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How To Plan A Meaningful Memorial Service

When the family of the deceased gathers to pay their respects at a funeral service, it's a way of showing respect. This activity serves as a source of consolation and solace for the mourners. A seasoned funeral home like us at Arbutus Funeral Service will be able to advise you on how to organize a meaningful service in tribute.

You could use these instructions as a resource:

  • In case of sudden death, you can plan a personal memorial service that's more calming. Think about what you would have wanted to say to the departed person instead of following some set norms with impersonal gestures. Incorporate the personality or character traits of the deceased in the service. E.g., consider whether they had a good sense of humour and add something with a light note in the service. As you will see, these additions can personalize the service.
  • Most family members will also have their opinions on decisions. They might also have ideas to help you put together a tailored delivery for a tribute. Anything that may be disrespectful to others should be excluded. It is important to check in with family members participating in the ceremony before the completion of the final memorial requirements.
  • If you'd like, you could include personal collections, such as items the deceased had in life. It helps to add a unique touch to the proceedings.

Experienced funeral directors are knowledgeable and can help with various ideas about how to plan a meaningful memorial service. Every person is different, and personalized service is more meaningful than a standard one. Check out our extensive list of Melbourne Funeral Services to help you arrange a funeral for your loved one.

For any information on our personalized funeral services, feel free to call Arbutus Funeral Service, and our funeral director will help you preplan a service if you need one.

Types of Memorial Services

Here is some basic information about the most common types of memorial services. Some people want all of these options; others want none. The choice is entirely yours.

Viewing. This is an opportunity for family and friends to view or sit with your body. A viewing is commonly held at a funeral home or mortuary, but you are free to choose another place -- for example, your home, a community hall, or a church.

Wake. Traditionally, a wake is a gathering to celebrate and remember the life of the person who has died. Often characterized by both sadness and gaiety, this gathering can be an important part of the grieving process, allowing family and friends the opportunity to come together and comfort each other. Awake is often held at a family home or a mortuary that offers wake services.

Funeral. A funeral is a traditional memorial ceremony, usually held in a funeral home or a church. The body is often present in either an open or closed casket. Beyond that, there are no absolutes or requirements for planning a funeral. If the deceased person was religious, the funeral often includes a brief mass, blessing, or prayer service. Veterans may choose a military funeral, and members of many organizations (such as fraternal or 12-step groups) can choose a service that reflects the values of the organization.

Memorial ceremony. A memorial ceremony is a less formal ceremony held to remember the life of someone who has died. It often takes place sometime after the burial or cremation, so the body is not usually present. Memorial ceremonies may be held anywhere -- for example, a mortuary, religious building, home, outdoors, or even a favourite restaurant.

Memorial ceremonies are more often the choice of those who wish to have an economical, simple after-death commemoration. While funeral directors, grief counsellors, or clergy members may be involved in memorial ceremonies, they are not necessarily the people to consult for objective advice. Many will say that traditional funerals -- often more costly and less personalized -- are most effective in helping survivors through the mourning process. The truth is that most survivors take the greatest comfort from a ceremony that reflects the wishes and personality of the deceased person.

Types Of Burials 

Choosing the type of funeral you want to host for your loved one is only part of the process — it's of equal importance to choose a preferred burial type. The following five methods are most common:  

  • In-Ground Burial
  • Above Ground Burial - Public or Private Mausoleum
  • Above Ground Burial in a Lawn Crypt
  • Cremation
  • Natural Burial

In-ground burial is essentially what it sounds like: when the body of the decedent is interned in a casket and subsequently placed into a vault or other burial container and buried beneath the soil at a gravesite. A gravestone engraved with an epigraph is typically placed at the gravesite and serves as a memorial. 

Above ground, burial is similar in that the body of the decedent is kept in a casket, but the casket is preserved at a public or private mausoleum or lawn crypt. Note, a mausoleum is an above-ground building that houses the caskets and vaults of those who have passed. A lawn crypt is essentially a below-ground mausoleum (think: the compromise between a mausoleum and traditional gravesite). A lawn crypt also allows two bodies to be buried in the same place.

This burial option can be preferable because it offers a secure, safe, and dry place for friends and family to cherish their loved ones for eternity.

Cremation is the final disposition of a deceased body through burning and is the alternative to a casket-based ceremony. This option is accepted in many religions (although prohibited for Muslims and some members of conservative Jewish sects), so we recommend consulting your religious leader before pursuing this route. Cremation can be a great option for those who wish to take part in a "scattering of ashes" service or keep their loved one in a ceremonial urn; it is also the most cost-effective funeral type. 

Natural burials are an option for those who wish to pursue an eco-friendly funeral. This process does not use embalming fluid, a casket, or a vault and instead allows a body to decompose naturally into the earth. The grave is even dug by hand without help from heavy machinery.

5 Types of Funeral Services

There are many funeral homes, but there is only one that will eventually host your loved one's memorial. You may not be aware that there are multiple different types of funeral services. The right service style for your needs depends on a variety of factors. Yet, it's hard to make a decision if you don't know what your options are. That's why we created this post.  

Graveside Service 

A graveside burial service is conducted at the gravesite before the body is committed to the ground. It's a very moving event. The mourners can express their emotions at the actual gravesite. The grave may be visited again in the future. This could be a moment that you never forget. Your emotions will sear the memory into your brain.  

Memorial Service  

The goal of a memorial service is simple- to honour the deceased. However, the body is not present during the service, and it is usually not held at the gravesite. This gives you the freedom to host the memorial whenever you want. You can set up multiple memorials or even an annual event. A memorial service can be hosted by anyone who cared about the deceased.  

Direct Burial  

A direct burial service is an option used by families who need to bury a loved one but who don't desire a traditional service. There is no graveside memorial service or funeral; the body is simply committed to the ground. Mourners can arrange their own private memorial. Here at Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals, we provide religious and traditional funeral services.  

Direct Cremation  

A direct cremation is similar to direct burial, except the body is cremated rather than buried. There is no service attached to the event. There are many reasons why a family may desire privacy. Everyone handles death differently. It's heartbreaking, yet life is forced to go on. You can have a special memorial at your own leisure.  


Awake is an event that occurs before the funeral. It is often held at the home of one of the mourners. However, the funeral home can also be used as a venue. The event gives people the chance to view the body before the final internment. You can also use the wake to connect with other mourners. It's a reminder that you're not alone.  

The different types of funeral services are all designed to help you lay the deceased to rest. It may be the hardest thing that you ever have to do in your life. Yet, an appropriate memorial can help you find closure. Perhaps you may never find acceptance for what happened, at least not on a core level.  

What Is The Difference Between A Memorial Service And A Celebration Of Life?

Planning a funerary ceremony begins with one primary decision: Will the event be a traditional memorial service or a more contemporary life celebration?

A funeral service is typically held immediately following the death of a loved one, while memorial services and celebrations of life can be held sometime later, which gives you time to plan and arrange for the event. The tone of each event can also be quite different. With a funeral, feelings of loss are still fresh with the family and those attending, while with a memorial or celebration of life, everyone has had time to reflect on the relationship and experiences they had with the person. You may create time for those in attendance to say a few words. If you plan to keep those tributes to a minimum, make sure people are aware of those wishes.

A memorial service is typically focused on a recent loss and often has religious underpinnings or overtones. A life celebration is generally centred on the joy of having been blessed by the departed person's presence and is often nonreligious in nature. When considering these options, it may be helpful to think about the culture of the family, any religious preferences the deceased had, the circumstances leading up to death and any wishes previously indicated by the deceased.

For either style of service, you choose to hold, beginning with a general checklist is always a solid plan. Here are some details and resource links to help you organize your thoughts and plans while organizing a service.

  • Determine the type of service or celebration.
  • Decide on a location, date, time and guest list of who should attend.
  • Outline a budget.
  • Determine what you will need beyond the venue, such as food, flower arrangements and printed materials.
  • If desired, publish details about the service or event with an obituary in local papers.
  • Compile a guest list and send invitations. Include a way to RSVP, either by phone, email or social media.
  • Decide who will officiate or host the event. Consider hiring a planner to do the heavy lifting.
  • Select readings according to the deceased's personality and the desired tone of the event.
  • Write a eulogy; consider family or close friends to either take over this task or provide anecdotes or details that could be included.
  • Choose music for the event. Consider inviting a friend or hiring musicians to play acoustic instruments.
  • Decide a sequence for the readings, speeches and music.
  • Create a program that will guide guests through the event.
  • If cremation has been chosen, consider a memorial urn for the service or keepsakes for close family and friends. Also, consider scattering urns that allow friends or family members to join in releasing cremated ashes into nature.
  • Bring flowers, food and drink, and the joy of friendship into the event through a memory table or board and a memory chest for written notes or photos.
  • Write thank-you notes or prepare a small thank-you gift for any friends or family members who helped with the event.

What is the Significance of a Memorial Event?

Whether burial or cremation is chosen, there are important reasons for planning a remembrance. The Center for Loss & Life Transition has been an educational resource and professional forum for supporting mourners as they move through the grieving process since its founding by Dr Alan Wolfelt in 1984. An article about the importance of funerary rituals from Dr Wolfelt clarifies the necessity of this type of event for processing loss: Need help in planning a funeral service? Check out Peter Tziotzis Orthodox Funerals in Melbourne.

"To heal in grief, we must shift our relationship with the person who died from one of physical presence to one of memory. The funeral encourages us to begin this shift, for it provides a natural time and place for us to think about the moments we shared — good and bad — with the person who died. Like no other time before or after the death, the funeral invites us to focus on our past relationship with that one, single person and to share those memories with others."

These rituals are not truly observed for the dead but are performed for the living. Even though it is becoming more common for the dying to request no service at all, those who remain living and feel the loss of an important person often need an event to seek closure and find a sense of connection with others experiencing a similar loss. A genuine need for support from one another during a difficult time and reminders that life will continue are also excellent reasons for gathering after a loved one dies.

These ceremonies form an important part of our social fabric. They deserve the same attention as other important markers of life events, such as weddings and baby showers. Not recognizing an event of such magnitude can leave us vulnerable to the effects of unexpressed grief, can confuse children about how to handle death and can postpone the beginning of closure that allows us to move forward in life.

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