What is a Memorial Service? 6 Key Things You Need to Know

What is a memorial service? It’s a gathering to remember the life of your loved one. Learn more here.

In the aftermath of losing someone you love, you might be wondering how to honor their memory and bring together those who cared for them. A meaningful memorial service can be a beautiful way to do just that.

But what is a memorial service? And why do we have them? 

We will attempt to answer these questions and give you some perspective on what to expect as you plan a memorial for your loved one.

What is a memorial service?

A memorial service is a gathering to remember the life of your loved one. It's a chance to share stories, memories, and laughter, reflecting on the impact they had on those around them.

Unlike a funeral service, there's no pressure to follow a strict format. A memorial service can be tailored to reflect your loved one's personality and wishes, creating a space for healing and remembrance.

It's less about the formalities and more about personal touches that reflect the unique life of the person you’re remembering.

It's about coming together to mourn, yes, but also to recognize the impact that your loved one had on the lives of those around them.

Whether it's held in a community hall, a family home, or even outdoors in a place that was special to the person, the focus is on remembering them in a way that feels right to you and honors their legacy.

What is the difference between a memorial and a funeral?

This table serves as a guide to understanding the key distinctions between a memorial and a funeral:


Memorial service



Can be held at any time after the death,
sometimes weeks or months later.

Usually takes place within a week of death.

Presence of the deceased

The body of your loved one is usually not present;
may include an urn if cremated.

The body is often present, either in a casket (open or closed).


Flexible: Can be held in various places such as a community
center, outdoors, or a family home.

Typically held in a funeral home, religious place, or at a graveside.


Tends to be less formal and more personalized.

Generally more formal, with specific rituals based on
cultural or religious practices.


Celebrating and remembering the life of your loved one,
sharing memories.

Mourning the loss, saying goodbye, often includes the burial
or cremation ceremony.


Encourages sharing of personal stories, memories, and tributes
by attendees.

Participation may be more formal, with specific roles and
speeches often reserved for clergy or family.

Planning flexibility

More flexible in planning; can be tailored to the
wishes of the deceased or their family.

Usually follows traditional formats, with less room for customization.

Emotional tone

Can be more uplifting, focusing on the joy
the deceased brought to lives.

Often more somber and formal, with a focus
on mourning and respect.


What is the purpose of a memorial?

The purpose of a memorial extends beyond simply gathering people together; it serves multiple meaningful roles during the grieving process and beyond.

Here’s why you might consider planning a memorial for your loved one:

To honor their life

A memorial is a heartfelt tribute that celebrates the life, achievements, and legacy of the person who has passed away. It's a way to publicly acknowledge their impact on their community, friends, and family.

To provide closure

For many, a memorial serves as an essential step in the grieving process. It offers a designated time and place to say goodbye, helping bring a sense of closure to those mourning.

To share memories

A memorial encourages sharing personal stories and memories – this creates a sense of communal remembrance that people can partake in rather than just witness.

It provides a platform for friends and family to express their feelings and recount experiences that highlight the character and life of their loved one.

To support each other

A memorial service brings together friends, family, and community members who are experiencing similar feelings of loss, providing a sense of solidarity.

It offers a space where people can comfort each other, share coping mechanisms, and find strength.

To celebrate a life

A memorial may focus on the positive aspects of the person's life, their passions, hobbies, and what brought them joy, highlighting their unique personality.

It can include music, readings, or activities that they loved, making the memorial a celebration of their life rather than just a mourning of their death.

To fulfill cultural or religious traditions

Many cultures and religions have specific traditions surrounding death and remembrance. A memorial service can be a way to honor these traditions and find comfort in familiar rituals.

For example, burning incense is a common practice in Buddhist funerals to symbolize letting go of attachments. A memorial service can incorporate this tradition while creating a more flexible atmosphere for sharing stories and reflections.

To personalize the remembrance

Unlike a traditional funeral service, memorial services offer more flexibility. You can tailor the ceremony to reflect your loved one's personality and interests.

This can be through the choice of location, music, readings, or even incorporating activities they enjoyed.

To start the healing process

A meaningful memorial acts as an initial step towards healing, acknowledging the pain of loss while also recognizing the path forward.

It provides a collective experience that can help people navigate their journey through grief with the support of others.

What happens at a memorial service?

A memorial service can be tailored to suit you and your family’s needs, but here is a possible general structure:

Welcome and gathering

A memorial service usually begins with a family member or close friend welcoming those present and setting the tone for the occasion.

Memorial services are usually held in a location that is personal and meaningful, such as a favorite park, family home, or a decorated venue, reflecting the personality of the loved one.

Sharing memories

This is the heart of a memorial service, focusing on celebrating the life lived. It can be done in various ways:

Commemorative acts

Some memorials include unique rituals or symbolic acts that add greater significance and meaning to the occasion. Here are some common examples:

Reflection and connection

A memorial often includes sharing a meal together, either prepared by attendees or catered. Receptions at memorials are often more relaxed gatherings compared to funerals.

Food, drinks, and shared stories create a space for continued remembrance and celebration of the person’s life.

Closing rituals

A closing gesture might include a favorite poem, quote, or even a group activity like singing a song, meant to uplift spirits and provide a sense of closure.

Who arranges a memorial service?

While grief can be a deeply personal experience, planning a memorial service often involves the collective efforts of loved ones. 

Here's a breakdown of who might be involved in arranging the service:

Who attends a memorial service?

Memorial services bring together a diverse group of people, all connected by their relationship to the person who has passed, whether through family, friendship, work, or shared experiences.

The collective presence of these attendees serves to highlight the multifaceted life of the person being remembered and the various ways in which they touched the lives of others.

Those attending a memorial are usually:

Are you looking for assistance with a memorial service?

If you’re considering a cremation before organizing a memorial service, Meadow is here to offer a gentle hand and a streamlined approach to managing one.

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 partner with you in this tender time to create an occasion as remarkable as the life it honors.

With our team, you can expect:

Our team is available 24/7 to guide you through this process. Explore our personalized memorial services to honor your loved one, on your own terms.