Creating a Memorial Service or Funeral
Some families want to be very involved in planning a Memorial Service. Others prefer the Officiant to provide a ceremony and manage the event. You may participate in the process as much or as little as you wish. This guide is designed to provide you with information to help you make informed decisions, but you do not need to use it. It is merely a tool that is here if you want it. With that in mind here is some basic advice and guidance.
Research, research, research. When your brain is happy, your heart will tell you what to do.
This guide is focused on the ceremony itself. It is not intended to provide suggestions for the entire event and such items as venue, flowers, decorations, invitations, etc. While this is a guide for either a Memorial Service or a Funeral this guide will generally refer to the ceremony as a Memorial, just for simplicity.
Start with the broad strokes. Here are a number of terms that can be used to describe general memorial themes. Some of them will appeal to you more than others. Consider making a list of the ones you like in their order of importance to you. Add as many as you can think of. Have different participants make their own list and see what you have in common.
Media (Movie/TV/Book theme)
Think about what was important to the person being remembered or how they lived their life.
Memorials often follow a general pattern. Here is a typical example. Use it or change it as fits your preferences.
1) Introductory music
3) Officiant Address - Thoughts on life and death
4) The Tribute – an outline of the life and personality of the person who has died including their profession, those who proceeded them in death, and their surviving family members.
5) Readings - of poetry and prose
6) Reflection – a few moments for private thoughts ?about the person who has died, either in silence or accompanied by music
7) Eulogies - personal remembrances and stories about the decedent by either the officiant or guests
8) The Committal – when the curtains are closed or the deceased is interred (Funerals only)
9) Closing words – including thanks on behalf of the family and officiant
10) Final music
Ceremonies proceed at about 100 words per minute. So a 1500 word ceremony will take about 15 minutes. For most memorials you may wish to consider limiting the ceremony to under 2,000 words. That is the point where guests may start losing attention. A typical custom ceremony is 1,000 to 1,500 words plus an opportunity for guests to speak.
The Officiant Address is a statement about the nature of life, death, and grief. You can choose the tone that the Officiant takes with this part of the ceremony. It can be anything from staid and serious with a focus on loss to a celebration of life with fond remembrances. Examples of sample Memorial Ceremonies that include an Officiant Address and closing words are available here -
The Tribute is often the center of a Memorial Service. It is a discussion of the life of your loved one, their parents, their children, their career, their loves, their triumphs, and their challenges. It can be simple or detailed, warm and spiritual, or straightforward and factual. It can be written by a family member or the officiant. Anyone may read a Tribute. More than one may be read. It can be very difficult for a family member to read a Tribute that they have written. It is perfectly acceptable to ask a friend or an officiant to read it, even acknowledging that it is just too emotional for the author to read it themselves. Your Officiant may spend time with you to learn more about the life of your loved one in order to write a custom and personalized Tribute. Pastor Dave provides this service through his Message of Personal Validation -
Many memorials include readings. The readings can be read by the officiant, a family member, or a guest. While you can choose pretty much anything, here are a few selected readings that you can use, or that inspire some other ideas. You can use a reading to include some religious content if you are having an otherwise non-religious ceremony. It can make a religious guest feel or family member feel more comfortable.
Eulogies are an opportunity for family, friends, and co-workers to express their feelings and memories of the one who has passed. There is no right way or wrong way for this to happen. You might ask speakers to come to the front of the room, let them speak where they are, or even have a cordless microphone available to take to contributors. Pastor Dave makes amplification and cordless mics available.
Memorial services may have a special event. Your officiant can help you include one or more in your ceremony. Examples of special events include -
A live music performance by a bagpipe or other instrument.
A military flag folding
A motorcycle club ride by
Butterfly/bird/balloon/candle lantern release
Candle or eternal flame lighting
Scattering of ashes
Spiritual/Religious reading by family/friends
Personal statement by officiant about the decedant
Memorial tree planting
PowerPoint of photos or a film
Acknowledge organ donation
You may wish to have a display for your guests as they enter or leave the ceremony. It can be a passive display with items and photos of the decedent's life. It can also be more participative. For example:
Notecards - on which guests can write remembrances or best wishes. They can be saved to be read on a future anniversary, posted on nearby board, or read during the ceremony.
Seeds - Packs of seeds can be put out for a scattering ceremony, for guests to take home and plant in their own gardens, or guests can be encouraged to bring packs of seeds for a memorial garden.
Food - Favorite candy or treats of your loved one can be given to visitors, perhaps with a favorite recipe.
River Stones - Smooth flat stones can be placed out with a special marker. Visitors can write a few words or write their names and the stones can be placed in a memorial garden or scattered.
Music is often a part of a Memorial Service. Many traditional pieces of music for a Memorial Service can include significant religious content that is inappropriate at a non-religious ceremony. Below is a link to a list of songs and works of classical music which may be useful. Having music can be difficult in some rented rooms or outside where no power is available. We are able to provide battery powered music and amplification for your ceremony as an optional service. This can include a cordless microphone that guests and family members for remembrances and best wishes.
We hope this is a useful tool that helps you plan a Memorial Ceremony, or even decide that you want others to do the planning. Please feel free to write or call any time for consultation on your ceremony.