How to Plan a Touching Memorial Service: Easy Guide with Checklist

As you figure out how to plan a memorial service, this guide is here to support you. We’ve also included a checklist to make sure you don’t miss any details.

Planning a memorial service can feel overwhelming in the face of grief. There are countless details to consider, from choosing a venue, deciding on a guestlist, and finalizing the program, all while navigating the immense emotions that come with loss.

As you figure out how to plan a memorial service, this guide is here to support you.

We understand that no two services are alike, and this is a chance to create a meaningful tribute that reflects your loved one's life and legacy.

Let's walk through the steps together, easing the burden of planning and allowing you to focus on celebrating their life.

Setting the Tone: Choosing the Right Theme

A memorial service is a chance to come together, share memories, and celebrate the life of the special person you've lost. One way to create a truly meaningful experience is to choose a theme that reflects their unique personality and interests.

When it comes to picking a theme, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed — where do you start? What should you focus on?

Here’s a list of things to help you get started on some ideas:

Remember, this theme is a way to personalize the service and make it a true reflection of the amazing person you're honoring. Don't be afraid to get creative and choose something that feels special to you and your loved ones.

Who to Invite: Creating the Guest List

Knowing who to invite to a memorial service can feel overwhelming. You want this gathering to truly honor your loved one, a space filled with people whose lives they touched and who will find comfort in remembering them together.

At the same time, you may not wish to invite too many people or possibly leave someone out.

Here's some guidance to help you navigate creating that special circle of support:

Consider the people

Sending out the invites

Now that you've crafted your guest list, it's time to send out those invitations. Here are some tips to ensure everyone you care about receives the information and feels welcome to attend:

Choosing between digital invites or traditional ones:

Consider the demographics of your guest list. If they are tech-savvy and most of your invitees are comfortable with online invitations, a beautifully designed email or online service can be a great option.

But for older relatives or those who might prefer a more traditional touch, sending a printed card adds a personal element.

Whichever method you choose, make sure it includes the following:

Here are some additional ideas to consider:

When and Where: Selecting the Time and Venue

The time and place you choose for the memorial service sets the stage for how you'll honor your loved one.

While timing can be more practical based on the availability of the venue and key guests, selecting the venue is crucial.

It should be a space that reflects their spirit, comfortably accommodates your guests, and creates a warm and inviting atmosphere for remembrance and connection.

Picking the date

Picking the venue

Here’s a list of ideas to get you started.

Indoor venues:

Outdoor venues: 

Keep in mind these factors when choosing a location:

Parking: There should be ample parking available for guests. If there is limited parking, consider offering a shuttle service from a designated location.

Accessibility: Ensure the venue is accessible for guests with mobility limitations. Is the entrance to the venue flat and easy to navigate for those using walkers or wheelchairs? Are there accessible restrooms available on-site?

Time of day: If you're planning an outdoor service, factor in the time of day for optimal comfort. Early mornings or evenings might be preferable in the warmer months, especially if there's limited shade available. Consider renting tents or umbrellas if necessary. On the other hand, a lunchtime service might be ideal in cooler weather.

Crafting the program: What to include

Once you've chosen a meaningful location and finalized the guest list, the next step is crafting the program for the memorial service.

This serves as a guide for the gathering, weaving together heartfelt tributes, cherished memories, and moments of reflection to create a beautiful tapestry of your loved one's life.

Essential elements:

Additional ideas to personalize the service:

Video tributes: A creative slideshow or video montage can be a beautiful way to showcase your loved one's life journey. Include photos, home movies, or short video clips that capture their personality and special moments.

Guest participation: Invite guests to share written memories or anecdotes about your loved one. This can be collected beforehand and read aloud during the service, or you can set up a designated space for guests to write messages after the program.

Musical performances: Consider having a musician or singer perform a special song or piece during the service. Alternatively, if a family member or friend has musical talent, they could do a special performance.

Themed elements: Reflecting the theme of the service in the program adds a personal touch. If the theme is gardening, perhaps include a reading about the beauty of nature or distribute seed packets as keepsakes.

Speaker selection: Finding the right voices

Choosing speakers for a memorial service is an important decision. They'll be entrusted with sharing stories and memories that celebrate your loved one's life.

Here are some tips to find the right voices and ensure they feel prepared:

Here are some questions to answer when thinking about potential speakers, this can help you choose the people who can best share your loved one's story:

Have an open conversation with each potential speaker. Explain your expectations and answer any questions they might have about the service or the desired tone of their speech.

Offer some gentle guidance on the length of the speech (typically 5-7 minutes) and ensure their story aligns with the overall tone of the service. But make sure you allow speakers to tell their stories in their own voice and style.

Authenticity is key to creating a genuine and heartfelt tribute.

Musical elements: Setting the emotional tone

Music has a powerful ability to evoke emotions and set the tone for any gathering. When choosing music for a memorial service, the goal is to create a soundtrack that resonates with your loved one's spirit and the memories you hold dear.

Here’s how you can choose the right music:

Live music vs. recorded playlists

Live music can add a touch of intimacy and emotional resonance to a memorial service. Consider inviting a musician or band who played a role in your loved one's life, or choose a performer whose style complements their tastes.

On the other hand, creating a carefully curated playlist is a cost-effective option that allows for greater control over song selection and flow. You can use online music streaming services or create your own playlist using downloaded music files.

Visual tributes: Photos and memorabilia

Visual elements can add a powerful emotional dimension to a memorial service, allowing guests to connect with your loved one's life journey through photos and memories.

Here are some ideas to create a heartfelt visual tribute:

Photo displays:

Memory tables:

By incorporating visual elements, you can create a lasting impression and allow guests to connect with your loved one's life story on a deeper level.

Honoring with Food: Planning the Reception

While not all memorial services may include a shared meal, food can play a significant role in bringing people together and fostering a sense of community during a memorial service.

Here's how to plan a reception that honors your loved one and provides a space for comfort and connection:

Choosing between catering vs. homemade

Catering: Consider catering if you have a large guest list, limited time for preparation, or simply want to minimize stress during an emotional time. Catering companies offer a variety of options to suit your budget and preferences, from hors d'oeuvres and finger foods to full meals.

They can also handle set-up, service, and cleanup, freeing you to focus on spending time with loved ones.

Homemade: If you prefer a more personal approach, consider preparing some of your loved one's favorite dishes or baked goods yourself.

This can be a meaningful way to share their memory and express your love through the act of cooking.  Enlist the help of close friends or family members to share the task and create a warm, collaborative atmosphere.

Potluck option: For a more homely approach, invite guests to bring a dish to share. Encourage them to bring a favorite recipe or something that reminds them of your loved one.

You could do both: You can also strike a balance by catering a portion of the food and preparing some homemade items. This allows you to offer a wider variety while still adding a personal touch.

Planning the menu

Additional tips:

How to Plan a Memorial Service: A detailed checklist

Key decisions:


Crafting the ceremony:

Memorial program:

Reception and logistics:

After the service:

Planning a memorial service? Let Meadow handle everything

There’s a lot of effort that goes into planning a memorial service. Creating a proper, fitting tribute takes meticulous behind-the-scenes work.

If you’re still planning out your memorial event in the Los Angeles area, consider using Meadow.

At Meadow, we understand the weight of this moment. We offer a more compassionate and meaningful way to celebrate a life well-lived with customized memorial planning services.

Our team of caring memorial planners will partner with you during this tender time to create an occasion as remarkable as the life it honors.

With our licensed team, you can expect:

Explore our Personalized Memorial Services.