How to Plan a Personalized Memorial Service

Personalizing a memorial service provides the opportunity to remember your loved one and say goodbye with the help and support of your family and friends.

A memorial service is an event to celebrate and honor the life of a loved one who has passed. Personalizing a memorial service provides the opportunity to remember your loved one and say goodbye with the help and support of your family and friends. After the passing of a loved one, you may wish to plan a personalized memorial service to help you and your family through the grieving process.

Memorial services are different for every family, with some opting for more traditional religious ceremonies, and others preferring a more personalized celebration of life service. A natural place to begin your planning is by thinking about your loved one and what was important to them – a favorite hobby, meal, song, poem, religious passage, flower, etc.

This checklist will serve as a resource to you as you plan your loved one’s service. Your funeral director will also be a wonderful resource to you as you plan. Consider delegating tasks to family members or friends who would like to help and do not hesitate to ask your funeral provider for help in designing and bringing the ceremony to life. Remember, there is no “right” way to plan a memorial service. Consider decisions based on what feels meaningful to you and your family so you can plan an event that will bring comfort to you while honoring your loved one in the way that feels most natural.

Decide on the style

Consider your options for the style of the service. Would you like a more traditional ceremony at a religious venue or a more casual celebration at a home or park? The options are endless. Begin thinking about the type of service you would like to have and what you will need to bring the ceremony to life.

Choose a venue

Decide on the space where you want the ceremony or reception to be held. When choosing a venue, consider the number of people who will be attending and the type of service you’d like to have. You may want to choose a location that honors the interests or personality of your loved one – maybe a place of worship, their favorite park, restaurant, or a service on the water. Make reservations if needed. If you would like a family member or friend to host the ceremony in their private home, check to make sure they are willing to host and how many people they can accommodate. Also make sure to consider any special accommodations you need when choosing a location. For example, if you are planning on scattering the ashes in a particular location, make sure it is legal and the venue allows for it.

Choose a date

Once you have selected the venue, choose a date. You can choose to have the service immediately following the passing, or you can pick a date that allows friends and family to make travel plans. Some families prefer to have a ceremony as soon as possible to help begin the grieving process, while others choose a weeks in advance.

Invite guests

Make sure to invite everyone who is important to your loved one, letting immediate family members know first.  Don’t forget about people who live outside of town– they may want to travel to participate in the service and pay their respects. This task can easily be delegated to a family member or friend. Most families share information informally via email, phone calls, and social media. When inviting guests, let them know if there is anything they can bring to help with the ceremony or reception.

Design an order for the service

Create a plan for the service. This can be a simple list of what is happening, the order of the events, and who will be involved in each portion of the ceremony. Your funeral director can help guide you through this process. The leader will then follow the outline, announcing any songs, speakers, or activities. If you would like any family members or friends to be involved, let them know.

Choose a facilitator for the service 

Many memorial services have a designated speaker who helps guide the service. Anyone can lead the ceremony – a religious leader, partner, child, friend, sibling, or an important member of the community. If you have a particular person in mind, reach out to them to make sure they are comfortable leading the ceremony. You can also have multiple people lead the service, though this may require some coordination and extra planning. If someone doesn’t come to mind, many funeral homes can recommend facilitators who can help tell the story of your loved one’s life.

Decide on flowers or decorations

Flowers or other decorations may bring color and joy to the celebration. Consider incorporating your loved one’s favorite flower or decorating based on their interests.

Choose readings and music

Memorial services often open and close with meaningful songs. If there is a particular song that brings you peace or reminds you of your loved one, you can have it played at the ceremony or have someone perform it.

While choosing the music, also consider what spoken words you would like shared at the service, if any. Readings can be comforting and healing for guests. You can choose passages from poems, religious texts, lyrics to a song, or passages from a favorite book.

Decide on speakers

If you would like people to speak at the ceremony, check in to make sure they are willing to share their memories publicly. You may also want family members or friends to read a certain passage, poem, or prayer. Make sure to assign who will be reading each passage.

Collect personal items and photographs

Collecting photos and compiling them for the ceremony could be a comforting and cathartic experience for families. You can put together a slideshow to be displayed at the service or organize a display of photos and personal items.

Consider a memory book or sign in for guests

On the same table as the display photos, you may wish to include a guestbook or memory book for guests to leave notes and share their memories of your loved one.

Organize the reception

If you would like to host a reception after the ceremony, let guests know. This can be held at the same venue as the service or at another location if that’s more convenient. Decide what food or drinks you may want at the reception. You can have a restaurant cater the event or prepare food yourself. You can also ask guests to contribute by bringing food.

Finalize the plan and delegate responsibilities

Once you have thought through the ceremony and reception, make a list with all of the items that need to be done beforehand and what needs to be brought to the event. Your funeral director can help plan the event, delegate responsibilities, and bring appropriate equipment. Remember, you are not alone in planning, and many people would love to help.