How to arrange a memorial service
A memorial service is held after, or sometimes instead of a funeral service. A memorial service can take place on a specific date, such as your loved one’s birthday or the anniversary of their death, or at any other time following their funeral.
It is common for families to use these occasions to celebrate their loved ones life and the joy that they brought to others, as opposed to a sombre affair that focuses on their death. For this reason, you may also hear a memorial service referred to as a ‘celebration of life’.
To arrange a memorial service, you may need to:
1. Choose a location
2. Choose a date
3. Invite those you would like to attend
4. Choose a theme
5. Decide who will lead the service
6. Decide on the order of service
7. Create a photo memorial
You might just be looking for memorial ideas instead.
Choose a location for the memorial service
When it comes to choosing a location, you should consider the budget you have to spend and how many people you expect to be in attendance. Many subsequent decisions will be determined based on these two considerations.
Memorial services can be held anywhere although they are often held in family homes, church halls, community centres, pubs or social clubs or even in the outdoors. Perhaps your loved one had a love for nature, in which case the local park or their favourite beach may be a nice touch.
If your loved one had any religious beliefs, it may be appropriate to hold the service at a place of worship. Your faith leader may be willing to hold a memorial service with the ashes present instead of the coffin.
Choose a date that suits you and your family
A memorial service can be held at anytime that is convenient or significant to you and your family. Many people will hold a memorial service in the weeks following the funeral, on their loved one's birthday or on the first anniversary of their death.
Whilst some families will choose to hold both a traditional funeral and a memorial service at a later date, others choose to hold a memorial service instead of a funeral service at the crematorium or cemetery.
A traditional funeral usually takes places up to a few weeks after the death, making it difficult to coordinate family diaries at such short notice. It can be particularly difficult to attend the funeral for family and friends that are travelling from abroad.
In these situations, a direct cremation is an ideal alternative to a traditional funeral. A simple cremation takes place without any mourners present, without a funeral service. This allows you to hold a memorial service at a later date, at a location away from the crematorium.
Arranging the service for sometime after the funeral can ease the initial stress of losing a loved one and arranging a service at the same time.
If you would like to hold the memorial service with the ashes present, you should allow for ample time for the ashes to be returned to you following a cremation.
Scheduling the memorial service a few weeks before it takes place will allow people to make arrangements to attend. Holding the memorial on a Saturday could also make it easier for people to attend.
Invite those you would like to attend
The easiest and most cost-effective way to invite people is via social media.
If you would like a private affair, you could create a private Facebook event, and invite only close friends and family.
If your loved one was part of a larger social circle or community, you may decide to create a public post detailing the date and location, and explaining that everyone is welcome to come and pay their respects.
There may, of course, be friends and family members who do not use social media or would find a personal invite more appropriate. For older friends and relatives, a phone call may be a good idea.
If you intend on arranging a reception for after the service, you should ask people to let you know if they can attend as this will help you plan catering.
Choose a theme
It may be a touching idea to choose a theme for the memorial service in honour of something your loved one was passionate about or will be remembered for. Choosing a theme helps you feel a connection with your loved one and makes the event memorable.
Perhaps your loved one had a favourite hobby, supported a sports team, was passionate about their profession or even had a favourite TV programme.
The theme can be reflected in many ways such as decorations, the choice of location or the choice of music.
You could even ask guests to dress in your loved one’s favourite colour.
Choose a leader for the service
To help the service run smoothly, it is advisable to ask a confident speaker or someone with experience speaking in front of large groups, to lead the service. Keep in mind, this will be an emotional day.
If you do not want to ask a family member or friend to do this, you could contact a celebrant in your local area. Celebrants are experienced in helping families that have lost a loved one, so will be happy to listen to your suggestions for the service.
If you are holding a religious service, your religious leader should be happy to lead the service for you.
Choosing a leader will ensure the service stays on track. Remember, there is also the option for other guests to do a reading or speech as part of the schedule.
Decide on the order of service
To ensure the service runs as smoothly as possible, you should plan the order of service ahead of time. This will include preparing a sequence for any readings, speeches and music. Some people will even prepare a printed booklet to share with guests.
A memorial service will typically last between 45 minutes and 1 hour, although you do not have to follow these guidelines. There is no formal structure to a memorial service, but you may choose to include:
If you choose a venue that can accommodate the playing of music, take advantage of this opportunity.
Music can be incredibly personal and a touching way to honour your loved one. You may find it helpful to look through your loved one’s music library, book collection or even consider songs and readings from their favourite play or musical.
Part of the service may include readings, such as a poem or passage from their favourite book. If the service will be of a religious nature, a prayer may be most appropriate. See our suggestions for non-religious funeral readings.
Although a eulogy is typically considered a funeral speech, there is no reason you cannot pay tribute to your loved one in this way at a memorial service. A eulogy provides the opportunity for someone who knew the person who has died well to sum up their life, character and impact, and pay respect to them. Learn how to write a eulogy.
Allow guests to participate in other ways
As many people as you like can participate in a memorial service. This could include sharing memories of your loved one, singing songs or playing musical instruments.
The format of the memorial service is completely flexible, we’ve simply listed a few considerations to make the arrangement process a little easier.
Create a photo memorial
Unlike a funeral service, the body of the deceased is not present at a memorial service. Some people choose to instead display photos of their loved one.
You may decide to display a single portrait or encourage guests to bring along their favourite photo with the deceased to create a memory board of the deceased’s life. If you are holding the service at a location with technical capabilities, you could prepare a slideshow or video in honour of the deceased.
We hope you’ve found our guide helpful. For more information on arranging a funeral or coping with the loss of a loved one, see our guidance and advice section.
Would you prefer a memorial service away from the crematorium or cemetery, instead of a funeral service for your own funeral? It’s easy to share your wishes with your family, simply fill in our form and we will share with you everything you will need.