During times when social distancing is necessary, some people find themselves having to plan outdoor funerals or memorial services. An outdoor funeral or memorial service doesn’t have to feel that much different than an indoor funeral.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Outdoor Funeral Ideas for Socially Distant or Small Gatherings
- Outdoor Funeral Ideas for Larger Gatherings
- Cold Weather or Winter Outdoor Funeral Ideas
- Outdoor Funerals: Frequently Asked Questions
In fact, some families choose to have graveside services for their loved ones, and during these events, the officiant gives a eulogy, someone shares a song, and another participant reads scripture. Outdoor funerals can feel the same as an indoor memorial service.
Here are some outdoor funeral and memorial service ideas to consider if you are planning a loved one’s end-of-life services. Before you make arrangements, make sure that the deceased didn’t leave behind his or her own plans.
Outdoor Funeral Ideas for Socially Distant or Small Gatherings
Some families host Zoom funerals with services like GatheringUs when getting together in person isn't an option. Others may choose to hold funerals outdoors so the attendees can socially distance. Other times, outdoor funerals are held if there are only going to be a few mourners in attendance or to save money on the event.
Regardless of your reasoning for hosting an outdoor funeral, here are some tips on how to make the event go off without a hitch.
1. Have a flexible schedule
If the outdoor funeral is a private event, you may be more flexible with the scheduling. Check the weather reports to select a time that is most conducive to an outdoor event.
You may have attended graveside services in the past held during less-than-perfect conditions. The benefit of hosting a small, private funeral is that you can choose a time that makes it easy for those attending to focus on the deceased instead of the weather.
Check with the officiant to see if he has a flexible schedule and watch the weather radar.
2. Personalize the event
Even if a few people attend the funeral, you can still personalize the event. Choose your loved one’s favorite flowers and bring a memento to display on top of the casket.
It’s simple to set up a table inside a funeral home or church to hold photo displays but it may be more complicated to do so at an outdoor event.
Besides protecting the exhibits from the elements, you also may have to fight against setting up tables on uneven ground. Instead of having multiple displays, you may consider enlarging one beautiful photograph of your loved one to be displayed on an easel at the front of the gathering.
3. Ask people to participate in the event
If the weather is cooperative and there are few people in attendance, you may be able to have mourners participate in the funeral ceremony.
You may ask people to share memories of the deceased or help fill in the grave. You can also invite more people to share music solos.
Outdoor Funeral Ideas for Larger Gatherings
Hosting an outdoor event for a large gathering of people can be complicated. The weather may not cooperate, and you need to consider parking, restrooms, and other conveniences that you wouldn’t have to think about if the event had been indoors.
Here are some tips for hosting a large, outdoor funeral.
4. Rent chairs
If you are planning a traditional funeral service for your loved one, you probably need to consider seating for those in attendance. Cemeteries, churches, and funeral homes may have chairs for you to use, but you may need to rent some if you have the ceremony at a different outdoor location. When choosing a rental company, ask if delivery and set-up are included.
If you’re comfortable with less formal seats, you may consider using straw bales or buckets with wooden planks stretched across.
If you’re planning a quick service or those in attendance are physically able to stand for the entire ceremony, you may not need to worry about seating.
5. Rent a tent
To protect people from the elements, you may consider renting a tent. If the service is held at a church or cemetery, they may have a tent available for you to use.
While a tent will protect those in attendance from the elements, it will also make the event feel more private. A tent may also block ambient sound from interfering with the service.
6. Consider using a sound system
If there are quite a few attendees, or if they are spread out across a large area, you may consider the need for a sound system. You may also find yourself having to compete against the sounds of traffic or nature.
It’s essential that mourners hear what is being said at their loved one’s funeral service. You may also need a sound system so a song leader or music recording can be heard.
Cold Weather or Winter Outdoor Funeral Ideas
Brevity may be your best friend if you plan a cold-weather funeral. While ceremonial events can still occur, you may consider holding off on social interaction with the other mourners until the funeral reception takes place.
Here are some tips for cold-weather funerals.
7. Definitely dress for the weather
Consider the windchill before you figure out what you are wearing to your loved one’s funeral. The outdoor temperature may feel comfortable a few feet from your front door.
But if the outdoor funeral occasion doesn’t have a wind block, you may suffer from the biting breeze. The mournfulness of the setting may also make it seem colder than it is.
Read our guide on what to wear to a winter funeral for more.
8. Consider the safety of the elderly
If many older people will be attending the funeral, consider their safety and comfort. Invite them to share in any available shelter.
They may also need assistance walking across icy, snowy, or uneven ground.
9. Keep the service simple
The length of the service does not correlate with how much the deceased was loved. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, read a shortened version of the eulogy, and post the full one on social media.
Sing one verse of your loved one’s favorite song, and print the funeral poem in the program instead of reading it aloud.
10. Have an indoor event at a later date
There may be many reasons that you have to host a funeral outside during cold weather. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have an additional celebration of life at a later date.
When the temperatures outside become more comfortable, schedule another event. Your friends and extended family members want to be able to comfort you for your loss and honor your loved one. Allow them to do so.
Outdoor Funerals: Frequently Asked Questions
As you think through planning an outdoor funeral, you may have many other questions floating through your mind. If so, talk with the funeral home director, cemetery superintendent, or officiant.
These individuals are valuable resources and are getting paid to help you with your event. Let them assist you.
What should you wear to an outdoor funeral?
Most people wear dark, muted colors to a funeral, whether the event is inside or outside. Although less formal clothing choices are trending at modern funerals, some still view them as dressy events.
It’s entirely appropriate to dress for the weather. Wear proper outerwear and shoes so that you can remain dry and warm. If it’s hot outside, consider bringing an umbrella to block the sun. Less formal clothes may be appropriate if it’s hot out.
How can you decorate at an outdoor funeral?
Outdoor funerals need little decorations. After all, the natural elements are decorative enough. If you want to add little touches, consider hanging photos from ribbons on a nearby tree. Ask attendees to write special memories on rocks and collect them in a beautiful glass container. Pass out forget-me-not flower seeds to those in attendance.
If it is safe to do so, you may also use lanterns and candles. You could also include fireworks in the end-of-life celebration. In fact, there are companies that will use a bit of your loved one’s cremated remains to make a firework.
How can you adapt the service or ceremony for an outdoor funeral?
Most indoor funerals can be easily adapted to be held outdoors. The weather and comfort items (such as chairs, shelters, and restrooms) need to be considered, but people can gather inside or outside to honor your loved one.
You may consider not having an open-casket funeral outdoors, but caskets and urns are appropriate for display inside or outside.
Other Ways to Remember a Loved One
We often get caught up in the logistics of planning a large event. This may cause us to forget the reason behind the ceremony. If you recently lost someone close to you, this outdoor event is your formal way of saying goodbye.
Even if you have to host a shortened version of a funeral, there are other ways to remember a deceased loved one. Decorate your loved one’s graves and share photos on social media. Talk about the deceased with friends and family members. Serve a charity or nonprofit on his or her birthday or death anniversary.
If you need more help planning a funeral, read our guides on how to plan a meaningful funeral and the best funeral songs.