How to Plan a Memorial Service
By Adrienne Crowther
When my husband died last summer, I had one week to plan
his memorial service. At the time, it seemed daunting.
In actuality, the planning became a wonderful process
for remembering all that made him unique and wonderful.
In this article, ideas and considerations are offered to
help others with this task.
The first consideration is timing. In our case, we had
some important schedule considerations for people who
absolutely needed to be there. For example, his closest
sister was leaving for a trip to Europe, and was in the
middle of chemotherapy. Those were two important factors
that influenced our decision about when to have the
memorial service. Ours was one week after the death.
Other considerations are availabilities of venue, key
guests, officiants or clergy.
The next decision is venue. Many people opt for the
traditional funeral home. Others, however, opt for
something different, such as a favorite place of the
deceased, the family church or other spiritual community
gathering venue. In our case, we selected our backyard,
with a rented tent and chairs. It was befitting of my
husband's preferences to have it outdoors in nature.
Next, you'll need to decide on an officiant. It could be
the family priest, rabbi, or minister, the funeral
director, or friends and family. Our service was a blend
of a Buddhist minister, readings by family members, and
then a time for sharing from friends and family. The
service borrowed from many beliefs and traditions that
resonated with us. For example, we used a tibetan bowl
ringing to set the ritualistic beginning and end of the
service. We also read passages from the bible, poetry,
lyrics to songs, a Baha'i prayer, a Native American
blessing, and music. It was rather an eclectic
celebration, but that seemed just right for my husband.
Some people asked to be part of the service, so we wrote
them into the program. Others were undecided, so we left
that sharing segment a bit loose and flexible. Once the
main segments of the service were decided, we promptly
wrote a program and timed each part of the service. We
also included a slideshow which was accompanied by
favorite music. We spent a good amount of time during
the week before the service selecting images for the
Time of day is yet another decision. We opted for
afternoon because we had lots of out of town guests who
might want to spend time together at our home after the
service. That was a great decision, because that's
exactly what happened. So, with that in mind, it was
necessary to plan for food. Some memorials are catered.
If this is the decision, then food and beverage
selections are to be made. Potluck is another way to go,
if you're willing to relinquish control over what is
served. The advantages to potluck are budget and the
opportunity for everyone to share a part in the
offerings. Often, people will make food that was loved
by the deceased, so the food becomes yet another means
of celebration or honoring.
A guestbook is advisable. It can be placed in a central
location, and attendees can be encouraged to write
messages, stories, or simply sign the book. It's a great
way to remember who was there, especially since the
close family is often so distressed that the memory of
every person there may eventually fade. Also, it gives
people another opportunity to send a lovely message to
the family, or to share a short story about the
deceased. The guestbook can be as simple as a plain
journal, or as formal as a leather bound book. There are
many choices in between, but it's nice to have something
a little bit special as a keepsake. We had a hand-bound
silk covered book that was truly beautiful. It had my
husband's name, dates, and a favorite quote inscribed on
Music selections are very important. Favorite hymns are
often selected, as are favorite songs. Our music ranged
from old spirituals to the Beatles. It's important to
take time to reflect on the preferences of the deceased.
If that person was a music lover, then it's very
meaningful and powerful to play some of the favorites -
whether live or recorded.
And lastly, it's fine to delegate. This is an incredibly
emotional time for family. Friends are often willing to
help. It gives them a feeling of participation, which is
comforting for both sides of that offer. The immediate
family, if possible, should be free to grieve, speak
with people, and/or be present with the feelings
associated with a memorial.
A memorial is most successful when it truly reflects the
personality and preferences of the person being honored.
A well executed memorial has the potential to be very
healing for all involved. It's so important to take time
for ritual, to truly honor all that made this person
Adrienne Crowther is the owner and founder of Shine On
Brightly, an online memorial art gallery at http://www.shineonbrightly.com.
Shine On Brightly was launched in 2008 - the result of a
lifelong passion for art, love for people and their
stories, and lots of research on the changing trends
around life and death rituals (especially among
babyboomers) Fifteen months later, the most unimaginable
turn of events changed my supposedly carefully navigated
path. My husband of 29 years passed away unexpectedly.
Eight months after that, his sister, who had been one of
my dearest childhood friends, also died. At first, I
felt paralyzed by these losses. But I quickly realized
that I had created my own vocation. I am now, more than
ever, committed to the importance of memorialization by
honoring a spirit with art and beauty.
We hope that you'll browse our collection at http://www.shineonbrightly.com.
Customer service is paramount to our mission. I am
available roll free at 866-844-4469, or by email at