Elements of a Funeral or Memorial Service

Elements of a FuneralA funeral or memorial service is a reflection of your cultural, spiritual, and religious beliefs. It also reflects the personality of the deceased and the loved ones who are planning the service. As such, every funeral is unique. However, there are elements that are common to most funerals and memorial services.

Whether or not certain elements will be included, and the order in which the elements are presented will depend on personal preference. However, if you are planning a funeral, the list can be helpful in presenting you with the most common options. You are not limited to these components and you are not required to include them all.

What is the difference between a funeral and a memorial service?

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

The Visitation

A visitation is an event that takes place prior to the funeral. It is an opportunity for the family, friends, and others who knew the deceased to gather together. It also gives those attending the chance to express their condolences to the family. The visitation often takes place the day before the funeral or just prior to 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.

The Music

Throughout history, the use of music has played an important in helping us mark life events. The same is true for funeral music. It 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.

The Readings

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

The eulogy is a speech that is given by a friend, associate, or family member to honor the life of the deceased. The eulogy may also be delivered by a clergy member, the person officiating the ceremony, or a funeral celebrant. A well prepared and delivered eulogy will evoke memories of the person who has died and offer 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.

The Symbols

Both religious and secular symbols are a common part of funerals and memorial services. Flowers, candles, angels, and crosses all evoke feelings among those who are in mourning. Psychologists and those who are experts in understanding how we grieve often refer to the importance of symbols in helping us express our feelings. Which symbols are used as part of the service will depend on your cultural and spiritual beliefs.

The Memories

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. In addition to the eulogy, you may ask that those close to the deceased share a special memory or speak about your loved one. 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

The committal service is a ritual element of the service where the remains of the deceased 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 case of cremation, 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.

The Reception

Many people choose to hold a reception following the funeral. Your options are limited only by your budget and your imagination. The purpose of the reception 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.

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