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Checklist for Planning a Memorial Event or Life Celebration

by J. Malec

 Event checklist: image by Dennis Hamilton

Image by Dennis Hamilton*

What is the difference between a memorial service and a celebration of life?

Planning a ceremony begins with a primary decision. Will the event be a traditional memorial service or a more contemporary life celebration? The event name suggests a certain tone.

A memorial service is typically focused around a recent loss and often has religious overtones. A life celebration is centered on the joy of having been blessed by a person’s presence, and is often nonreligious in nature. When considering these options, it may be helpful to think about the culture of the family, religious preferences, circumstances leading up to death and any wishes previously indicated by the deceased.

What do we hope to get out of a memorial event?

Whether burial or cremation is chosen, there are important reasons for planning a remembrance. In a Huffington Post article, Marilyn Sewell writes about the significance of such an event.

The ritual of the funeral or the memorial service has several purposes. First of all, it helps mourners recognize the loss as real. Sometimes a body is present at the service, often not, but always we know that we are there to acknowledge that someone has died, and to acknowledge the death not just in fact, but in feeling. We come together to grieve in the presence of a caring community, and for the time of the service we have permission to give ourselves to the experience of loss.

These rituals, in reality, mostly performed for the living. Interestingly, it is becoming common for the dying to request no service at all. But often out of a need for closure, those who live gather to mourn and celebrate a life lost. A genuine need for support from one another during a difficult time, and reminders that life will continue are also reasons for gathering.

A memorial event is commonly associated with a traditional service and funeral. Even if the deceased’s body has been cremated, an honoring event can be held. Events focused around cremation include the display of a memorial cremation urn, a scattering urn and ceremony, or simply a memorial event without physical acknowledgement of cremation.

Any form of memorial ceremony forms an important part of our social fabric. It deserves the same attention as other important markers of life events, such as weddings and baby showers. Not to recognize an event of such magnitude can leave us vulnerable to the effects of un-channeled grief, can confuse children about how to handle death, and can postpone the beginning of closure that allows us to move forward.

A Memorial Event Checklist

Our Memorial Event Planning Guide provides a comprehensive guide and resources to planning your perfect memorial event. For your convenience, below is a concise, summarized checklist. 

  1. Determine the type of service or celebration.
  2. Decide on location, date and time, and who will attend.
  3. Outline a budget.
  4. If desired, publish details about the service or event with the obituary in local papers.
  5. Compile a guest list and send invitations; include RSVP.
  6. Decide who will officiate or host / hostess the event. Consider hiring a planner.
  7. Select readings according to desired tone.
  8. Write a eulogy; consider family or close friends to read, as well.
  9. Choose music. Consider a friend to play, or hire a musician.
  10. Decide sequence of readings, speeches and music.
  11. Create a program.
  12. If cremation has been chosen, consider a memorial urn for the service or keepsakes for close family and friends.
  13. Consider important final touches: flowers, food and drink, a memory table or board, and a memory chest for written notes and/or photos.
  14. Write thank-you notes or prepare a small thank-you gift for help received.

Bereavement is usually considered a solitary journey through daily aloneness. Sharing the loss with others offers the potential to unlock silent grieving. Honoring the lost loved one with others through a memorial service or life celebration can provide unforeseen comfort and immeasurable support.

*Image: http://bit.ly/1l2YiN1

J. Malec is a visual artist and writer whose work often deals with themes related to loss and healing. She lives in Minneapolis, and spends much of her time practicing permaculture in the city.

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