Did you recently lose a loved one? Are you planning a memorial service? When confronted with this task, consider the alternatives to a traditional memorial service. The high cost of a funeral can be a challenge for many people. And it can be difficult to negotiate or work to find lower-priced options.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Ideas for Memorial Service Locations
- Memorial Service Decoration Ideas
- Fun or Lighthearted Memorial Service Ideas
- Memorial Service Activity Ideas For Guests
- Memorial Service Ideas for Mom or Grandma
- Memorial Service Ideas for Dad or Grandpa
- Memorial Service Ideas for Child or Baby
- Virtual or Digital Memorial Service Ideas
- Memorial Service Ideas for a Dog, Cat, or Other Pet
- Memorial Service Ideas for Another Loved One
- Memorial Service Keepsake or Favor Ideas
When you are experiencing deep grief, it can be hard to think outside the box. Perhaps you would like to have an alternative memorial service, like the unusual traditions around the world. But you might only know about some of the popular alternatives. Playing contemporary funeral songs during the ceremony is one. Calling the funeral a celebration of life is another. Those are both great options, but there are many others to consider.
Here are some unique memorial service ideas. Maybe one will speak to you.
COVID-19 tip: If you're planning a Zoom memorial service using a service like GatheringUs, the order of service, etiquette, and timing will vary. Consult with the funeral director, event planner, or religious leader to see what changes will be made to the ceremony, wake, and reception. And, make sure to add the proper links, passcodes, online funeral etiquette, and troubleshooting instructions to your online guests at least a day or two before the funeral.
Ideas for Memorial Service Locations
Before you plan a memorial service at an alternative location, think about who will attend and how they’ll react to something less traditional. As the person planning the service, the ultimate choice of location is yours. But remember that others will be mourning the loss, too.
You’ll also want to make sure you are honoring the wishes of the deceased. It can be easy to let your hang-ups on organized religion get in the way of planning a service at a church, temple, or synagogue. If you know the deceased practiced a religion, you should try to honor that. And the same can be said for people who weren’t religious.
If they wanted an alternate memorial, feel free to choose a unique location. Here are some places to consider.
Many people feel a spiritual connection to the ocean. Its constant movement and timelessness can make our lives feel insignificant. And, for those who grew up near the beach, it can bring back comforting, warm childhood memories filled with laughter and sun.
Although a beach would be a lovely setting for a funeral, they’re usually public places, so it might be hard to force everyone visiting the beach to behave as if they’re at a funeral. Be sure to check with the local park services before scattering your loved one’s remains. Some cities have strict rules about the scattering of ashes.
Some people choose to have memorial services in their homes. This was standard practice at earlier points in human history — and it’s starting to become commonplace again in some communities.
Maybe you like the idea of saying goodbye in such a comforting place. If you plan on having the body on display, you’ll need to review the state-specific laws on how to handle a body after death.
At a farm
Perhaps your loved one had rural roots and wished to celebrate their life on the family farm. No matter the time of the year, most farms would provide a beautiful backdrop to celebrate the life of a loved one.
If you own a farm you could consider burying your loved one on the property— most states allow for home burials. This may be something you consider if you’re sure that the land will stay in the family for generations. But make sure you review the laws for your area first. Most states have specific laws about the burial of human remains.
At a campground
Gather friends and family at a campground or national park to celebrate the life of your loved one.
This would be an appropriate choice to celebrate some who was an avid camper and outdoor enthusiast. Just keep in mind that you won’t be able to control the behavior of the public around you. But you should be able to find a peaceful space to reflect. Even if it’s only for a few minutes.
At a sports stadium
Having a memorial service at a sports stadium might be a tricky process. Some states do not have restrictions on where you can scatter ashes. But most stadiums are privately owned. And officials would probably prefer that remains aren't spread on the playing fields.
Of course, no one would stop you from attending a game. Invite friends and family of the deceased to attend a game together. It can be a great way to honor the deceased. But remember, even though it’s a special occasion, there’s no guarantee that your favorite team will win.
At a local bar or coffee shop
Perhaps you want to celebrate your loved one’s life where everybody knew their name. Why not ask the owner of your local establishment if you can have a memorial service at their business? You can sip on their favorite beverage, play some uplifting memorial service songs, sit back, and reminisce about your loved one.
Remember that you should expect to pay the owner for the use of the facility, especially if you’re renting the entire space.
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Memorial Service Decoration Ideas
Typically, there aren’t very many decorations at memorial services. However, if you feel that it is necessary to decorate the space, consider the tone of the funeral service so that the decorations match. Here are some ideas.
Of course, most people purchase a casket spray or standing spray for their loved one’s memorial service, but you don’t have to stop there. You might want to add arrangements on each of the tables at the reception or greenery around the photo displays.
While some people choose monochromatic floral displays to include white lilies, roses, and chrysanthemums, others may display arrangements of their loved one’s favorite flowers.
If the deceased was known for their gardening skills, and flowers are in bloom at the time of death, consider creating the arrangements from cuttings from their flowerbeds.
Create a beautiful and reflective atmosphere at your loved one’s memorial service by lighting white candles throughout the space. You can purchase memorial candle holders online that can be personalized with your loved one’s name. In addition, the candle holders can act as keepsakes.
Signs or banners
If the memorial service is in an alternative space, consider printing a sign or banner so people know they have arrived at the correct gathering. The sign or banner may say, “In Loving Memory” and include the name and image of the deceased.
While you can certainly create a funeral slideshow or stick favorite pictures on a poster board, you might look online for more elaborate display ideas.
Many people also choose to have a large photograph of their loved one on an easel as a focal point at the funeral.
Decorations related to your loved one’s interests or hobbies
Was your loved one an avid golfer? Check with your florist about ways to add clubs or tees to the floral displays.
Was the deceased a huge fan of a particular team? Consider using the team colors throughout your decor.
Add wheat to the floral display for a farmer, or teacher-themed items to the decor of someone who spent their life in the classroom.
Some funeral homes specialize in creating personalized funeral celebrations, so ask the employees for assistance in decorating the space.
Fun or Lighthearted Memorial Service Ideas
The words “fun” or “lighthearted” aren’t usually used to describe memorial services. Trying to create a party-type atmosphere may leave the attendees feeling unsettled or uncomfortable.
However, some people leave instructions asking that their funerals are lighthearted affairs. Others live their lives in such a way that a somber funeral would not feel appropriate.
Here are some ideas on how to lighten up a funeral if the situation warrants this type of event.
Hold the funeral at an alternative location
One way to change the feel of an end-of-life service is to hold it at a location other than a funeral home, house of worship, or cemetery. Consider, instead, a park or outdoor location, a private residence, a community venue, or a restaurant.
Encourage attendees to participate
Instead of having a formal service to celebrate the life of your loved one, consider asking attendees to participate in the service. Spread the word that anyone who feels comfortable will be given the opportunity to sing a song, share a memory, or read a piece of scripture or a poem.
Have a New Orleans jazz funeral
New Orleans jazz funerals start as somber affairs. The music played on the way to the entombment or burial location is often slow and melancholy. However, once the deceased has been settled in their final resting place, the music style changes, and the party begins.
Select upbeat music
Funeral music doesn’t have to be slow or somber-sounding. Instead, consider selecting more upbeat music (either religious or secular) for your loved one’s funeral.
Incorporate an activity with the event
Did your loved one play board games or golf? Did they love spending a day at a ball game or a night at a rock concert?
To conclude a more traditional funeral, you may want to plan an outing for the guests. Plan a card tournament or buy out a section at a concert. Spend time celebrating your loved one’s life by participating in their favorite activities.
Toast your loved one
If you’re having a reception, meal, or repast following your loved one’s services, consider organizing a toast for the deceased.
Memorial Service Activity Ideas For Guests
Most funerals are not interactive events. However, you may wish to give those attending the opportunity to share memories of the deceased or to participate in an activity your loved one enjoyed.
Here are some funeral activity ideas to consider.
If your loved one’s funeral takes place in an appropriate climate, consider organizing a butterfly release to conclude your loved one’s funeral. This is a more eco-friendly version of a balloon release that was popular in past decades. In addition, some funeral homes will arrange a butterfly release for you. Keep in mind, though: there may be regulations in your state regarding if butterfly releases are allowed and which types of butterflies you can release.
If music, poetry, or dance was important to the deceased, ask friends or family members to perform at the funeral. They may feel honored to be asked to celebrate this important part of your loved one’s life.
Create a social media account
Even though it is relatively common for funeral attendees to be given opportunities to speak at the service, some abhor public speaking. Give those people a chance to share stories and memories of the deceased by creating an online forum.
Many funeral homes create tribute pages for each of the families who utilize their services. You could share the tribute page on your social media pages, asking people to upload photos and share stories. Of course, you could also create a memorial Facebook group if you wish for a more private sharing opportunity.
Create an art station for the children
If you know that there will be a lot of children in attendance, you might consider setting up a staffed “kid room” during your loved one’s funeral. If the children knew the deceased, you might encourage them to draw pictures of the memories they shared with your loved one.
Collect items for a charity
Did your loved one have a special place in their heart for a specific nonprofit group? Instead of asking for monetary memorial contributions, ask for funeral attendees to bring specific items to donate to a charity. For example, ask for nonperishable food, health and hygiene items, pet supplies, school supplies, or books. Make sure you have a plan on how to contain and transport the items to the facilities if the funeral home is not equipped to handle such a request.
Memorial Service Ideas for Mom or Grandma
How do you say goodbye to a mother or grandmother? It will probably be one of the hardest things you ever have to do. Here are some alternatives to consider instead of a regular memorial service.
Gather for a special meal
Many mourners gather for a meal when saying goodbye to friends and family. Why not make something special of it? Set up long tables in someone’s back yard or garden.
Decorate the table with cherished possessions of the family member you lost. Ask guests to bring a token or a dish that represents the deceased. As you dine, go around the table and have everyone share a favorite memory of your mom or grandma.
Celebrate her life in her garden
Did your loved one spend a great deal of time in her garden? Consider having a memorial service in that space. Mourning near her favorite bushes, perennials, and annuals can help you grieve. Celebrating her life in a spot that she cherished is a wonderful way to honor her.
Plant a tree
Consider celebrating the life of a loved one by planting a tree. If you want to plant the tree in a park, you’ll probably need to get permission from local officials first.
You can approach this two ways. First, you could dig the hole during the ceremony. Consider sprinkling the ashes at the base before putting dirt around the new tree.
Or you could have someone plant the tree before you arrive. Then have each attendee take a turn watering the tree with a watering can. You can also have guests share their favorite memory instead of watering the tree — just don’t overwater it!
Memorial Service Ideas for Dad or Grandpa
Saying goodbye to Dad or Grandpa is something people dread to do. Make his passing easier by choosing a memorial service that fits his personality.
Gather at the clubhouse
If your dad or grandpa was an avid golfer, host the memorial service at his favorite golf course. See if you can rent out the clubhouse. Or ask if you can sprinkle his ashes under that tricky tree located near the 17th hole. If you can’t do either, play a round in his honor.
Take a ride on grandpa’s boat
Does thinking of your grandpa lead to memories of early mornings in a boat? If your grandpa’s happy place always involved a fishing pole, celebrate this by gathering at the dock.
You may consider sprinkling the ashes near his favorite fishing spot. Or you could take a family fishing trip to his favorite place. Use the time to reminisce about everything your Grandpa meant to you. And maybe you’ll catch a fish too.
Surround yourself with your dad’s favorite possessions
If your dad was an avid collector, consider having his memorial service at the site of his collection. You can display the items in a unique way to share. Make sure to share your dad’s passion with everyone that way. Plus, it’ll likely be easier than moving the collection to a funeral home.
Memorial Service Ideas for Child or Baby
Nothing is easy about losing a child or baby. There’s no right or wrong way to say goodbye. Whether the service private or open to the public is up to the parents. Here are some ideas to consider.
Do a butterfly release
Ask your friends and family members to gather. Spend some time reflecting on the life of the child. Listen to some music, and have someone lead the group in prayers or final words. Before dispersing, give everyone an envelope with a butterfly inside. Ask everyone to open the envelope at the same time. You’ll be surrounded by butterflies taking flight.
Those who take part will forever associate the child with butterflies. The child’s memory will be honored through that connection.
Organize a project in your child’s honor
Ask your friends and family members to complete a project in the name of your child. Perhaps you’ll create a fairy garden at a local park. Or a little free library outside of your home. Place a commemorative plaque at the location. It will honor your child. And it lets those who visit know how important this space is.
Share a token
There’s a special grieving involved when a life ends too soon. More than anything else, parents want others to remember the life of their child. Consider sharing a token with friends, family, and even the schoolmates of your child.
You don’t have to give away your child’s possessions to do this. Buy something you can give to everyone as a token of remembrance. Rocks shaped like hearts or a special bracelet can be a meaningful, simple gift.
Virtual or Digital Memorial Service Ideas
One of the things that the recent pandemic taught us is that online events are reasonable options when you can’t meet in person. The funeral industry had to adjust to this reality quickly, and many funeral homes and churches upgraded or added technology to make it possible to share events online.
Virtual memorial services are probably always going to be an option for families. Now service members who couldn’t get leave to attend an uncle’s funeral may be able to view the service in real-time from their current location. Older family members who find it hard to travel may be able to attend a Zoom funeral of their sibling who died across the country.
Here are some virtual or digital memorial service ideas.
Hire a virtual funeral planning service to coordinate the event
Virtual funerals range from Facetiming your cousin during a funeral to full-scale productions that include slideshows, interviews, and superb video and sound.
If you know that most of your attendees will be attending your event virtually, consider hiring a company similar to GatheringUs. This organization offers planning, facilitation, and a complete custom virtual funeral experience.
Create an online memorial site
One thing that is missing when you attend a virtual funeral as opposed to a live event is that you cannot peruse the memory boards that families typically display. If you are planning a virtual funeral, consider spending more time on your online memorial site.
Your memorial site can be a Facebook page, a link provided by your funeral home or cremation provider, or an actual website designed for the specific purpose of sharing memories of the deceased.
We recommend using Cake's online memorial pages, which are simple and easy to set up. They let your page visitors leave meaningful tributes to the departed, as well as fundraise if that's something you'd like to do.
Make your virtual attendees feel as though they are part of the group by giving them the ability to share their musical talents. For example, your uncle, who lives on the opposite coast, may want to share his musical talents at your mom’s funeral. Also, encourage those virtually attending the event to turn on their microphones to sing along with the hymns with the rest of the live guests.
Share downloadable programs
Many people keep funeral folders and programs as mementos. Unfortunately, your virtual guests won’t have the opportunity to collect these pieces of memorabilia. At a minimum, consider providing a downloadable version to virtual attendees. You may also want to mail a copy to your online guests.
Assist those who may struggle with technology
Don’t assume that every online attendee will have attended a Zoom event previous to the funeral you are planning. Older adults who were not brought up with technology may struggle to participate in the event.
You don’t want to be on the phone with your great aunt during your dad’s funeral, walking her through how to join the virtual event. Instead, you may consider having a trial run for those you think may have difficulty connecting. You might also have funeral home or church staff members on hand to assist virtual attendees over the phone who are struggling with the technology.
Memorial Service Ideas for a Dog, Cat, or Other Pet
Losing a pet is devastating for many. How do you say goodbye to a pet when you are reminded of its absence every time you enter your home? Here are some ideas to consider.
Host a poetry reading
Others in your community might also be grieving the loss of a favorite dog, cat, or other pet. Consider hosting a poetry reading. People can bring photos of their deceased pet. Everyone can share a poem, song lyrics, or some other text that describes their loss.
Raise funds for a shelter
At some point, you may be ready to commemorate the passing of your furry friend. Although your grief may be too fresh to undertake a project immediately, you can do this anytime. You could host a fundraiser. Or gather supplies to donate to your favorite local pet charity. Name the event after your pet that passed.
Donate a pet watering station
Ask local officials how much it would cost to add a pet watering station to your local dog park. Most of the time, these can be added to any drinking fountain. Don’t forget to ask if you can add a memorial plaque near the site. Others will know you donated the watering station in honor of your dog.
Memorial Service Ideas for Another Loved One
It can be hard to know how to celebrate the life of someone who was an important person in your community. Consider using these ideas. It can help you to share your grief.
Create a scholarship
Teachers and school administrators touch so many lives. Honor them by funding the education of future teachers in your community. Create a fundraiser or ask for donations to create a scholarship in the deceased’s name. Administrators at your local high school should be able to help you set up a scholarship.
Publish a book
If you are trying to think of a way to commemorate the life of a great person, why not write about their life? Interview friends and family members. Ask others to recall their favorite stories. Include photographs and self-publish a book online.
Everyday heroes deserve commemoration. Share the story of your favorite person in the community to inspire others to live full lives.
Host a concert
Perhaps you are organizing an event for a music lover. The person may have been a performer or a music teacher. Invite friends, students, and cohorts to perform pieces in memory of your friend.
This can be a fundraiser for a charity. Or it can be a commemorative event.
Memorial Service Keepsake or Favor Ideas
Do you wish to give each funeral attendee a small keepsake to celebrate your loved one’s life? Here are some ideas. The funeral home staff may offer assistance with ordering and distributing the items.
Was the deceased known for their cooking or baking skills? Pass out a copy of a favorite recipe (or group of recipes) at the funeral. This would be an excellent idea if the deceased is known for one particular dish.
Search online for a company that will create a personalized seed packet with your loved one’s name and an appropriate poem or scripture. While forget-me-not seeds are a popular choice, you could also pass out the seeds to a flower that your loved one was known for growing.
Succulents are popular, inexpensive, and easy to grow. Add a tag that includes the name or photo of your loved one, and others will think of them every time they care for the plant.
Some families choose to pass out awareness bracelets at their loved one’s funerals. Each type of cancer is assigned a particular color, but other illnesses and causes of death can also be highlighted.
Ask the funeral officiant to announce that each person in attendance is welcome to take a flower from one of the arrangements. This is a simple, beautiful keepsake that can be dried and kept for years.
Many families pass out prayer cards at their loved one’s funerals. They are typically personalized with the deceased’s name and include a short scripture, poem, or prayer important to the family. Many funeral homes will arrange for prayer cards to be printed.
Was your loved one an avid reader? This simple and inexpensive keepsake would be appropriate to share with funeral attendees. Include a photo, favorite quote, or list of favorite books on the bookmark. Some funeral homes will arrange for memorial bookmarks to be printed.
Consider creating or purchasing an ornament to celebrate your loved one’s life. Butterflies, doves, hearts, feathers, wings, and religious symbols are typically used in such situations.
A Memorial Your Loved One Wanted
People handle grief differently. A traditional memorial service may help ease the pain of some people. Others need to manage their grief differently.
It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to observe a loved one’s passing. Hopefully, some of these ideas will help you plan a memorial service for someone close to you.