Advice for Planning a Smooth and Personalized Memorial Service for Your Loved One

The new year didn’t begin the way anyone in our family expected. On January 1, my mom passed away after a brief illness. My sisters and I spent the next month working together to host our mom’s memorial service.

Between my husband and I, we’ve now planned all four of our parents’ memorial services. I’ve learned a great deal, so I put together some suggestions to help smooth out what can be a chaotic and overwhelming process for grieving families.

When a loss occurs, every family will make decisions that are unique to their own situation and family traditions, but my hope is that these suggestions provide guidance and support for how to make your loved one’s service honorable and personal.

Receive Resources Offered from a Funeral Home or Officiant

A funeral home and/or an officiant can help you handle crucial details, however, there may still be quite a bit that you can’t control about this process. For our parents’ services, we made sure to communicate the details that we were most comfortable with. 

Funeral homes coordinate where the family member’s casket or cremains will be laid to rest. If your loved one requested cremation and a specific location to place their ashes, remember that scattering cremains can be problematic. Certain states have laws and rules about where you can, and more likely cannot, scatter ashes.

We placed our parents’ containers in a niche in the memorial garden at a local church. We were able to add photos and small memorabilia that represented a sweet detail about each of them.

Funeral homes provide other helpful resources, like the names and phone numbers of people you can call for legal documents. They can also give guidance for initial steps in the estate settlement. Our funeral director went the extra mile for us by taking a photo of every flower arrangement sent to the service, along with the enclosure card taped to the back, so we knew who gave which one. That will help us when the time comes to write thank-you notes.

If you’re not using a funeral home, or you’re not part of a faith-based community, you can still plan your own details for a special service to honor your loved one.

Writing and Posting the Obituary

Online obituaries let extended family and friends know about your loss. Including additional details about the person’s life (more than just birth, death, and family facts) can give more insight into your loved one’s life. 

When adding information about a memorial, we suggest including details about who should attend the different events. For example, it may only be a private, family viewing or small service, but extended family and friends are welcome at the visitation in a home or restaurant.

Ceremony Eulogies and Remembrances

We can honor our loved one with any size or style of ceremony. Sharing personal insights through eulogies or personal letters of remembrance helps those who attend know more about your loved one.

If you feel that your emotions make speaking too difficult, it’s okay to ask someone else to read your words. You can also include an “open mic” time for others to share memories. 

Finally, a printed program or leaving piece is a nice way to share other special memories of your family member with your guests. At our dad’s service, we printed a card with an encouraging poem he loved, so everyone could take that with them. At our mom’s service, we printed a list of her favorite songs and her funny expressions in the program.

We printed this list of our mom's favorite things and gave a copy to everyone who attended her service.
We printed this list of our mom’s favorite things and gave a copy to everyone who attended her service.

Adding Music and Photos to the Ceremony

We remembered our mom with her favorite music playlists before the service and at the visitation.

Photo slideshows set to music are another sweet way to remember your loved one. Putting these together can be time consuming. In this post, we discuss creating a memorial slideshow. Let us know if you’d like us to coordinate a slideshow for you.

Memory Table
If you’re pressed for time, or the venue doesn’t have access to set up a slideshow, consider setting up a memory table instead. 

A memory table can include photos, personal items and memorabilia set up at a church, funeral home, graveside service, or a reception held in a home or restaurant. 

At my dad’s service, we printed photos of him and placed them on a large foam display board. Then we decorated a table with memorabilia of his hobbies, interests, and artifacts that were important to him. 

The photo board we displayed at my dad's service.
We displayed this photo board at my dad’s service.
A memory table with some of my dad's memorabilia and items representing his favorite things.
The memory table we set up at my dad’s service.

My husband’s family had a small, graveside service for his mother, but we still set up a memory table with flowers and her photo.

The graveside memory table we set up for my mother in-law, Hilde Kessler.
The graveside memory table we set up for my mother in-law, Hilde.

Memory tables give guests something to look at while they wait for the service to start, and let people discover new things about the person being honored.

What we found was that working on these details helped keep our loved one’s memory alive, and helped us think about the life they lived, not just their last days.

Dealing with Travel and Housing

With each of our parents’ passing, our family had to travel out of state. This is an added expense for families. 

We found that many employers give bereavement pay, and some hotels offer a bereavement rate. Our immediate family stayed together in an AirB&B while in Wisconsin for my mom’s service. This gave us a common gathering place for a catered dinner after the service. For the short time we were in town, it was also a good reunion for my husband and I, our kids and their spouses.

Showing Your Appreciation Those Who Helped

For all of the help others gave to make our loved one’s goodbye so personal and special, we made a point of showing our appreciation.

We paid the officiant an honorarium and agreed that it’s also appropriate to tip others involved such as musicians, caterers, or a funeral director. Our mom lived in a smaller town where folks know one another, but our funeral director wore a blue suit the day of her service because she knew blue was our mom’s favorite color. We found this special gesture extremely touching.

When you make your list of those to thank with written notes, give yourself time. There’s no rush.

Hope and Healing Found in the Process

Grief is difficult, no matter what the circumstances. 

Taking the time to gather with family members to grieve, honor and remember your loved one is all part of the healing process, but planning a service can be overwhelming in the midst of the sadness.

Should you face the loss of a family member, I hope these ideas give helpful structure to your plans. And remember, at Picture This Organized, we are here to help you remember your loved one with photo organization and memory projects.

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