Most people use the terms memorial service and funeral interchangeably—and with good reason. During the funeral planning stages, the differences between the two often become blurred, and your focus is on your grief rather than the semantics of the funeral industry. For more in depth guidance, download our guide, “7 Insider Tips You Need to Know Before Funeral Planning.”
However, if you’re looking to save money on funeral costs, or if you are hoping to understand more about funeral planning (especially if you’re opting for a funeral pre-plan package), it’s a good idea to know what the differences are and how they can affect your decision-making process.
What is a Memorial Service?
In its most simple explanation, a memorial service is a funeral without a body/casket. It can be held anywhere and at any time (even weeks, months, or years later), and does not have to have any associations with a funeral home, cemetery, crematorium, or other burial facility. In fact, many people hold memorial services at home, at a favorite bar or restaurant, outdoors, or even on the water.
People hold memorial services for a variety of reasons. These include, but are not limited to:
- The luxury of time. Funeral plans typically have to occur within a week following death. This can be incredibly taxing on the newly bereaved, especially if money or long-distance family is an issue. Because memorial services are more about a celebration of life rather than the interment of the body, you have more time to plan a memorial service at a future date.
- Choosing a more cheerful location. While useful, funeral homes tend to be sober and sedate, and the atmosphere can be overwhelming for some people. Memorial services can be held anywhere, which means you can set the tone for the service. When you host your own service, you can incorporate outdoor ceremonies, live music, full service bars, or visit a favorite location of the deceased.
- Lower funeral costs. When you have a memorial service instead of a traditional and formal funeral, you might be able to sidestep some of the costs. For example, those working on a tight budget can opt for a direct burial or direct cremation, channeling their money instead to a destination memorial service or a private ceremony at home. Keep in mind that the reason for funeral services is to grieve, and if a service with a body present will bring greater meaning, find other ways to lower costs.
- Flexibility in funeral planning. Funeral homes are necessarily restricted in the amount of people they can hold, the hours of operation, the length of time you can remain on the premises, and what types of activities can occur during the funeral. Many families find it best to hold a formal funeral at the funeral home and then create their own memorial service for afterward.
There is no right or wrong way to plan a funeral or memorial service. Just as the deceased was a unique individual, so too is your family and the way you approach death. If you have any concerns about what type of service is right for you, talk with a funeral director or other family members. Most people are very supportive of the decisions you have to make and can help put you in touch with memorial service planning resources in your community.