When someone dies, friends and family members often find themselves mired in grief and feeling alone. A memorial service gives loved ones the opportunity to come together to mourn, share memories, and say goodbye.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Ideas for an Informal Memorial Service at Home
- Ideas for a Formal Memorial Service at Home
- Ideas for a Live Streamed or Hybrid (Virtual and In-Person) Memorial Service at Home
You may find the prospect of hosting a memorial service too overwhelming. Many people choose to have their memorial service at a funeral home so they can prioritize their energy elsewhere. But other people prefer to memorialize a loved one in the comfort of their own home.
Today, we’ll explore some memorial service ideas at home that honor a lost loved one.
Post-loss tip: Creating a unique memorial or funeral service isn't the only complicated task you might be 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.
Ideas for an Informal Memorial Service at Home
Informal and nontraditional funerals and memorial services have increased in popularity. However, many people still prefer formal memorial services because they feel like it’s a more dignified and respectful way to honor the dead.
While the services we’ve already talked about don’t have a set schedule, there is a way to stage a more formal or structured memorial at home with these examples.
1. Hold a memorial potluck
One reason why people might avoid hosting a memorial service is because of the cost and effort of feeding a large group of people. It’s not mandatory to serve food at a memorial service. However, in many parts of the country and world, it’s a cultural expectation that you provide refreshments.
Having a memorial potluck is a great way for hosts to feed guests without having to prepare a full spread by themselves. Hosts might prepare (or purchase) a heartier main course like a casserole or funeral sandwiches. Guests can sign up to bring side dishes like pasta salad or fruit and vegetable platters.
If you want to host a memorial potluck, consider asking a trusted friend to organize food contributions on your behalf. That way, you can feel confident you’ll have everything you need to keep your guests comfortable.
2. Have a friend and family game night
You might think that people would play fewer board games, thanks to the proliferation of video and computer games. But this analog activity is still deeply beloved by many people. The board game industry is valued in the multiple billions of dollars, both in the United States and around the globe. As many as 44% of Americans enjoy playing board and tabletop games.
If the deceased was a fan of board games, a memorial game night in their honor can be a low-key but still meaningful celebration. You can invite guests to bring their favorite board games so people can play in smaller groups. Or you can organize a more cohesive group game like charades or trivia competition. This is a clever way to bring people together in celebration.
3. Have a memorial jam session
If your loved one played music or just enjoyed being around it, a jam session makes for a fun and informal memorial service. Friends and family can bring their instruments and play and sing songs that were special to the deceased.
When musician Tom Petty died, fans organized a memorial concert in his honor on what would have been his birthday. That has evolved into an annual music festival called the Tom Petty Birthday Bash in his hometown of Gainesville, Florida. A memorial jam session is a smaller-scale version of this kind of uplifting celebration.
Ideas for a Formal Memorial Service at Home
Informal and nontraditional funerals and memorial services have increased in popularity. However, many people still prefer formal memorial services. They feel like it’s a more dignified and respectful way to honor the dead. While the services we’ve already talked about don’t have a set schedule, there is a way to stage a more formal or structured memorial at home with the following examples.
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4. Screen a memorial video
At an informal memorial service, people might trade stories about their deceased loved one with no real parameters. Depending on the audience, the stories told might not be considered appropriate. At a formal memorial service, memories about a late loved one should be shared in a more structured manner.
Memorial videos are a great way to pay tribute to the deceased. Have a trusted friend or family member film and record interviews with the deceased’s loved ones. They can share personal stories and cherished memories. Then, you or another individual can edit them so that the content is appropriate and cohesive. Screen the finished video as part of a more formal memorial service.
5. Compile a memorial slideshow
While a memorial video is a beautiful gesture, it’s not something everyone has the skill — or the emotional bandwidth — to put together. A photo slideshow is still technologically impressive but not as difficult to put together. Compile a collection of photos featuring the deceased throughout his or her life. You can even have family and friends send you photos to include. Put them together on a computer using photo slideshow software.
Project the photos against a wall or a screen with an inexpensive projector and let the slideshow cycle through during the memorial service program. As people deliver eulogies and readings, people can watch the photos in the background.
6. Bring in a civil celebrant
When a memorial service is held at a church or funeral home, there is usually someone present to ensure that the service runs smoothly. That might be a religious leader or someone the funeral director has worked with.
At a more formal at-home memorial, a professional celebrant can help keep things on track. Celebrants oversee formal ceremonies, including weddings and funerals. They're skilled at public speaking and can handle the heavy lifting so that friends and family can grieve together.
Ideas for a Live Streamed or Hybrid (Virtual and In-Person) Memorial Service at Home
When a person dies, local friends and family will likely attend the memorial service. People who live farther away might miss out. A virtual streaming memorial service provides a way for people to come together despite their distance. Here are some ideas of how that might look.
7. Host a watch party
Earlier, we talked about informal memorial service ideas that honor the deceased’s interests.
Many streaming services offer a watch party option. This allows multiple people to stream movies at the same time from different locations. If the deceased was a cinephile, invite their loved ones to stream a movie they were especially fond of. This can be a great way for people to come together in spirit, if not in body.
8. Host a modern-day virtual wake
Wakes have been around in some form or another for centuries. In ancient times, people from many different cultures would hold vigil over a deceased person until they could be buried. Over time, these vigils evolved into religious traditions.
There are different types of wakes still around today. The Jewish tradition of sitting shiva traditionally has a solemn and sober tone. Irish wakes in the Catholic tradition, on the other hand, include a mix of sadness and joy.
Even if you aren’t religious, you can still hold your own version of a modern wake. A modern wake is similar in spirit to a celebration of life service. People might gather at a bar and have a drink in honor of their late friend while sharing stories of happier times. At a virtual wake, friends and family can raise a glass together even if they’re far apart.
9. Organize a formal memorial service online
There are many different online platforms that allow people to connect. A video conferencing tool like Zoom can provide a structured way to put on an online memorial service.
You can email an invitation with a link to join the call and send out a memorial service program. Provide 30 minutes at the beginning of the call as a sort of virtual visitation to allow people to socialize. The meeting host should play the role of the celebrant and follow the program. They can keep everyone on mute except for the person who is supposed to be speaking and make sure everything unfolds on time.
Pay Tribute to Lost Loved Ones Through Unconventional Memorial Services
At the end of the day, a memorial service honors the person that has passed away. Having a memorial service in your home allows you to personalize the event. When hosting an at-home memorial service, share your expectations on the invitation. That way, people can dress appropriately for the occasion and have an idea of the kind of tone they can expect. Beyond that, don’t be afraid to get creative and think outside the box.
Whether you want to plan a low-key wake or a formal home funeral, you can tap into endless ways to put a personal stamp on the event.