Planning a Memorial Service

Memorial services have been moving away from the traditional, solemn funereal affairs of the past; modern day services focus on the life of the deceased rather than on his or her passing. Many churches now refer to the funeral mass as a Celebration of Life.

Consider setting up a display of photos of the deceased and loved ones. Often these are a great source of comfort and joy to relatives and friends as it helps them to remember and celebrate the life of the person who has passed. It is appropriate for guests to bring sympathy cards to a memorial service. The service is for everyone who cared about the deceased to be together and remember. It’s only natural for people to want the bereaved to know how much they cared about their loved one, and sympathy cards are a wonderful expression of that. Designate a spot for people to place their condolence cards and messages.

When planning a memorial service for a friend, a relative, or a loved one, you can be creative by adding touches that are both meaningful and memorable. Always consider the personality and the character of the deceased and tailor the service accordingly. You can be respectful of the mourners who are attending while honoring what was unique and special about the deceased.

You will need to plan far enough in advance to be able to issue formal invitations. Although the service may be contemporary, it’s not appropriate to use casual e-mails as invitations. Save e-mails for last minute change-of-plans announcements and details.


Selecting a location for the service is most important. The location will dictate whatever else you are planning with respect to seating, speakers, decorations, refreshments, and the type of service. Plan for an alternate space in case the weather spoils your outdoor plans. If possible, choose a place that had a special meaning for the deceased.

Not every service needs to be held in a place of worship or at a funeral home. Many times an outdoor service in the park or at a picturesque lake can be quite inspirational. A small, intimate gathering at the family’s home can be both convenient and comforting when there will be elderly friends, a spouse, and relatives attending.

Your local funeral director can guide you in the planning of the service and will certainly handle any official duties you may not be able to perform yourself. If this is necessary, determine a date and time for the service with the director first and then reserve your location. Plan a date that allows you enough time to notify everyone who will be invited to attend.


When a memorial service is taking the place of a funeral service, you may want to suggest contributing to a favorite charity or social cause in memory of the deceased. Be sure to include contribution envelopes in a mailed invitation and have more envelopes readily available at the memorial.

Print programs that announce the order of speakers, prayers to be said, and the music to be played. Include a photo of the deceased and a short biography in the program.


Flowers and photographs are always appropriate to include at a memorial service. Balloons are even acceptable in outdoor settings (Check with your local authorities on the legality of releasing balloons before you buy them). Military memorabilia such as medals, uniforms, and flags can also be displayed.

With so many different options to choose from, you can truly make a memorial service a personal affair. The deceased can be remembered for who they were in life, and friends, co-workers and relatives can celebrate the life that person led.