Memorial services can take any shape or form that best reflects the person that is being commemorated and the needs of their bereaved family, friends, and community. For some, that may mean choosing a traditional service. For others, it may look entirely unique.
Whether you’re considering plans for yourself or planning for a recently passed loved one, these ideas can help you get started. In this article, we’ll discuss:
- How to make a memorial service special
- 11 memorial service ideas
- Memorial service decoration ideas
- When to plan for a memorial service
How to make a memorial service special
A memorial service is a commemoration of an individual and an important moment for that person’s loved ones to gather and grieve together. To make a memorial service special, first think about the unique traits of the person you’ve lost. It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to plan a memorial service — as long as you have your loved one and their wishes in your thoughts, you will plan a service that honors them.
One place to start planning is to think about the things that were most important to this person. Was there a specific place that brought them happiness or peace? This can be a good way to start identifying a venue. Was there someone close to them who may be able to give a speech or performance? This can help you choose whether there should be a eulogy or another kind of remembrance. Readings, poems, and songs are often performed at memorials.
11 memorial service ideas
1. Select readings from poems, books, or religious writings
Sometimes it’s hard to know the right thing to say at a memorial service. Often, reading the words of others can bring comfort. Recognizing and mourning a loss is a practice as old as human civilization itself, and selecting readings to give at a memorial service can provide a sense of peace to those in attendance. Consider your loved one’s favorite writings, authors or sentiments. This can lead you to find a reading that was significant to them or that reminds others of them.
2. Ask for donations to a cause or fund
When people learn of your loss, it is natural for them to want to send flowers or give a donation in the name of your loved one. It can be meaningful to select a cause that mattered to this person and ask for donations in their honor. This could mean directing giving to a non-profit, community organization, or educational institution. People can donate online or bring their monetary donations to the memorial service.
3. Memorial photo display
It can be moving for attendees at a memorial service to see photos of the person who has passed and reflect on the life they lived. Families often choose one photo of their loved one to print in a large size and place on an easel so everyone in attendance can see and remember the face of the person who has passed.
You can display additional photos in an album, on a board, or laid out on a table. You could also choose to mix in memorabilia from their life in this display: items of significance to them, things they collected, or objects from their profession or hobby.
4. Planting wildflowers
If the memorial service is taking place outside, you may want to incorporate nature into your remembrance. At the end of the service, you can give out packets of local wildflower seeds and invite attendees to scatter them, bringing new life into the world as you say goodbye to your loved one. This practice is a feature of the memorial services we offer at Better Place Forests. Wildflower species vary from place to place, so speak with a local nursery to choose the seeds that will thrive in your area.
5. Release doves or butterflies
When we lose a loved one, there is a part of them that is always with us. Releasing a group of butterflies or birds can be one way of signifying that we are holding on to parts of this person while letting go of them physically. There may be local providers in your area who can offer this service. At Better Place Forests, we are honored to incorporate nature into your service in the ways that mean the most to you, including a butterfly release if you choose.
6. Choose a theme
To celebrate the things that your loved one celebrated in life, choose a theme that reflects what mattered to them. This could be a sports team, an aspect of their culture or heritage, a part of the community that they participated in, or anything that brought them joy. Think of the kind of party they might want to attend, and see if any themes come to mind for you. You can ask attendees to participate in the theme by wearing certain colors or kinds of clothing.
7. Memorial slideshow
Putting together a digital slideshow and projecting it during the memorial is another way for guests to see and remember the person who has passed. This is a moment to show happy and significant times: their graduation, birthdays, wedding, and times spent with their friends and family.
8. Light candles
Lighting candles can help set the mood for the memorial service. You can invite attendees to light the candles themselves to participate in creating the ambiance. The light from the candles can signify different things to different people and can bring many people comfort. If there was a scent or color that was meaningful to your loved one, you can select candles that they might have liked for those reasons.
9. Select songs to be performed
Choosing to have music at a memorial service can provide moments of reflection and calm for everyone in attendance. Music helps us connect our bodies and minds. You may choose to have someone close to your loved one perform a song or you may want to hire musicians to play live music. It is also an option to play recorded music through speakers. If you are outdoors, music played on Bluetooth speakers may be an option.
10. Write memorial notes
Provide notecards for guests to write a memorial message on. People may not always feel comfortable or ready to speak openly about the person who has passed. Providing a place for them to leave messages enables you to collect stories and condolences in another form. There are alternatives to paper, too. You could lay out stones for people to write on and decorate with permanent markers. Shells, wood, or other materials can also be used. This is another area where your knowledge of your loved one will help you identify the best fit.
11. Create a memory book or tree
A memory book is an album where people can write down their memories of the person who has passed while they are at the memorial service. A memory tree takes this concept and transforms it into a display of all the memories. People’s notes can be hung on a branch or a small tree sculpture so you are able to see and touch all the kind words people have imparted.
Memorial service decoration ideas
Flowers are the first choice for many families when planning a memorial service. Floral decorations help to set the scene and can be a way of including personal details — did your loved one have a favorite flower or color? These can be represented in your choice of decor.
Balloons and candles are also popular choices for decorating a memorial service. A painting, whether of your loved one or of something significant to them, can also help set the tone. If your loved one had hobbies or places that were important in their life, you can incorporate those themes into the memorial decor. For example, if the person who has passed enjoyed spending time at the beach, you might want to have centerpieces that feature shells and driftwood.
Consider serving some of their favorite foods or incorporate traditions that were celebrated by their family. You can also host the memorial service as a potluck — people are often eager to give and support each other in times of loss, and a potluck meal allows everyone to participate in that.
Regardless of how you choose to decorate or host a memorial service, people will find solace in a day set aside for remembering and honoring the life of your loved one. Weaving in details small and large of their personality, unique interests, and view on life, and the people who were important to them will help you feel you have memorialized them well.
When to plan for a memorial service
Planning a memorial service for a loved one can be an emotionally significant task. Typically, the difference between a memorial service and a funeral is that a memorial service does not have the body present. As a result, the service can be held weeks or months after the death. This allows time for a family to plan and gather at a convenient date and place.
According to a recent survey, 95% of Americans say they are willing to talk about their final wishes and end-of-life plans. If you are planning for yourself, you can plan for your memorial service when you are deciding on other aspects of your estate and end-of-life plans. For example, if you are choosing cremation and know where you would like your final resting place to be, it can be helpful to your family for you to also indicate how you would like to be memorialized. In a final arrangements document that is part of your will and trust, you can include whether you want a funeral or memorial service, where you want the service held, and who should be notified, among other details.
If you select a memorial tree with Better Place Forests as your final resting place, our team can guide you through customizing your memorial service and curating the experience your loved ones will have. Many families have chosen beautiful remembrances that include music, nature, and readings of significance. You can sign up for an online forest tour to get started with your plan.