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How to Plan a Funeral or Memorial Service

A memorial service differs from a traditional funeral in that a casket is not present, and it is often held after the remains have been cared for. Today, more and more families are no longer interested in having a traditional funeral that is filled with sadness and grief. Instead, a memorial service aims to celebrate the life of a loved one and is personalized around what made them unique.

If you are looking to plan a cremation memorial service, our experienced and caring staff are here to assist you. The great thing about a memorial service is that there is no need to rush. Rather than adding to the stress of losing a loved one, your family can take the time necessary to grieve and mourn before you begin planning how you will honour your loved one. It is not uncommon for families to wait for weeks or even months after the loss of a loved one before they plan a memorial service. The result is a more meaningful ceremony that is tailored to reflect the life of the deceased and what made them unique. Check out our extensive list of Melbourne Funeral Services to help you arrange a funeral for your loved one.

Before you begin planning a memorial service, we recommend taking some time to gather with friends and loved ones and discuss what made your loved one so special and how you would like to honour them. From there, you can begin to plan the actual details of the service and create something that is truly meaningful. 

How to Plan a Memorial Service

A memorial service is a commemorative event without the body present. Unlike a funeral, the service can be held weeks or months after the death, allowing the family time to plan and then gather at a convenient time and place. It is typically less expensive and simpler to arrange than a traditional funeral. 

Choose your style

The service can be as informal as a picnic in a park, or as formal as a wedding, with ushers, caterers, flowers and a reception line. Decide if the gathering will be small and intimate or wide open to the larger community. Consider any wishes of the deceased, and especially the preferences and finances of family members. Decide if children will be welcome and accommodated too.

Decide on a venue

A memorial service can be celebrated almost anywhere–church, private home, funeral home, hotel, public meeting space, beach, or park—the possibilities are endless. You will want to choose a place both meaningful and convenient. Consider such practical matters as cost, availability, number of attendees, and accessibility.

A place of worship is an ideal place to celebrate the life of someone with ties to a religious community. The setting, prayers, music, and community support will provide solace to family and friends. If the house of worship serves a large community, you may have to reserve the space (and clergy person) months in advance. In some cases, the officiant may charge a fee or expect an honorarium, so be sure to ask.

If the deceased had no religious affiliation, a service could be held at the funeral home that prepared the body for burial or cremation. The price for a memorial service will be listed on the funeral home's General Price List. You will be charged for the use of the staff and the facility.

Holding a service in the comfort of your own home can allow more flexibility and plenty of time for visiting, grieving, and sharing stories. You could welcome family and friends to a day-long celebration of the life of the loved one, surrounded by his or her favourite and familiar belongings. But take into account the size of your house, its accessibility, availability of parking, and other practical matters.

Choose the participants

The clergy will likely be involved with any service in a church, temple, synagogue, or mosque—with the program determined by religious practice and protocol. They are often happy to officiate at a service held elsewhere too. Ideally, the clergy person should be familiar with the deceased and be able to choose meaningful readings or speak from the heart is asked to give a eulogy.

As an alternative to clergy, you could use a "secular celebrant," easily found by searching online. Or you might designate a family member or friend to lead the service. Others close to the person might wish to do the readings, share personal testimonials, or act as greeters or ushers. Even young children or grandchildren could hand out flowers or programs.

Designate only one person to coordinate all details with the venue staff, officiant, musicians, etc., to avoid confusion and duplication of effort.

Finalize the date

Once you have checked the availability of the venue and participants, you can schedule the service. Remember that a long lead time may be necessary to accommodate any out-of-town guests who must make travel plans. Here at Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals, we provide religious and traditional funeral services.

Invite the guests

You will want to issue invitations as soon as you have settled on the date, time and place. A public announcement in the newspaper or a Facebook posting can reach a large number of people quickly. Individual phone calls, letters and emails are more personal, and a "telephone tree" can save time. Don't forget to check the address book or cell phone contacts of the deceased when drawing up the invitation list.

Arrange the details

Programs

A printed program listing the order of the service, music, readings and participants is helpful to the guests and makes a wonderful memento to be kept for years. Often the cover will feature the name, photo and dates of the deceased, with details of the service inside. You may wish to include a few tributes to the person or a brief biography. If the service is held at a place of worship or funeral home, they may offer to print these for you.

Spoken words

A eulogy celebrates the life of the person who died and is often the most meaningful and fondly remembered part of the ceremony. The eulogist might offer a brief summary of the person's life—pivotal events, important relationships, achievements and interests—then add a few favourite memories. For maximum impact, the eulogy should last no more than 15 minutes; often, five minutes are plenty. Clergy can provide valuable advice to anyone taking on this role.

Quotes from Scripture, spiritual leaders or poets do popular readings. Choose some special favourites of the deceased, or check the internet for compilations of appropriate selections. You could also include excerpts from the person's own inspirational writings or letters.

Often the most moving part of the ceremony is a sharing of memories by the guests. These stories can illuminate new facets of the person that even the family might not know. It can be a wonderful inducement to laugh and cry together while remembering the loved one.

Music

Music can create a powerful emotional experience that can unify the community in shared loss and provide comfort to the bereaved. Almost any type of music can be appropriate: traditional hymns, classical pieces, or contemporary songs; consider incorporating some music that was special to the deceased. You may want to play soft background music while guests arrive and depart and intersperse musical interludes among the readings.

Clergy and funeral directors can connect you with musicians if you wish. Be sure to invite them well in advance, and determine what honorarium is expected. If you choose CDs or downloaded music, don't forget to check the quality of the sound system and line up someone tech-savvy to handle the electronics.

Photographs and guest books

You could ask friends and relatives to contribute photos, clippings, awards, or other special mementos that you can display at the service, assemble in a memory book, or combine into a slide show. Young children can contribute by drawing pictures or helping to find photos. A book for guests to sign with thoughts and wishes for the family is a nice touch, too.

Flowers

Flowers add beauty and fragrance to the venue and remind the guests of the abundance of life. You could decorate the speaker's podium with a spray of flowers or have floral centrepieces on the tables at the reception. If the flowers are delivered to a church, be sure someone will be on-site to receive them. Think about giving the flowers to special guests after the service or taking them to a local hospital or nursing home, where they will continue to bring joy to others.

Refreshments

Sharing food during a bereavement gathering is a popular tradition. Sometimes church members will offer to provide finger food and punch in the church reception hall. Or you might offer iced tea and cookies at home, have a catered reception, or plan a gathering at a favourite restaurant. Some states do not allow funeral homes to serve food, so if your service is held there, you might have to go elsewhere for refreshments.

How to Plan a Virtual Funeral

There's no getting around it--technology influences everything around us and every event we celebrate. More and more, that includes funerals and memorials. With the rise of Zoom and other live streaming platforms, families are honouring loved ones with a gathering that features at least some type of virtual component.  

Whether because of economic issues, problems with travelling due to health or weather, or out of a wish to accommodate distant friends and loved ones, many families are looking for alternatives to traditional "in-real-life" gatherings. Hosting a virtual funeral or live streamed memorial is one option that is gaining in popularity. Need help in planning a funeral service? Check out Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals in Melbourne.

Is this new way of honouring a loved one the right solution for your family? Well, it depends. But if you find the idea interesting, then read on to learn more about why virtual funeral services are one of the hottest trends in the industry.

What in the World is a Virtual Funeral?

A virtual funeral or celebration of life means different things to different people. Some see it as an entirely online, collaborative funeral service where family and friends can celebrate and memorialize their loved ones digitally. It can be as easy as turning on your laptop, mobile device, tablet or desktop computer and activating a video stream. It's a real-time stream that can be broadcast from a venue or just shared among people at home. Normally, as with any celebration of life or memorial, it will include elements like speeches, readings, a slide show, or other group activities that can be done remotely, such as lighting a candle or telling stories. 

Depending on the platform, the event may be recorded to create a digital heirloom that can be shared and watched later. Others see a live funeral stream as one element to be combined with an in-person event to accommodate far-away loved ones or because of space or other limitations. In that case, some people attend in person, while those who cannot be there physically simply connect through a Zoom link or another platform, where they can witness and participate in the funeral or memorial service.

Some Benefits of Having a Virtual Funeral

Why should you skip or accent a traditional funeral plan with an online service? Here are some of the benefits that come when you choose to host a virtual funeral, whether completely virtual or as part of an in-real-life event. 

  • Social Distancing: Recent events, including the COVID-19 pandemic, have shifted how people can gather. Social distancing can be difficult when your friends and family are meeting for a big funeral or life celebration. Instead of asking everyone to wear masks and stay 6 feet apart, why not shift your funeral plan to accommodate the new normal? Virtual funeral services make it possible for loved ones to participate at their level of comfort, with funeral streaming services available from home.
  • Long-Distance Travel: Even in less tumultuous times, when family and friends are spread across the country, it can be a challenge to give people enough time to travel to the funeral. Not only do loved ones need to schedule days away from work, but last-minute travel can be expensive. Take the stress off your family by making it possible to participate in the service from any location through virtual funeral services.
  • Budget: Think of everything that goes into traditional funeral planning. It can sometimes be a financial burden on the family to book a venue and host a large group of people for the funeral or reception with food and drinks to follow. Instead of worrying about seating, refreshments, and parking – you can choose to keep things more economical (and sometimes more simple from a planning perspective) by hosting a virtual funeral service. Not only do you save time and avoid the stress of planning a large event, but virtual funeral services can be cheaper than an in-person gathering.

 

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