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34 Unique Memorial Service Ideas

Viking Funeral Pyre

Memorial services can vary in style, tone, and content just as widely as the unique personalities of the individuals being memorialized. As more and more families choose to modify or entirely steer clear of “traditional” services, the options for celebrating the life of a loved one multiply to accomodate the preferences of the family or the decedent.

Since the options for memorial service ideas are nearly limitless, it can actually be somewhat daunting to plan and pull off a memorial. Whether it be a culturally “traditional” service, a “life celebration” party, or something inbetween, the abundance of choices and the lessening of a widely accepted standard increases the pressure on choosing the right elements to include.

To help, we’ve gathered an array of memorial service ideas for cremation or burial which will hopefully be of assistance to you in planning the perfect life celebration, funeral, or memorial service.


Please note that some of the ideas listed below include affiliate links, by which – at no cost to you – we get a small commission of any sales purchased after you leave our site. This helps keep the blog running and memorial ideas flowing!

So here are some creative and inspirational ideas for the perfect memorial service.


1. Funeral Flowers

Memorial service ideas

Funeral flowers come in all colors, styles, and designs. You can choose a particular flower or color as part of an overall theme. This can include hobbies, organizations and associations, sports, and much more. There are so many ideas for traditional and creative funeral flowers that include themes like airplanes, motorcycles, footballs, guitars, gardener, fishing, police, Masonic, cross, cowboy, sports teams, colleges, etc. Here are some popular funeral flower resources:

  • Cyber Florist – USA, traditional & creative floral arrangements
  • Northwest Gifts – USA, organic floral wreaths grown in Oregon
  • 800 Florals –  USA & Canada, next day delivery of funeral flowers
  • Amazon – A selection of classic fresh cut bouquets that ship via Prime

2. Scholarship Fund in Lieu of Flowers

Memorial service ideas

One option for memorial service decoration is to not do so. If flowers don’t seem quite right, ask attendees to make a donation to a donor-advised fund “in memoriam” instead of purchasing flowers. These funds can be donated to a charitable organization or fund which reflects the passions and interests of the deceased.

3. Memorial Painting

Commissioned Memorial Painting

A commissioned work of art may take some time, but it will be well worth it when you see your loved one so beautifully and artistically memorialized. The above portrait is a commissioned work by the artist Mary Ann.

4. Memorial Service Photos

Memorial Service Ideas

It is appropriate and touching to display a photo of the decedent, and this can be as simple as a framed print or as elaborate as a custom painting or laser engraved portrait. Here are 7 ideas for photo memorials at the service.

5. Engraved Photo Cremation Urns

Memorial Service Ideas: Photos

If cremation is chosen, a unique way to combine the urn and the memorial photo is to have the individual’s portrait laser engraved onto the cremation urn. This makes for a stunning centerpiece at the memorial service, and will be a beautiful keepsake to honor your loved one.

6. Customized Memorial Candles

Memorial Candles for the Service

Set the mood at the memorial service with these personalized memorial candles, which include custom engraving of any text or photo for a special keepsake for the family after the service has ended.

7. Collectibles

Comic Book Themed Memorial Service

Display his collection of baseball cards, stamps, or Magic: The Gathering cards. Showcase her scrapbook creations, nature photography, or Wizard of Oz collectibles. Whatever they collected can be displayed simply on a table near the entrance or can be the backbone of the decorating color scheme.

8. Choose a Theme

Memorial Service Ideas - Decor

Decorate in a way that expresses your loved one’s heritage, favorite sports teams, hobbies, military or charitable service, religion, or other interests. For someone of Irish heritage, think about throwing a traditional Irish Wake. For a hunting enthusiast, cover the walls with camouflage, leaves, and mounted trophies. Use Dallas Cowboys colors or Star Wars decor. Have photos of the inner city kids they mentored, or Habitat for Humanity projects, or volleyball teams they coached.

During the Service

9. Memorial Slideshow

Memorial Service Ideas

Organize a slideshow of photos from all stages of the individual’s life. Be sure to include captions to show what year, or where, photos were taken, as it will help the memorial service attendees to piece together aspects of the person’s life with which they may not be familiar. Or try a video montage, which can easily be done through sites such as Animoto and even posted online after the service.

10. Poems, Quotes, and Sayings

Memorial service ideas

Use quotes to sum up ideas, inspire and encourage, and to eloquently express grief, hope, and love. If your loved one had a favorite quote, poem, Bible verse, or song lyric, that should be your first choice. We also have a wide variety of quote collections to help you, including life celebration, eulogy quotes, epitaph Bible verses, comforting Scripture verses, and even some off-the-wall funeral humor bits which could, with the right crowd, serve as fun and cheeky ice-breakers.

11. Funeral Songs

Memorial Service Ideas

A favorite song played at the right time can provide an appropriately emotional or nostalgic touch. Plan music with care, so that it isn’t 3-5 minutes of attendees waiting awkwardly for a song to finish; if possible, use music as a transition, to provide a time of reflection, or during the viewing.

If you’re looking for fitting music to use in these types of transitions, here are lists of popular contemporary songs, classical music, and traditional hymns used during funerals. And here is a well-edited funeral music compilation with instrumental tracks of classical pieces and traditional hymns.

12. Dove Release

Memorial Service Ideas

Dove releases have become a popular way to end a funeral or life celebration. The release is a symbolic yet tactile way to help family members in the grieving process by a literal act of “letting go.” This adds a poignant sense of hope and beauty to the memorial service.

13. Butterfly Release

Ideas for Memorial Service

An alternative to the dove release is arranging a butterfly release. As the butterflies are released, read a poem, say a prayer, or play your loved one’s favorite song. Allow the guests to mingle among the butterflies before moving on to the reception. A butterfly release is ideal in tandem with one of our beautiful butterfly urns.

Avoid: Balloon Release

Memorial Service Ideas

We had originally featured a balloon release as one of our memorial service ideas. It has been noted, however, that a balloon release is not good for the environment. Please consider this as you think of alternatives to a balloon release. If you are still interest in a balloon release, be sure to get biodegradable balloons, such as this set of 10 dove-shaped eco-friendly baloons.

Final Disposition

14. Scattering

Memorial Service Ideas

If you are planning on scattering cremated remains, think about incorporating the scattering into the service itself. You can hold a memorial service at the location of scattering, or plan the service so that it leads into the scattering at a different location.

Previously on this blog we’ve detailed 27 Things to Do with Cremated Remains. The list includes standards such as ocean scattering, scattering at home or other private property, or at a favorite outdoor locations. We also list unique, exciting, and even bizarre scattering choices including planting as a tree, shooting off as fireworks, launching into space, mixed into the paint in a custom painting, made into pencils, and more.

15. Biodegradable Shell Urn

Memorial Service Ideas

If you’re planning on a water scattering or burial, there are a variety of water-soluble and eco-friendly urns so that you can avoid actually pouring out the remains, such as the above Biodegradable Shell Urn.

Once the urn is placed in water (or in the earth; these are also perfect for an eco-friendly ground burial) the plant fibers help soak up water so the urn quickly dissolves. Finished with earth friendly water soluble paints for a natural look.

More biodegradable cremation urns

16. Plant a Memorial Tree

Memorial Service Ideas

If outdoor burial (away from a cemetery) will be part of the memorial service, one option is to plant a memorial tree urn using our unique Biodegradable Memorial Tree Urns. We offer a wide selection of trees which grow using the cremated remains in a proprietary mixture which nourishes and sustains the memorial tree. Have attendees participate in the planting process for a time of healing and connecting with nature. Shop the collection here.

Group Participation

17. Memorial Stones

Memorial Service Ideas

Set up a table near the entrance with river rock and permanent markers, and instruct each person to write a brief note on the rock expressing their love, grief, or cherished memories. These stones can then be read aloud during the service, or be scattered at a favorite fishing hole or hiking trail, kept by the family, placed around a garden bed, and so forth. Here is a neat set that includes a decorative vase.

18. Share Memories at an Open Mic

Memorial Service Ideas

Be sure to include an “open mic” time for family and friends to share favorite memories. These times are often the highlights of the service, treasured for unveiling little-known nuggets of touching generosity or laugh-out-loud humor, and allowing those who best grieve publicly to have an opportunity to express their thoughts and memories.

19. My Special Memory of You Cards

Memorial service ideas

This set of memory cards (see here for more info) comes in a complete package which includes a lovely ivory storage pouch, printed “my special memory of you” cards, and even pens. These cards provide attendees at the memorial service an opportunity to write down their memories and can serve as a written record of the “open mic” session as well as provide a resource of touching stories for the family of the decedent to treasure and remember.

20. Memorial Blessing Tree

Memorial Service Ideas

The “blessing tree” is a popular activity for baby showers, but also works as a memorial service idea. Display a small tree or a small tree-like creation, and provide tags or cards for attendees to write a blessing or note of encouragement to the family, or as an opportunity to express love or grief directly to the departed loved one (similar to the memorial stones, above).

Tip: Use a money tree and cut out your own “leaf” cards

21. Build A Cairn

Memorial Service Ideas

A cairn is a man-made pile of rocks, often used as a landmark. If you will be scattering remains, or even just conducting the memorial service in the great outdoors, having those present help in building a cairn in honor of your loved one will allow everyone to contribute during the service, and will also leave a landmark in memory of the departed which can be revisited by all.

Keepsakes & Giveaways

22. Favorite Candy Bar

Memorial Service Ideas

Did he love Milky Way bars? Did she always have a pack of Wintergreen Trident? Incorporate a favorite candy bar, chewing gum, or other treat into the memorial service by passing them out as people enter, or by having them in easy-to-reach bowls on each table at the reception. It will add a splash of fun and some spark discussion of fond memories while providing a little treat to the attendees.

23. Pocket Charms

Memorial service ideas

Little trinkets such as these pewter heart shaped pocket charms, which come in an attractive organza pouch and include a printed card with a memorial poem, are popular as a way of honoring the memory of a loved one while saying ‘thank you’ to those who attended the funeral or life celebration. These are among our most popular memorial service ideas, and also come in shamrock and  angel designs.

24. Memorial Tree Seedlings

Memorial Service Ideas

Give out memorial tree seedlings for attendees to plant in honor of your loved one. This is a beautiful gesture in celebration of life, and of your loved one’s life in particular. You’ll hear from guests about how and where they planted their tree, and it is encouraging to know that a memory lives on.

25. Wear a Memorial Photo

Memorial service ideas

Pass out mini photos of the loved one which can be worn during the service or celebration. This will give that crafty person in the family an opportunity to use their imagination – create a photo clip attached to flowers as in the picture above, make necklaces with the photo, order photo buttons or wristbands, etc.

Having Fun

26. Memorial Fireworks

Memorial service ideas

Light off fireworks during or after the memorial service to provide a splash of color and light, and to emphasize that the purpose of the memorial is a celebration of life. You can use real fireworks if available, or try this LED Fireworks Projector which can be used indoors.

27. Floating Lanterns

Memorial Service Ideas

Floating lanterns, also known as sky lanterns, have been a traditional part of many culture’s celebrations and holidays for generations. Lighting a candle for the deceased is a common memorial tradition, so it is fitting (and beautiful) to combine these traditions by lighting sky lanterns during or after the memorial service. To keep costs down, here are six ways to make your own floating lanterns for a memorial service.

28. BYOB After Party

Memorial Service Ideas

Truly celebrate the life of your loved one by inviting friends and family to raise a glass to their memory. Or if wine was their thing, a personalized oak barrel that dispenses boxed wine will provide a brilliant and memorable centerpiece to the after party or reception.

29. Sandwich Bar

Memorial Service Ideas

Sandwiches are delicious and easy to make, and relatively affordable. Invite guests to stay after the service and share stories and memories during the memorial reception with a build-your-own-sandwich bar.

Tip: Use these elegant 3-tier serving trays to create a sandwich buffet

30. Buffet Reception

Memorial Service Ideas

Buffets help keep the costs down, while still affording attendees the opportunity to share a meal together and continue to process grief, encourage the family, and share memories. You can also incorporate a buffet into the decorating scheme by asking attendees to bring dishes in an ethnic or party theme.

31. Make Beads from Funeral Flowers

Memorial Service Ideas

Upcycle the funeral flowers by making them into beads for memorial jewelry. Step-by-step instructions here.

32. Treasure Hunt

Unique Memorial Service Ideas

Creative Funeral Ideas has an easy guide to creating a treasure hunt memorial, which celebrates highlights from the deceased’s life while getting everyone up and out of pews or chairs and into the great outdoors. Great for honoring someone who loved to hike.

33. Viking-Style Sendoff

Memorial Service Ideas

In the modern day and age, a Viking-style funeral will only work using cremated remains, due to burial regulations for full-body funerals. But there is little to stop you from a water scattering of ashes via a Viking funeral pyre, or simply having a funeral pyre ship as a memorial after the burial. Here are some tips for a successful Viking-style sendoff.

34. Get Social

Memorial Service Ideas

Was the deceased active on social media? Have attendees live-Tweet, #hashtag their Instagram photos, or post photos and messages from the service directly onto a memorialized Facebook page. This is a simple way to allow guests to participate and interact with the memory of your loved one.

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34 thoughts on “34 Unique Memorial Service Ideas

  1. […] is what will make the memorial most beautiful in your memories, and will usually cost very little. Celebtrate with a tailgate party, create a treasure hunt, display nerdy collectibles, make beads fr…. Make it your own, do it yourself, and the memories will be treasured […]

  2. […] reduce the amount of stress we will already go through with the passing of one another. There are many ideas on the internet and the choices are unlimited. All that matters is that you put it in writing and let people know […]

  3. Please do not release balloons! Balloon releasing is illegal in many states because it is harmful to wild life. Just think, you release a dozen balloons in honor of someone who has passed only to cause the death of fish, birds and animals. Plant a tree, create a flower bed where others who are participating bring flowers to plant, blow bubbles to the wind with a memory of the person who has passed, set a place for the loved one at the table, float a natural materials wreath on the water….use the imagination and do what the person you have lost might do.

  4. I agree with so many of these, but NOT with any of them that go aloft and can/could end up in the water injuring animals or making debris (the paper lanterns). ALL of them are better than balloons!

  5. For those who are concerned about releasing balloons-biodegradable balloons are available these days. They are eco friendly and do not cause harm to animals. However, there are many more gestures that may be more suitable and are far more acceptable to all. Releasing birds or butterflies (many companies now have breeding programs for these specific activities), planting flowers, trees or making a memorial garden are wonderful, sustainable memorials. Messages to your loved one on pebbles, flowers thrown onto a lake in memory of your loved one, sponsor an animal shelter pen or similar. However you decide to do it will have special meaning to you and those you loved.

  6. Laurie,
    Thank you for the idea of blowing bubbles. Great idea I was worried about the balloons.

  7. Even biodegradable balloons endanger wildlife. Degradable is the operative word. It takes time for them to completely meld with the environment, and is an area where wildlife abounds, they are a danger. My husband designed a rock pile in our front yard but never could decide what to plant there. I am going to provide small cacti in biodegradable containers for planting. Our local florist has a great array, perfect for a desert memorial.

  8. I absolutely love these ideas! My beloved uncle passed away after old age and everyone has been at peace. We want to have a happy memorial service for him as we are thinking of cremating him. I think that we will go with the balloon,s pictures, and theme idea! He would have wanted a light ambiance. Thank you for the ideas!

  9. I am dying soon and will have table (if I gt it done in time) with all the main intersdts of my life first make a list of those then make a foldd cardboard sign witht eh interest on it and then find oject/s to represent it

    for example cooking a favorite cookbook or one that reflects the kind of diet he had vegan etc and something like a cheese grater and some wooden spoons, reading some favorite books, birds some ceramic birds, healthy living some herbs and supplements etc / movies picture or poster of favorite movie, zoos a few plastic zoo animals, rocks some pretty rocks, singing some sheet music, and so forth

    can do a list of their strengths, key moments, statistics with some pictures

    something to reflect profession

    I am having during sit down portion start with a song then talk of childhpood have someone there during childhood talk about them, then move on to older yeas, marriage, children (during this the kids who want to speak), occupation and inters ts (song and someone speaks) later years etc during each segment one has a song and a person eulogize the deceased,,,make a printed program with song verses and who is speaking end with opening the floor if anyone wants to say something,

    at graveside play some spirituals song on recorder and a group singalong song..

    I was just writing all this out for my sons and decided to look for any other ideas as I want the funeral to reflect me and saw this and jotted down some of my ideas for others.

    you can make the tablecloth for th eintersts white or match the flowers and put a small vase of flowers there (I would use a gel thing instead of water or put stems in cut flower thing that florist use to hld a cut flower so water will not spill on objects or not much water or maybe artificial f,lowers id they do not look too tacky

  10. […] services don’t have to be extravagant. There are simple and meaningful ways to add personal touches. No matter how large or small the gesture, adding personal details to […]

  11. […] would say “Look it up!” So, in her honor, I did “Look it up” and while there are wonderful ideas on the internet about how to memorialize/mourn someone, I just couldn’t find one that felt […]

  12. Skywriting is another popular event to have at your love one’s services. It’s beautiful to see and create. You can put your love one’s name in the sky with a heart and watch it dissipate to the heavens. offer this service. Their very helpful and compassionate about your needs.

  13. to get that nautical theme check out for their Canoe Caskets. There is even a viking theme addition if you want a viking funeral.

  14. Jane, we are planning a celebration of life for my mother and I love the idea of your memory table I can/’t wait to tell my sister and plan for it. Thank you. God Bless

  15. There are balloons made from rice paper now and can be used for balloon releases, they do not pose a problem to animals in any way as they simply dissolve. The only draw back with these balloons is rain, as they will start to come apart if they get too wet.

    I work at a funeral home and we use these anytime a family wants to do a balloon release – and they are reasonably priced.

  16. I’m planning a celebration of life for my father. It’s odd not to have to do funeral or wake as my father donated his body to science. Case Western Reserve University has his remains for a year and then will cremate him returning ashes to family. While looking at ideas I noticed the place setting idea which I love and I’m thinking I will put together a very generic white squares of material next to squares I could cut out of a few of his favorite clothes or blankets and make a quilt using it as a tablecloth but I think maybe I’ll put several colors of fabric markers by the table and ask people to write a memory or sign it..maybe it can totally be a keepsake since we have no place to go for continued grieving like a cemetery or urn etc. my father also was a shot and a beer kind of guy so maybe I’ll lay out a beer and many shot glasses, his favorite whiskey….and anyone could do one last shot With him in his honor? Does that sound dumb?

  17. Hi Ellen,

    Great ideas, sounds like those are unique ways to honor your father’s memory. Shots in a loved one’s memory is an ancient tradition. The memory quilt idea is becoming very popular as an alternative to the traditional guestbook:

    Thanks for your comment!


  18. Love these ideas, great post, thanks so much. I’ve been trying to decide what memorial to get for my father who passed some time ago. I have his ashes and was thinking of planting something and getting a memorial bench from here I hadn’t thought of a tree, so thanks for that. Trouble is I am having trouble getting the council to reply for my request of having a bench placed in the spot me and my dad loved to visit down in Kent.

  19. My daughter Elsha M Rivera has been missing for over 12 years since 2004 from fort worth texas the kids are almost grown and dont remember her so they show no interest but I need to move on also, I cant do it by myself any longer do to health issue’s, I am going to presume her deceased and wanna have a service in Utah where her family and old school frieds all live Texas wasnt her home she was just their temporarily so I want to have a 80-90’s dance party after the service with food and drink and oictures of her life displayed everywhere at a pavillion by the cemetary..i wanted to set off balloons and doves at the memorial service give anyone who would like to share a memory and then have everyone write a memory or goodbye in strips of paper and place it in a urn with her picture so that one day the kids of they want to read them or learn more about her they can…
    Then in the evening as during the dance and the sun goes down I want to let off tea lights but have her picture or pictures of others missing all over….as a i now have many missing person family…members…to honor all those missing…in lue of flowers I’d to gather donations for the missing families to also have a balloon or tea light releases down the road

  20. some of these are downright disgusting not to say illegal. Balloon, lanterns butterflies – an absolute disgrace.

  21. I think people need to greive and do what they feel is best for them to greive and celebrate their loved ones life.

    I would guess some of these comments were made by people who have not lost a close loved one such as a parent or a child.

    People have come here to get ideas of sending their loved ones off in a respectable manner. There is no need for people to make unnecessary negative comments during this very hard time in someone’s life.

    You can express your opinion in a nice way other than saying something is a disgrace or disgusting.

    I hope those who came here for help will ignore those people who made insensitive comments.

  22. How insensitive of Liz Wild, my sister (52) died 20/1/2017 I was in Canada awaiting the death of my daughter (49) who passed away 6 days later 26/1/2017 so was unable to attend her funeral. I am trying to find a fitting way to celebrate their lives.

  23. Very nice blog, it’s very helpful.

  24. Wow great ideas…I am in particular need of a location without ashes or a coffin.. simple center for the meeting of family members spiritual and quite so everyone can share their memories and thoughts together.

  25. William – Locations for Memorials and/or Celebration of Life Services are abundant.
    The following are just some of the locations I have delivered services in my capacity of Funeral Celebrant:
    – Meeting room at a hotel
    – The deceased’s home.
    – The deceased’s place of work
    – Golf Course
    – A Legion or other group meeting place
    – Funeral Home
    – A public garden or park

    – Hope this helps you out.

    Funeral Celebrant
    Vancouver, BC, Canada


  27. Thank you for all the unique memorial service ideas. My family really wants to do a memorial service, but we don’t know what to do. I like your idea of doing a balloon release. It would allow everyone to participate which would be really fun.

  28. What we did so that everyone could participate is we hired a videographer
    He was able to record the scheduled speeches as well as the opportunity for others to say something nice and feel that they were part of the reception / service
    We then had it prepared with music and we now have it as an awesome keepsake

  29. I want to begin by thanking everyone for sharing ideas for such a special yet final moment.

    My Mom passed away two weeks ago and in looking for our brother (who was estranged for 16 years) we discovered that he had passed away last year. We are now having a memorial service for both. We will have Mom’s ashes but so far nothing of his. I’m planning to have a slide show with their pictures as well including family and friends to remind us of happier times. Also, a memorial table with still pictures and a candle for each. My Mom loved plants so I’ve included one for the table and for memory cards I’ve made some in the shape of a flower for Mom and for him in the shape of a car (he made his love of cars his career). I also purchased flower seeds and will set them out in a vase like a bouquet of flowers as keepsakes.
    I hope this helps someone who like me, was looking for ideas to make a celebration of life for a loved one.

  30. I lost my father when I was eleven years old. I’m only in high school right now, but I realize the dangers of releasing balloons, including the “biodegradable” ones. I wrote an essay this past school year on why balloon releases should be illegal, which required a lot of research, therefore I am very knowledgeable on the subject. Not to mention I’m already making plans to pursuit a degree in marine biology. I believe balloon releases should be considered littering everywhere on earth. I just can’t understand why littering would be beneficial to a grieving heart. It doesn’t really make sense to kill an innocent sea turtle because someone is upset that they lost someone close. Again, I’ve dealt with grief at a very young age. I understand that it is a difficult time in people’s lives. I still believe that there is no reason balloon releases should be acceptable. Planting trees or flowers, blowing bubbles, taking a trip, or scattering ashes would be much better (or even beneficial) to the environment. Let’s stop littering because of a loved one’s death and let’s start doing unique activities that aren’t as common. In celebration of my dad’s life my family planted trees and flowers in our backyard, scattered his ashes in places where he would like, and take roadtrips that he would enjoy.

  31. Great ideas. I like it. Thanks for sharing such a useful content which will help people in some way.

  32. I like how you said to choose a theme for your funeral. I am helping my grandma pre-plan her funeral right now. Thanks for the ideas for a funeral service.

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