When you’re planning a funeral or memorial service for a loved one, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is mementos and keepsakes. Why would you want to remember such a painful day? But after some time has passed, you may find yourself wanting to revisit things like sympathy cards and funeral programs.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Memory Jar
- Memorial Stones
- Virtual Guestbook
- Memory Tree
- Thumbprint Memorial Book
- Photo String
- Memorial Quilt Squares
- Signed Memorial Photo
- Jenga Block Guest Book
- Photo Booth
- Sports Ball Guest Book
- Seed Paper Cards
- Personalized Puzzle Book
The messages contained in them can prove to be comforting. The same goes for guest books from a memorial service or funeral. When your loss isn’t so raw, it can be a real gift to revisit the sympathy messages people wrote about your loved one. Here are some special guest book ideas to consider.
Post-loss tip: If planning a funeral or memorial service is just one of the tasks you're facing for the first time after losing a loved one, our post-loss checklist can help you figure out what to do next.
1. Memory Jar
People don’t always take time to write long messages in a guest book because they don’t want to hold up the line. You can allow people more time by giving them individual pieces of paper to write notes on. Ask people specifically to share a special memory or story about your loved one. When they’re done, have them fold up the note and place it in a large decorative jar.
You can keep that jar in your home and pull notes out to read them whenever you want to take a moment to think about your loved one. This is an especially great idea for people with young children who have lost a parent. It helps keep the memories of that parent alive and present.
2. Memorial Stones
One popular way to pay tribute to a deceased loved one is to plant a memorial tree in your yard. Over the years, you can watch the tree grow and flourish and think of your loved one. Instead of a traditional guest book, ask guests to write a message on a river stone.
You can then place them around your memorial tree. If you’re worried about the messages fading over time, you can photograph them to keep a more permanent record.
3. Virtual Guestbook
Some loved ones may not able to attend the funeral or memorial service due to travel, work, or other obligations.
If you still want them to feel a part of the day, you can set up a virtual guestbook, where they can share memories, photos, and donate to a charity in the deceased's name. You can read our guide on the best online memorial sites to compare your options.
Tip: Some families choose to hold a virtual funeral along with an in-person service. This usually means a live stream of the event, as well as a space for online guests to share memories. We like GatheringUs's virtual planning service, which offers tech support and beginning-to-end event planning.
4. Memory Tree
If you like the idea of a memory tree, but think the memorial stones sound like too much to do, here’s another variation. Bring the sapling or small potted tree that will eventually get planted in your backyard and display it at the funeral.
Get hanging tags, markers, and ribbon to put by the tree to encourage folks to write up some messages. People can write personalized notes on the tags and hang them from the tree. You can tuck the tags away in an envelope with funeral programs and sympathy cards and go back and read them whenever you’re ready.
5. Thumbprint Memorial Book
Trees are an enduring theme in memorial services and at funerals. Trees have often been described and used as a symbol of life. Even though trees shed their leaves in the winter, new life springs forth when the snow melts.
One great idea for a guest book is to have several bright ink pads next to a picture of a tree with bare branches. Each guest can use the ink to stamp a thumbprint onto the branches, like they’re adding a leaf to the tree.
They can then write their name or initials on their thumbprint. It serves as a visible reminder that even when things feel grim and empty, new life can spring forth. It also represents just how many lives were touched by the deceased.
6. Photo String
One of the best ways we can remember our loved ones is to revisit photographs of them. Ask mourners to bring their favorite photo of the deceased. It can be a family photo or a photo with a group of friends, featuring your deceased loved one. Ask them to write a note on the back of the photo. When they come in, instead of writing in the guest book, they can clip the photograph to a string with a clothespin.
After the service, you can bring the stringed photographs home and hang up the photo display, or just collect the photos and hold onto them until you’re ready to look at them. You may see pictures you’ve never seen before. This is a valuable opportunity to discover a new side of your love done even after they’re gone.
7. Memorial Quilt Squares
Many people have turned the favorite clothing of their loved ones into memorial quilts. If you think that’s something you may be interested in doing later, you can augment the quilt with additional fabric from the memorial service.
Cut fabric squares and leave fabric markers out for guests to write a message. When you’re ready, you can stitch these messages into the memorial quilt. Making a quilt can be a healing and reflective task for you. And in the end, you’ll be left with a memento that’s beautiful, practical, and enduring.
Read our guide on memorial quilt ideas for more.
8. Signed Memorial Photo
Many people will print a large photo of the deceased to display at a funeral or memorial service. If you plan to do that, consider using a smaller portrait surrounded by a larger amount of matboard. Guests can write their names directly on the matting.
Once the service is over, you can frame the photo and hang it up in your home. This will serve as a reminder of the deceased and will help you remember all the loved ones who came to pay their respects.
9. Jenga Block Guest Book
Was your loved one a board game fanatic? Bring Jenga blocks to the funeral and ask guests to sign them. You can keep them in a special box and revisit the messages on the pieces whenever you’re missing your loved one.
Even though you probably won’t want to play with them, you can still keep them with the family board game collection. That will help keep their spirit alive and with you whenever you play.
10. Photo Booth
Did your loved one love a good party? If they would hate the thought of people crying over them, have a celebration of life ceremony instead of a traditional funeral.
You can hire professional photo booths, or set up a selfie station with props. Ask guests to take selfies and upload them to a Facebook page specifically for the celebration of life ceremony. Or, if you get a photo booth set up that prints out photos, let them keep a copy and have them leave one for you. They can write messages on the photos they leave behind.
This idea may not be for everyone. It may even be something you save for a celebration of life ceremony on the anniversary of your loved one’s death. But if it’s true to your loved one’s spirit, your guests will understand and appreciate it.
11. Sports Ball Guest Book
Was your loved one a huge sports fan? Instead of a guest book, ask guests to sign a ball from the deceased’s favorite sport. If your loved one was a gold fan, each guest can sign their own ball.
Bigger balls like baseballs, footballs, and basketballs can hold more signatures. You can still get a few of each to ensure everyone has room to sign. You can even have guests sign hockey pucks with metallic permanent markers. Because these are all collectible items, it’s easy to find display cases where you can keep them and preserve signatures and memories.
12. Seed Paper Cards
Like trees, flowers are a wonderful symbol that life can continue to flourish. Several companies make something called seed paper. This eco-friendly paper is made with seeds from all different kinds of flowers.
Get several different kinds of seed paper and leave them for guests to write messages on. You can hold onto them until you’re ready, and then use them to plant a memorial garden. Just bury the paper, and it will naturally biodegrade. The seeds will bloom in turn. You’ll literally take people’s memories of your loved one and use them to grow a lasting tribute garden.
13. Personalized Puzzle Book
Several companies make blank wooden puzzles in a variety of shapes. Set up a table with puzzle pieces and ask guests to write their names on each piece.
Any leftover pieces without signatures can be shaded in with markers to add a splash of color. Assemble the puzzle and frame it, and you’ll have a beautiful, lasting memento.
Choosing the Right Guest Book
More and more people are coming up with unconventional funeral and memorial service ideas. That practice extends to guest books. Don’t feel like you have to have a traditional guest book just because it’s expected.
Personalize your loved one’s service right down to the last detail with these ideas, or with anything else you’re inspired to do. If you love one of these ideas for yourself, keep it in mind when you start end-of-life planning. You can include memorial service plans for your next of kin to ease their burden.