How to Plan a Memorial Service

| By Jodi Horton

As a hospice chaplain, I am often asked to assist patients and families with planning and conducting memorial services and funerals. My father recently surprised me by asking me to help with his. He has always been very involved in church, and I always assumed they would take care of this when the time came for him. What surprised me even more was how emotionally unprepared I was to help with this task. Since this can be a hard task to help with now, having a plan will make it easier in the future.

The services I have assisted with over the years have ranged from secular to religious, and structured to informal. All in some way have been a reflection of the person being honored. When a patient’s daughter asked how to start planning her father’s memorial service, the guiding principle was that the service would be about him, but for the family and the people close to him. With that in mind, we began to fill in a template that included eulogies, music, special readings, and a slide show of the patient’s life.

Having a template or outline can reduce the stress of planning the service. In most cases it provides a starting point for family and friends to develop into a service that provides honor and dignity. Many families have found that the following outline has been a helpful tool in their time of need.

Sample Service Outline 

  • Words of welcome
  • Opening (prayer or appropriate reading)
  • Life review (obituary reading or other prepared reading)
  • Music
  • Sharing from friends and family (This may include a formal eulogy presented by a family member or friend.)
  • Music
  • Brief meditation: a short (5-10 minutes) spoken presentation
  • Closing words (may include prayer, scripture reading, or other appropriate reading)
  • Blessing and dismissal (or a word of thanks for attending and supporting the family at this time)

This type of service usually runs about 30 minutes to one hour depending on the length of the music and depending on how many people share and how long they would like to share. If family members or friends are unable to speak due to the emotion of the moment or if they do not like to speak in front of a group, they may write down what they would like to share and have the person conducting the service read it for them.

Any music, scriptures, or other readings that family would like to incorporate into the service are welcomed.  Also photographs or other visual media may be used in the service to help in telling the life story of the one being honored.

When planning and conducting a memorial service, help is always available from clergy, funeral home personnel, and other professionals. There is always the option that family and friends conduct the service without outside assistance, if they are ready and comfortable in that role. Whatever plan one has, it is good and healing to have a ceremony that honors and celebrates those whom we love when their mission on this earth has been completed.

By Tom Saunders, Hospice Chaplain

For information about hospice services in the Pima County area, contact Casa de la Luz Hospice at (520) 544-9890.

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