What Is a Memorial Service? Purpose and What to Expect

Published August 20, 2020
Japanese Memorial Service

If you're wondering what is a memorial service, you probably aren't alone. Many people don't know the difference between a memorial service and other types of funerals or life celebrations. Discover what a memorial service is and why one is held. If you decide to attend a funeral and a memorial service, you'll find each is very different.

What Is a Memorial Service?

Both a funeral service and memorial service are held to memorialize the deceased. The memorial service can be held at any time prior to the funeral or after the funeral. If long-distance family and friends are unable to attend the funeral, a memorial service may be held at a later date so they can attend.

Is a Memorial Service a Funeral?

A memorial service is not a funeral. At a funeral, the body is in a casket and present during the funeral. At a memorial, the body is not present.

What Is the Difference Between a Memorial Service and a Celebration of Life?

A celebration of life service is quite different from a memorial service. The celebration of life service is a highly personalized service that is planned around the personality and life of the deceased. The memorial service is more somber than the celebration of life that is often held as a party to celebrate the life of the deceased.

Cremation Urn or Framed Photo for Memorial Service

If the body was cremated and enshrined in a columbarium or garden, then a framed photo of the deceased is placed on an easel or table during the memorial service. If the cremation urn hasn't been enshrined, then it will be placed on a table to honor the deceased. Other items are often set on this table, such as a framed photo, flowers, and mementos of the deceased. Some families also place a large table near the urn/photo so guests can leave flowers, sympathy cards and gifts.

Man holding a cremation urn

What to Wear to a Memorial Service

You certainly can wear black to a memorial service, since it is a commonly accept color associated with mourning. Many people opt to wear business or Sunday church attire to the service, preferring subdued or muted colors.

What Happens at a Memorial Service

A memorial service may observe a religious format, such as a memorial mass service that is lead by a clergy. The service may be planned by the deceased's family personalized to fit their desires and personify their loved one.

Memorial Service Planning

The family may decide to hire a funeral celebrant to plan and oversee the memorial service or do the planning themselves. A personalized memorial service might feature more than one eulogy. There may be hymns and/or musicians playing the deceased's favorite songs. Poetry is often a favorite reading for a memorial service. A candle lighting in remembrance is often accompanied by the reciting of a prayer or poem.

Lots of flowers in a memorial service

How Long Is a Memorial Service?

The average memorial service will last around 30 minutes. However, it can extend beyond this timeframe, depending on the type of service held.

What Do You Say in a Memorial Service?

Unless you are asked to speak at the memorial service, you won't need to worry about what to say. You will sit or stand while the service is perfomed. Offer your condolences to the family in a respectful and low-toned voice. Certainly, you don't want to be chatty with other mourners, boisterous, or laughing. This is a time of grieving for the family, so be respectful of their suffering.

What to Bring to a Memorial Service

You can bring a gift for the family to the memorial service. Some of the items you can bring include a bouquet of flowers, a houseplant, a single rose in a bud vase, photos of the deceased, a handmade scrapbook memorializing the deceased's life, or sympathy cards with cash or gift certificate. Some people also bring gifts of food.

Woman holds old white chrysanthemum and beads in her hands

Reception After Memorial Service

Many families host a reception after the memorial service. This may be just for the family and close friends or it may be for everyone who attended the memorial.

Purpose of a Memorial Service

The purpose of a memorial service is to remember the deceased. A personalized memorial service can have a lasting impact on the mourning family and mark the start of healing from their loss.

What Is a Memorial Service? Purpose and What to Expect