When you are honoring and celebrating a loved one's life, the most important thing you can do is make sure the service is an accurate reflection of their personality. It can feel out-of-place to sit in a formal funeral service if they spent most of their life in hiking boots or dance shoes.


Just because funeral traditions have been around for generations doesn’t mean that you must stick to the cookie-cutter approach when saying goodbye to someone you love. A memorial service might be just the thing to help you step out of the mold and create a memorable day for friends and family.


What is a Memorial Service?

Whether you're currently working with a funeral director or you're planning on your own, you may be asking the question: what is a memorial? You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out that a memorial can be anything you want it to be! There isn’t a right or wrong way to coordinate memorial services.


The most important aspect of planning a memorial service is to think about the person you are honoring. How did they live their life? Were they a music lover? The class clown? Or an outdoor enthusiast? Design the event to capture their personality, creating a mood to which attendees can relate.


Memorial vs. Funeral: What’s the Difference?

You’ll find a few commonalities when comparing a memorial service vs. a funeral service. For example, both events have a designated place and time when you invite family and friends to get together in honor of your loved one. Consider these factors when deciding whether a memorial service or funeral is the right choice for your family:


  • Type of Event: While funerals tend to be a bit more formal, a memorial service can be as light-hearted or engaging as you’d like. The overall mood of a funeral brings to mind thoughts of a solemn chapel, mourners dressed in black, and a stormy day. In comparison, a memorial or celebration of life focuses more on honoring the personality and joy of the person who has died.
  • Timing of Services: Funerals usually happen soon after the person passes. Since a funeral often coincides with the burial, it’s common to plan the event within 7 to 10 days. On the other hand, a memorial service offers more flexibility. For example, you might plan a memorial several weeks or months away to accommodate travel schedules.
  • Casket Presence: Traditionally, the casket is present at a funeral. One notable difference about a memorial is the lack of a casket during the event. Whether you choose immediate burial or cremation, a memorial offers a way to find joy in the person’s life at a later date.


A memorial service is similar to a funeral service for many families – with a few notable differences as listed above. Since the ultimate goal is to create an opportunity to honor your loved one, don’t feel obligated to stick to age-old traditions and religious ceremonies that no longer suit your family's needs.


How to Plan a Memorial Service

As with planning any other type of event, the process of planning a memorial service falls into a few specific categories:

  • Who would you like to attend? It’s up to you to decide if you want an extensive invite list or an intimate group of your closest friends and family.
  • What life experiences and memories do you want to share? Design the activities and/or program to capture the moments in a way to reflects the personality of your loved one.
  • When will friends and family gather? Don’t feel the pressure to cram memorial planning into a few short days. If you are going to make it a great event, then it’s nice to have a few weeks before loved ones get together.
  • Where will you hold the event? A chapel setting might be ideal if you want a little more of a formal atmosphere. Or, pick another venue, such as a park or outdoor center if desired.
  • How would you like to hold onto the memories of your loved one? Get creative! Think outside the box. Look for ways you can infuse the essence of your loved one in the activities.
  • Why are you gathering? To celebrate and honor a life well-lived. Don’t let yourself be so caught up in the logistics that you forget to focus on the things that really matter: relationships, love, and memories.


For more details about memorial planning, check out our guide for funeral and memorial planning. Follow these planning steps and brainstorm new memorial service ideas to design a truly unique event. These memorial ideas can turn a standard memorial gathering into a day that family and friends will remember forever.


Memorial Service Etiquette

Etiquette for a memorial varies depending on your cultural norms and traditional practices. For some families, the only difference between a memorial vs. funeral is the timing of the event. When the memorial happens a few weeks later, the meeting and program are similar to what you’d expect at a funeral.


When planning this memorial, be deliberate in choosing the type of event you prefer. Then, communicate expected behavior and etiquette, so guests know what to expect. This clear communication prevents someone from showing up in a 3-piece suit when the rest of the funeral attendees are wearing their favorite sports jerseys.


Personalizing Memorial Services

This journey of remembering your loved one is filled with joy, grief, celebration, and longing for the time spent together. The best thing you can do to show your love is by taking liberties to design a one-of-a-kind memorial service that encompasses the unique traits and preferences of the person you are honoring.


Our Farewelling Concierge is here to guide you through the process of personalizing this upcoming event. We’ll help you navigate the planning and logistics, giving you the freedom to turn your attention to the things that matter most.


If you’re planning a funeral or memorial now and you’d like a lot more guidance, support, and inspiration, check out our Farewelling PlanningToolkit. It was created and curated by our team of experts and editors, with helpful tips, customizable checklists, suggested event programs, a budget tool, ideas for music and readings, and answers when you need them from our angels in customer service.