding if You'll Serve Food

While there are no rules regarding food after a memorial service, it can be nice to serve something to the guests. It can be really special to select some of your loved one's favorite dishes to serve to honor their memory. If you're tight on budget, serve snacks or desserts with drinks. Some food options include:

  • Cheese and cracker platter
  • Fruit and veggie platter
  • Various small desserts or an assortment of cakes
  • Large family style dishes for informal gatherings like lasagna, tacos, salads, and pasta salad
  • Small bites for more formal events like finger sandwiches, mini quiches, and other small appetizers
  • You can also serve your loved one's favorite meals or treats

Creating a Printed Program

Printed programs can make for a great keepsake for anyone who attends the service. Listed on the program you can include the order of the service and the estimated time each aspect of the service will take. You can also include special quotes and pictures of your loved one. If you are having a reception after the service, you can also include the time and address of the reception on the program. Programs don't have to be formal. They can truly honor your loved one's personality and reflect who they were as a person. Programs are typically professionally printed on sturdier, thicker paper, but that's totally up to you to decide.

How to Notify Guests of Memorial Service

If you are having a memorial service soon after your loved one passed away, it's best to send out emails or texts notifying guests quickly of the service details. If you are having a memorial service a month or so after your loved one passed away, you can mail invitations if you like. If you are planning for a large turnout, you can also post a general invite on social media allowing anyone who wishes to attend to come. If this is the case, you may want to have them notify you so you have an appropriate headcount.

What Happens During a Memorial Service

A traditional memorial service will include:

  • Music playing as people enter and chat with each other
  • Opening remarks and welcome speech
  • Leader may invite up family members and other loved ones to give speeches that honor the deceased individual
  • Prayers may be recited and/or religious passages or poems read
  • Non-religious passages or poems may be read
  • Closing speech and reception announcement if applicable
  • Music plays as guests leave

Although this is what a traditional service may look like, feel free to make this your own. There are no rules regarding who has to speak, what music is played if any, or what, if any, passages or poems are read. With memorials, you really do have the freedom to create your own special service that truly honors your loved one.

Selecting a Memorial Service Leader and Speakers

Because a memorial service can be as formal or as informal as you'd like, you can decide who you'd like to speak. Keep in mind the leader of the service will set the tone, so if you want a more lighthearted ceremony, think about who best could foster that. Aside from the lead speaker, others may want to say a few words. Make sure all speakers understand the tone you are going for. Speaker options include:

  • Religious leaders or clergy members
  • Immediate family members
  • Best friends
  • Half and step siblings
  • Grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles
  • Former partners or close work friends
  • Anyone else who the deceased individual valued and loved

Once all the speakers or the single speaker is selected, you can create the speaking order.

Memorial Service Versus a Funeral

A memorial service is a way to honor your loved one without their body present. Usually at funerals, the deceased individual's body is present in a casket or cremation urn.

Memorial Service Versus a Celebration of Life

A memorial service is typically more traditional, may incorporate religious practices, while a celebration of life ceremony is a more contemporary way to honor a loved one and usually does not include anything religious.

Organizing a Beautiful Memorial Service

Staying organized can help you immensely when it comes to planning a wonderful memorial service. If you feel stressed or nervous about the budget, reach out for help and remember that a small service is just as meaningful as a large one. There are plenty of options when it comes to planning the perfect memorial service that honors your loved one.

Simple Guide to Planning a Memorial Service