Memorial vs traditional funeral service
The main difference between a memorial service and a traditional funeral service largely centres around whether or not a coffin or casket is present. A traditional funeral service will always have a coffin or casket present, whereas a memorial service is more flexible in this regard.
There are a lot of misconceptions around what a memorial service entails, however the only thing you need to remember is that a memorial service is purely just memorialising one's life. There is no formula or formal structure you need to follow, and most importantly there is no right or wrong way to pay tribute to a loved one. With this in mind, the sky really is the limit in regards to what you may choose to do.
The first step is to decide what you would like to do with your loved ones remains and whether or not you would like them present at the memorial service.
Memorials aren’t just for cremations
Another common misconception is that memorial services are just for cremations, but this is not the case at all. A growing number of families are breaking away from the tradition of a formal service whereby a committal service at a cemetery follows directly after the service. While this structure will always have its place, it is not entirely unheard of for a family to organise a private or unattended burial, before or after holding their own memorial service without any physical presence of their loved one. On these occasions, many families will opt to place a nice photo or photos, and/or other meaningful memorabilia related to the deceased around the room of the memorial location.
The same goes for cremated remains. Some families find the idea of ashes in an urn that may sit front and centre at a memorial service quite sombre and upsetting, again choosing to represent their loved ones presence with a nice collection of photos, memorabilia, or flowers. However, some families find having their loved one present in some physical way meaningful and cathartic. They might place the ashes in a nice urn of their own choosing or in the simple cremation urn provided by the crematorium. They might also combine the ashes with some of the other items mentioned.
Again, there is no right or wrong way to farewell your loved one, and understanding this is at the crux of understanding what kind of memorial service is right for you.
Celebrant or Clergy
Another question often pondered is whether or not a civil celebrant or clergy member is needed to lead the memorial service. Given the fact we have already established that the elements of a memorial service are entirely in your hands, it is at your discretion as to whether or not you wish to engage a civil celebrant or Clergy.
If you would like the memorial service to have a formal structure, and you or other family members don't feel particularly comfortable in piecing together even a loose structure of what you would like the service to entail, you might benefit from engaging a civil celebrant or clergy member.
Which one is right for me?
Start off by asking yourself whether or not your loved one was particularly religious. A minister, reverend, or priest will always focus heavily on the religious doctrine surrounding their beliefs, so if the answer is predominantly no, then you may find a civil celebrant to be a more appropriate choice.
Civil celebrants will approach the service in a broader fashion, focusing on many facets of your loved one’s life. Do keep in mind that they can incorporate elements of religion, for example; leading mourners in reciting the ‘Lord's Prayer.’
When should I hold a memorial service?
You can hold a memorial service at any time, giving you freedom and flexibility while making these arrangements. This is one of the great advantages of holding a memorial service in contrast to a more traditional service, which is usually arranged roughly within a week or so after death has occured.
How do I organise a memorial service?
Knowing where to start can be a little daunting, especially if you would like a more formal, well structured service. Rest assured however that organising a memorial service can be easier than you may think. Here are a few simple steps to follow to help you;
1. Start with the Where and When
Decide on the physical place you wish to hold the service. If you choose an external venue such as a community hall, theatre, event space or church, you might be required to make a firm booking, thus it's best to lock in the venue and the date and work from there.
2. Decide on the How
Think about how you want to say farewell. If you want a professional, formal structure, encompassing many facets of your loved ones life, you may wish to engage someone to lead the service. They will sit down with you to discuss things such as the eulogy, speakers, music, photo presentations or tributes, and catering. Alternatively you may wish to meet with family and friends to work out these elements yourself.
3. Work on the What
Consider any elements you will need to prepare. For example, any music, recorded or live, any photo presentations (music to photos), any mourning stationery (service booklets, bookmarks, memorial cards, etc). You can source these items yourself or you can engage professionals to do this on your behalf.
4. Establish the Why
It's always good practice to keep in mind why something may be beneficial to you when saying farewell to a loved one. Oftentimes, friends and family will offer input in an attempt to to be helpful with your planning, or you may have a preconceived idea of what the memorial service should entail.
Remember to ask yourself if it adds value to how you're trying to say goodbye. For example, a friend may suggest that you have to organise service booklets for your late aunt because he had them at his late father’s service. However, upon reflection, you may realise that you don't particularly wish to have a booklet. Perhaps you're only having a small gathering, or you don't see the need for the addition when it may just get lost in a drawer at home following the service. Whatever the reason, the importance you place on each part of the service is specific to you, and it's really up to you to decide what's right for you and your family.
Should I engage a Funeral Director to assist me?
If you've already engaged a funeral director to take care of your loved ones physical remains you may wish to engage them to assist you with organising a memorial service also. Bear in mind, many traditional funeral directors will charge additional fees if you formally engage them to plan a memorial service for you. This is usually atop any other services they have already carried out for you, unless specifically agreed upon prior to engaging their services. Charges may include a fee for their continued professional service, the use of their premises, fleet vehicles such as coaches, or any other services, either in house or third party, that they carry out or engage on your behalf. For example, organising music for photo presentations.
With this in mind, it is relatively easy to organise a memorial service yourself. And, with the internet at your disposal, you'll find most information or services you’ll require easily accessible. Don't feel overwhelmed by the process, take your time in assessing your options, ask for help and guidance from your friends and family, and most of all do what is right for you and your family when saying your farewell.
If you need any assistance planning your own farewell or that of a loved one, you can always contact Willed. Our team of Funeral Planners and Arrangers are available to help and offer guidance.