Family and friends with loved ones in hospice understand the importance of spending time together. As part of hospice care, families frequently get together with their loved ones, share stories, and take part in activities.
Though a dying family member may not be able to get out much, hospice allows family to go to the hospice and share their remaining time in a comfortable, secure environment.
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During a person’s time in hospice, staff and doctors often get to know the residents and form a close bond. When a resident passes away, the entire staff feels the loss as well as family members of the deceased.
To honor their lives, hospice staff put together a memorial service. These services range anywhere from once a year to multiple times throughout the year, depending on the size of the hospice care facility.
Post-loss tip: Holding or attending a hospice memorial service might not be the only complicated task you're facing after losing a loved one—especially if you're the executor of the person's estate. Our post-loss checklist can help you figure out what to do next.
What Usually Happens During a Hospice Memorial Service?
A hospice memorial service honors those who pass away while under hospice care. These memorial services include group gatherings where family and friends of the deceased remember their loved ones. If you help plan one of these events or you’re planning to attend, the turnout, the memories, reflections, prayers, and tributes offered will inspire you.
Most memorial services include several elements, including readings, prayers, and a program or an activity to honor lost loved ones. These events often have a theme associated with them and it likely changes each year.
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Hospice Memorial Service Ideas
Hospice memorial services frequently feature different readings, activities, and themes so no two memorials are exactly alike. The variations serve to highlight the uniqueness of individuals. These memorial service ideas offer a way to celebrate and remember the lives of people who died.
Nearly every hospice memorial service has a time for readings. Staff, family members, or current residents can give these, depending on how the care center designs this part of the program. If your loved one asked for a particular reading as part of his or her funeral wishes, you may decide to incorporate it into a hospice memorial service as a way to pay tribute. Here are several types of readings you might experience at a memorial service.
Poetry often expresses what we find difficult to share. Consider one of these poems if you need something to read in remembrance of your loved one. You can adjust for gender or different faith backgrounds, so don’t be afraid to change them slightly to make them fit your loved one.
She is Gone by David Harkens
You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived
You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday
You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
Remember Me by Margaret Mead
I cannot speak, but I can listen.
I cannot be seen, but I can be heard.
So as you stand upon a shore gazing at a beautiful sea,
As you look upon a flower and admire its simplicity,
Remember me in your heart:
Your thoughts, and your memories,
Of the times we loved,
The times we cried,
The times we fought,
The times we laughed.
For if you always think of me, I will never have gone.
Short quotes provide residents and family members with an opportunity to share something meaningful while keeping the total time short. This allows time for many people to share during the course of a memorial. Consider the following quotes for memorial services.
"There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief… and unspeakable love." — Author unknown
"Many people walk in and out of your life, but only true friends leave footprints on your heart." — Eleanor Roosevelt
“Say not in grief 'he is no more' but live in thankfulness that he was.” — Hebrew Proverb
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Program or activity ideas
Planned activities give family members of deceased hospice care residents an opportunity for closure, to provide a way of giving back, and offer a method for remembering their loved one by doing something in their memory. Here are several ideas that work well in a variety of settings.
3. Memorial flower planting
If the hospice center has raised bed gardens, this area could serve as the perfect staging ground for a memorial flower planting. Residents, staff, and family members can come together and plant tree seedlings, starter flowers, or seeds.
If there isn’t much room at the center itself, you can also bring in soil and eco-friendly cups. Give people seeds or a seedling and soil so they can go home and plant the flower or seedling in their own memorial garden.
4. Candle lighting ceremony
While it may not be entirely practical to have each family light a candle for display in a main room, you can place battery-operated candles around for display to represent each person who passed away.
Families can add a picture or write a note to place beside the candle that honors their loved one. Give them tea light candles or taper candles to light when they return home after the event.
5. Memory card tree
A memory card tree gives family members, staff, and residents the opportunity to express their love and memories for someone who died. For this activity, each person gets a card to write on. They can include any memory they want to share or a special message to the deceased.
The cards are then strung up and hung on the memory tree. During the memorial, people can stop by to read the cards and reminisce with residents and loved ones.
6. Letter writing
You can experience the meaningful process of writing a letter to a deceased relative. Anyone could respect this simple activity. Each person gets a nice sheet of writing paper and a pen and time to write a message to his or her loved one. They can keep it or dispose of it — whatever they want to do.
One variation on letter writing is to write a message on seedling paper. When you finish, you bury the letter in a garden and water it. The letter dissolves and an assortment of flowers grows in its place.
Hospices hold memorial services to honor the varied and diverse lives of those who passed away while giving their friends and family members an opportunity to reflect on the nature of life and death. Because of this, limitless themes work well to encourage the bereaved, honor the deceased, and help attendees focus on living their best life in memory of their loved one.
7. Hope through the holidays
It’s difficult to experience the holidays after a loved one dies. To help grieving families navigate this time, some hospice care centers put on memorials with a “hope of the holidays” theme. The focus of these memorials is to provide families with hope and inspiration, knowing that their loved one lives on in their memories.
8. Passing the baton
Many people want their legacy to live on in some way through the lives of their families. A memorial that carries the theme of our loved ones’ legacies “passes the baton.”
The focus for activities and readings with this theme helps families discover how a deceased loved one continues to impact and influence the lives of loved ones and how the deceased’s legacy carries on through the next generation.
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Invitations to a hospice memorial can take on many different styles and forms.
9. Photo collage
Add pictures of your loved one to a photo collage of other residents who have passed away to create a touching invitation.
10. Digital invitation
Create a unique invitation to send to loved ones via smartphones, email, and social media with a digital invitation.
11. Old fashioned invitation
Consider creating a retro or “throwback” invitation similar to invitations that would have been popular when the honorees were living in the prime of their life.
Honoring Our Loved Ones
Memorial services provide us with an opportunity to remember those we’ve lost and consider how their legacy lives on. No matter which elements you incorporate into a memorial, focus on honoring your loved one and you won’t go wrong.
- Harkins, David. “A Life of Rhyme.” Athena Press, London, October 2006.
- Mead, Margaret. “Remember me.” Poems, Margaret Mead Poetry, 2020. https://www.poemhunter.com/margaret-mead/poems/
- “Memorial Service Ideas.” Annual Memorial, Essence Hospice Care, 2020. https://www.essencehospice.com/wp-content/uploads/2020-Annual-Memorial-Service-Ideas.pdf