The simplest definition of a memorial service is that it’s a funeral without a body. It also tends to be less formal, less bound by the rather rigid format of the traditional funeral.
The benefits of a memorial service are fairly obvious — less time pressure, more ability to be creative and to fashion a ceremony that fits the deceased’s personality. Whether it’s less expensive isn’t as certain. Many memorial services are getting to be more like weddings and graduation parties, complete with catered food, open bars and live entertainment. Others are as simple as a handful of friends and family gathering in a park or other public place.
A memorial service is more inclusive — it invites more participation. While one or two close friends or family members may be chosen to deliver eulogies at a funeral, memorial services generally invite brief, informal remarks by anyone who wishes to share their feelings. It eliminates the problem of a clergy member delivering vague remarks about a person he obviously did not know well, if at all — something that happens quite often at traditional funerals.
Perhaps most importantly, memorial services done well can achieve an air of fond sadness rather than the air of desolation and grief so often evoked by funerals. Done properly, they can be the “celebration of life” that we all say we want to achieve. All living things die, after all, and if one has lived a good and full life, that should be a cause for celebration, though perhaps tinged with regret for those left temporarily behind.
But don’t take our word for it. There is quite a bit of advice available about planning a memorial service. Here are a few:
- Wikihow: How to Plan a Memorial Service Sort of a geek’s guide, complete with illustrations.
- Neptune Society: Cremation Memorial Service Ideas The grandfather of the cremation movement offers its guidance.
- Unitarian Universalist Association: Memorial Services The nondenominational UUA is frequently chosen for life passages in situations where there is no established religious affiliation.