Elements of a Funeral or Memorial Service
Whether or not certain elements will be included and the order in which the elements are presented depends on personal preference. However, if you plan a funeral, the list can help you decide what elements to include. You are not limited to these components, and you are not required to include them all.
Funerals and memorial services are both designed to honor the life of the deceased. The only significant difference is that the body is present at a funeral. At a memorial service, there is no body present. Memorial services are commonly held when the deceased has been cremated.
Elements of a Funeral
A visitation is an event that takes place before the funeral. It is an opportunity for the family, friends, and others who knew the deceased to gather together. It also gives mourners the chance to express their condolences to the family. The visitation often takes place the day before the funeral or just before the funeral.
Visitations are commonly held at the funeral home or church; however, they may also be held at the family home or some other appropriate venue. There may or may not be a viewing of the body held in association with the visitation.
Throughout history, music has played an important part in marking life events. The same is true for funeral music. Music is one of those elements of a funeral that helps us embrace our loss, deal with our feelings of sadness, and begin the journey of working through our grief. Funeral music also helps to set the tone for the service. If, for example, the service will be religious, then traditional hymns and spiritual music are appropriate. If the tone is joyous, then upbeat selections may work. Music can also be used to personalize the service. The deceased’s favorite song will invoke certain memories for the loved ones. You have many options when it comes to selecting music. Anything within the bounds of good taste can be appropriate.
For a selection of songs for funerals visit our Funeral Music Page.
Like music, funeral readings offer us the chance to express our feelings about the loss of our loved one. Most funerals and memorial services have two or three readings, but there are no set rules. There are few limits to the type of readings. It is not uncommon to see poetry and song lyrics along with biblical passages. The point is, you are honoring someone you have lost, and you are expressing how you feel about the loss. Any passage that is tasteful and appropriate can be used regardless of the genre.
The eulogy is a speech given by a friend, associate, or family member to honor the deceased’s life. The eulogy may also be delivered by a clergy member, officiating the ceremony or a funeral celebrant. A well prepared and delivered eulogy will evoke memories of the person who has died and offers comfort and joy to those in attendance. You are not limited to one eulogy. It is not uncommon to see services with as many as three. If you do opt for multiple eulogies, they should be kept brief.
Psychologists and experts in understanding grief, often refer to the importance of symbols in helping us express our feelings. Both religious and secular symbols are a common part of funerals and memorial services. Which symbols are used as part of the service will depend on your cultural and spiritual beliefs. Flowers, candles, angels, and crosses are examples of symbols that evoke feelings among those who are in mourning.
The funeral or memorial service is the perfect way to honor your loved one by having those who cared about him or her share memories. In fact, incorporating memories is a very effective way to personalize the service. You may ask that those close to the deceased share a special memory or speak about your loved one in addition to the eulogy. You may also display photographs or a tribute video. There are many ways you can incorporate memories into the service. Whatever works for your family and fits with your spiritual and cultural beliefs will be appropriate.
The committal service is a ritual element of the service where the deceased’s remains are committed to their final disposition. The ritual is often religious, but it does not have to be. The committal service may take place at the graveside, funeral chapel, or some other appropriate location. In the cremation case, the committal may take place at the crematorium, funeral home, or chapel. If you would like to include a committal service, your clergy or the funeral director can help guide you on the appropriate prayer or reading to include.
Many people choose to hold a reception following the funeral. Your options are limited only by your budget and your imagination. The reception’s purpose is to give people a chance to gather together in a casual atmosphere to share memories of the deceased, catch up with friends and family members, and support each other in their grief. The reception does not have to be elaborate. For some, catering works well. For others, reaching out to friends and family to request food items is more practical. In any case, you are not expected to provide a full meal unless you want to. The reception will often be held at a family home, in a room at the funeral home, or on church grounds.
The above are the most common elements of a funeral or memorial service. You should not feel limited by them. Some more modern services, for example, include an activity such as a balloon release or some other commemorative event. Certain religions prescribe activities such a the Catholic funeral Mass. In any case, if you keep in mind the purpose of the event, you are certain to design a funeral or memorial service that honors the deceased and gives those he or she left behind a chance to begin the grieving process.