Planning A Memorial Service -
What Everyone Ought To Know

Wondering where to start in planning a memorial service? 

Nowadays, many people do not have a minister or a church affiliation.  And many want a spiritual service - but not religious.   Many people feel the traditional funeral leaves them cold.   Have you ever been to a funeral when the minister says, "I never knew the deceased, but I'm told..."  

A memorial service allows you to design a  service that is exactly the way you want to say goodbye to your loved one and celebrate their life.   No two are alike.

Planning a memorial service the right way, can ensure it is a unique personalized tribute.

 Everyone needs that sacred moment when family and friends gather and remember the deceased.   The following guidelines will help you prepare a hallmark lasting legacy of your beloved.

When someone you love becomes a memory,

The memory becomes a treasure.

Planning a memorial service should take into account  your desire to celebrate the life of your loved one - as well as sadly, recognize their death. 

A memorial service allows for  flexibility in time and planning.   It may take place several days after death or several months. You're in control,  allowing  family and friends to take any amount of time to adjust to the new reality of death.

Often funerals are touching and spiritual, but little is tailored to the memories and life of the deceased.    A memorial service can take everyone on a journey of the deceased's life.  Poignant and funny stories are shared.  Story telling becomes paramount.

By following a tried and true recipe, you can plan a unique, memorable tribute to your loved one.    Ceremony speaks when words fail and creates tremendous impact.  

The logistics of planning a memorial service begin with determining the  appropriate time and date of the event.

Once a date for the memorial remembrance service is set,  other decisions need to be made rather quickly. These include finding an appropriate venue, sending invitations or putting a notice in the paper,  determining menu selections, the program, music, speeches, and other tributes.

The Memorial Service Venue

The simplest  option often is to work with the funeral director who can provide their funeral home for the memorial service.  

Some of the advantages to this venue is that the sound system and video projection is provided.  They will run the music and video for you.    There is a microphone and podium for speakers. 

However, more and more people are turning to destination settings for a memorial.  Many beautiful facilities such as;  gardens and greenhouses,  museums, arenas, clubhouses, theaters, parks, lodges, aquariums, wineries, which  offer private event rentals that are perfectly suitable for a remembrance of life.

When selecting a venue, some practical considerations should include; 

  • the number of people anticipated to attend,
  • if the venue allows food and/or alcohol,
  • if specific caterers must be used,
  • if the venue is appropriate for the anticipated weather,
  • and if the venue is something that the deceased would have liked and appreciated.

After arrangements have been made to secure the venue the specifics and details of the remembrance memorial service should be decided. These include determining how you are going to let people know the date and time,   if food and drink will be served, musical selections, flowers and other decorations, who will speak or offer remembrance stories and readings, and  if the family will offer memory takeaway items to guests.

Invitations and notifications to friends and family can be done informally through email and phone calls, through an obituary  or if at a later date, a notice in the local newspaper, social media websites, or with formal paper invitations.  On-line invitations such as e-vite are an option.

At the service, you will want to have a Guest Book for attendees to sign. You will appreciate having one afterwards, as there may be guests who attend, but you did not have a chance to see them. Amazon has a good selection of styles of guest books to choose from, and if you compare price and quality to what the funeral home offers, I think you will be pleased.

I have found a  sign like this helps  encourage people to share their memories in the guestbook or on note cards:

An easel is often required for holding a framed photo of your loved one.

Use Your Imagination!

My brother-in-law was a hockey fan and player all his life.  For  his service, we held it in the mezzanine area of an arena.  His name and number were on the scoreboard. The obituary stated  'hockey jerseys welcome'  - which many attendees wore.   His teammates pinned his name on the back of  their jerseys. 

We had a  full size poster of him made, pictured in his hockey gear, and after the service, many of the guests lined up to have their photo taken next to it. (This is a photo of my husband and sons next to 'Uncle Pete'.)

Memorial Service Music

Music  played or performed should  be a tribute to the deceased.   Music provides quiet background.  Consider  a playlist of favorite songs of the deceased,  playing while guests find their seats, and at the conclusion of the service as people leave.  

Often in a memorial service one or two songs are played during the service. Some people select hymns.   If possible, let the audience know  that the song selected was important to the deceased and explain why.   

A favorite song of the deceased can be played in the background of the funeral video tribute of your beloved’s life.

Perhaps live jazz or bluegrass was a favorite in which a local band could be obtained.

Another option is to perform a favorite song by a soloist.

See many more music ideas.

Planning The Memorial Service Decor


Flowers and decorations are often a very personal choice. Flower arrangements can be made from the favorite flowers or colors of the deceased. Or flowers from regions, such as the tropics, could be used to represent the deceased love of travel.  

Flowers For The Golfer


Consider lighting.  It can be a very tasteful addition to the mood.  Tealights or candles can work very well. They can be placed at the front of the room, to give the slight illusion of an alter, or on the display tables.  

A Remembrance Table

Memory Table
Memory Table

A table of memories is a wonderful way to personalize the service.  I have seen a wonderful variety of items that people have included on the memory table.  Photographs, hobbies, pictures of pets, awards for work, sports or community service, favorite books and sayings, writings or creations of your loved one, recipes, sports jerseys, and items related to work. 

Thinking Outside The Box;

Did your loved one like bubble gum?  Or cotton candy? Pina coladas or chocolate chip cookies?  Why not add a fragrance oil to the table to remind people of a favorite thing of the deceased.  Smell is our strongest sense. Amazon has a variety of inexpensive fragrance oils to choose from for the memory table.

Taste: I have seen the table decorated with candy canes or lollipops  in memory of  the deceased's favorite candy.  Or given as a take-away gift.  (see below).  These ideas are meant to stimulate your imagination in considering the things your loved one loved.

Planning The Actual Memorial Service

Determining how structured the actual memorial service will be, is a key decision.

There are three important rules for planning a beautiful memorial service.  The service itself, should encompass three things;

  •  first, establishes the significance of your loss, and how much they will be missed.
  • second you want to establish the significance of the person who died.  Their life.  What they did.    Share their stories. 

  • third, establish their social significance.  You want to know other people loved them too.   That their life touched people.  That they had tremendous value.

"I did not come to comfort you, only time can do that.  But I did come to say how deeply and tenderly I feel for you in your sorrow."         - By Your Side

It is preferable to have  a Master of Ceremonies,  who can be a friend, family member, or even the funeral director.  If specific people will speak and musical selections will be played then a scripted program will be appropriate.   The Master of Ceremonies needs to  have a copy of it.

Often guests are given as they enter, a Service program that outlines the program along with a photo or two of the deceased.  It is a nice keepsake for the guest to take home with them.   Funeral Service Bulletins.

Typically, to begin the service, the Master of Ceremonies  enters the room and asks people to stand (if they are sitting) or take their seats if everyone is standing.  The family then comes in and sits in the front row. 

A poem or reading is a lovely way to open the service, followed by acknowledgement of the deceased and naming each family member by their name and their relationship to the deceased.

This is then an appropriate time for a video tribute.  The tribute should consist of 35 to 50 pictures, depending on the length of the song; three to five minutes.

The Master of Ceremonies will introduce the speaker or speakers, as each one speaks. 

This can be one person speaking the entire time, for ten to fifteen minutes.  Or you may choose three to five people each speaking three to five minutes, about various aspects of the life of the deceased.  It could be a family member discussing their youth and growing up, a close friend, and a business associate. 

Eulogy help.  If more than one speaker, The Master of Ceremonies should review speeches ahead of time to make sure there isn't duplication.  He or she should also be available to help speakers if they are overcome.  ( It is important that each speaker has their speech printed.)  And sometimes family members will write a speech and ask the Master of Ceremonies to read it.

Interspersed between the speakers can be one or two songs, that were favorites of the deceased.  Poems and readings  or quotes are suitable as well.  The key is that all of these items should work towards telling your loved one's life story. 

A custom personalized remembrance poem written about your loved one is very popular. 

If you find this overwhelming, an option  is a Funeral Celebrant, who is specializes in creating  and presenting a unique, personalized   service for you. 

If the gathering is more like an open house with mingling and conversation, the family can gather the attention of the attendees quite simply and ask for tributes and respects be paid by those who wish to speak.

(I am not a fan of this open mike concept.  Sometimes no one has prepared anything to say, and there is an awkward silence.  Other times, people stand up and start rambling with very little thought put into it.  Sometimes they talk more about themselves then the deceased! )

My recommendation for this type of informal format, is to ask people who were special to the deceased, ahead of time,  if they would be willing to say a few words - 3 to 5 minutes maximum.  If they do not feel capable of it they can decline, but if they do, they then have time to prepare a story or two.

These tributes can also be made personal by reading some writings of the deceased including blog or facebook entries, reciting a favorite poem or reading.

Spiritual touches can be added by family members lighting a candle in memory of their beloved.   The music can be favorite hymns.  Many times people request the 23rd Psalm. 

It is important to remember that in planning a memorial service it can be exactly what you want and what you think your loved one would have wanted.  There really aren't a lot of rules...

Finally, a wonderful addition to the closing of the memorial program is with a memory takeaway.   It can be something as simple as a ribbon to wear in memory, a packet of memorial seeds.

a personalized golf ball or golf tee, a small teddy bear, a recipe card of a favorite dish, etc. that is handed out to attendees.

Often I like to close the service with a prayer or a blessing.  

Ideas for Releases

Lantern Release
Dove Balloon Release
Releasing of Dove BalloonsDove Balloon Release

I have used Dove and Lantern Releases at the end of a memorial service.  It is a very heartfelt symbol in saying goodbye. Please only use biodegradable products. 

The Memorial Service Reception

Many memorial services offer a reception afterwards

A menu should be based on the likes of the deceased.  If the deceased was particularly fond of dessert a selection of desserts could be offered, along with  tea and coffee.

If they loved champagne, or wine, and the budget allows it, then that might be something to  offer guests. 

If you are planning toasts at the reception, then the deceased's  favorite alcohol could be served;  for example the lover of J&B scotch could be toasted with one shot glass for every guest.

If serving alcohol be sure to check with the venue as to their liquor license. 

Jennie loved cupcakes - so cupcakes were served at the reception that followed her memorial service.


For most of our life we have everything scripted; weddings, dance routines - everything except funerals or memorial services.   My words of wisdom in planning a memorial service is to ask yourself, 'how does everything fit together to tell the story of your loved one?'

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