Last Updated on November 26, 2019
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 accommodate 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 in between, the abundance of choices and the lessening of a widely accepted standard increases the pressure on the family to choose 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.
34 CREATIVE MEMORIAL SERVICE IDEAS
Table of Contents:
- During the Service
- Final Disposition
- Group Participation
- Keepsakes & Giveaways
- Having Fun
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! See our full disclosure here.
So here are some of the most unique memorial service ideas to inspire your creativity.
Memorial Service Ideas: Decor
1. Funeral Flowers
Funeral flowers come in all colors, styles, and designs. Traditionally, the flowers for a memorial service are often white, but there’s no requirement to stick with white. You can use the memorial service florals to honor your loved one in a unique and creative way. Go bold and colorful, or choose a particular flower or color as part of an overall theme. Or keep it classy and simple, but with splashes of gentle, muted colors.
Your funeral service decor theme can include hobbies, organizations and associations, sports, interests, and much more. There are also 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.
Most of these are available through your local florist. Here are two creative “alternative” funeral flower resources that we like:
- The Bouqs – Fresh cut flowers grown responsibly (Read our review here)
- Paisley Moon – Sola wood flower bouquets with soft, gentle colors
2. Scholarship Fund in Lieu of Flowers
One option for memorial service decoration is to not do so. If flowers don’t seem quite right, or if they are already supplied or unnecessary for some reason, include a note in the invitation that funeral attendees can 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. It can be anything from an actual scholarship fund set up in the decedent’s name to a donation to the local branch of a charity in which they were involved.
This is a powerful, meaningful, and lasting way to celebrate one life by impacting the lives of others.
3. 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.
I know Mary Ann personally and not only does she do stunningly graceful work, but she is a dear friend who has a talent for truly “capturing” the spirit of a person in a memorial portrait. She can work from photographs and, through continual and compassionate communication with the family about the piece, creates gently emotive and visually appealing memorial paintings.
If you’re considering a memorial portrait, we have some tips to help you find the perfect artist to suit your needs. You can get memorial portraits done fairly quickly and affordably by shopping on Etsy (this can be a great option if the memorial service is coming up soon). If you have more time, you will probably want to do a more thorough search to find the perfect artist, and depending on the artist their work can take from one to six months.
4. Memorial Service Photos
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.
Most often the family chooses a photograph that ideally represents their loved one and gets it printed in a large format. Sometimes this is a print in a frame set onto a table, or it could be a large canvas displayed on an easel.
Other creative ideas for photos include:
- Laser engraved wooden photo plaque
- Cremation urns with built-in photo frame
- Customized photo board print with name & dates
5. Engraved Photo Cremation Urns
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.
The urn pictured above is cultured black granite and engraves a lovely white tone. Photos show up very well as essentially black & white portraits, and you also get the custom inscription included at no extra charge. This has long been one of our most popular urns.
We also have a variety of other urns we can engrave with a photo, including gorgeous wooden urns. See all our photo urns here.
6. Customized Memorial Candles
These customized memorial candles are a bright and beautiful addition to the memorial service decor. Set the mood with your own personalized memorial candle, which includes custom engraving of any text or photo and will serve as a special keepsake for the family after the service has ended.
These are flameless LED candles, made from wax and with realistic flicker patterns. They look great, no one will know the difference, and since you won’t actually be burning anything you will be able to display the candle as a special keepsake for years to come. Many designs available here.
Showcase your loved one’s hobbies and passions by displaying a collection of things that interested them. This can be a part of the main table, set up near the guest book at the entry, displayed as centerpieces on reception tables, or all of the above.
Display his collection of baseball cards, stamps, or Magic: The Gathering cards. Showcase her scrapbook creations, nature photography, or Wizard of Oz collectibles. People collect all sorts of things from Star Wars figurines to stamps to coins to rocks and more.
Whatever they collected can be displayed simply on a table near the entrance or can be the backbone of the decorating color scheme. Use your imagination!
8. Choose a Theme
Decorate in a way that expresses your loved one’s heritage, favorite sports teams, hobbies, military or charitable service, religion, or other interests.
Perhaps someone was known for their love of doughnuts, and their favorite color was pink. Easy! Serve doughnuts at the reception, with a soft pink decorating theme and beautiful pink funeral flowers.
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.
The ideas are endless!
Memorial Service Ideas: During the Service
9. Memorial Slideshow
Create a memorial slide show to project photos or videos of your loved one. This can be done as a montage with music during the service, or played on a loop in the background during the reception.
If you choose to do a slideshow during the memorial service, keep it between 3-5 minutes, or the length of 1-2 songs. Sometimes there are just too many great photos and you’ll feel like you want to display every single one. That’s ok! Just don’t make a 30 minute slideshow for the service; instead, play the 30 minute slideshow during the reception when people can be more relaxed.
When organizing a slideshow of photos from all stages of the individual’s life, make sure you 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
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 quotes for life celebration, eulogies, Bible verses, hymns, prayers, and even some off-the-wall funeral humor bits which could, with the right crowd, serve as fun and cheeky ice-breakers.
Memorial Service Quote collections:
- Life Celebration Quotes
- Eulogy Quotes
- Bible Verses for an Epitaph
- Comforting Scripture Verses
- Christ-Centered Funeral Hymns
- Biblical Funeral Prayers
- Funeral Humor, Memes, & Jokes
11. Funeral Songs
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
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
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
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. Balloons are non-biodegradable and can land anywhere, ruining animal and plant habitats.
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.
Memorial Service Ideas: Final Disposition
14. Scattering Ashes
If you are planning on scattering cremated remains, think about including the scattering as part of 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. Check it out, perhaps it will inspire you with more creative memorial service ideas!
15. Biodegradable Shell Urn
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.
16. Plant a Memorial Tree
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.
Memorial Service Ideas: Group Participation
17. Memorial Stones
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.
The memorial 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.
18. Share Memories at an Open Mic
It’s a great idea to 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.
Sometimes this can occur during the actual service, but you may not want to take the chance of just letting anyone take the stage. Or perhaps you’re worried about it going too long or a host of other issues. Perhaps the best way to “limit the damage” of any of these concerns is to have the open mic during the reception, where the atmosphere can be a little less formal than the memorial service itself.
In any event, make sure that there is a good microphone with speakers at an appropriate volume set up. Have someone experienced act as an MC to gracefully handle transitions and any uncomfortable situations.
19. My Special Memory of You Cards
This set of memory cards (see here for more info) comes in a complete package which includes a lovely ivory storage pouch and a set of printed “my special memory of you” cards.
Memory 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. It’s a beautiful resource of brief, heartfelt stories for the family of the decedent to treasure and remember.
You can pass them out at a set time during the service, set them out on at the entrance near the guest book, or scatter them on the reception tables for people to fill out while they eat and socialize.
20. Memorial Blessing Tree
The “blessing tree” is a popular activity for baby showers, and the same idea goes for a wedding “wishing tree. It also works as a creative memorial service idea.
Display a small tree or a small tree-like creation (like the one pictured above), 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). This can serve as the guest book or simply a way for attendees to express their sympathy.
Tip: Use a money tree and cut out your own “leaf” cards
Here are a few angles you can take on this idea. Just choose an apt name and write out brief instructions so people get the idea:
- Sympathy Tree – to express condolences to the family
- Memorial Tree – to write a brief memory or message to the departed loved one
- Goodbye Tree – a way to say goodbye
- Prayer Tree – prayers offered up for the loved one and their family
- Blessing Tree – to offer blessings for the loved one and those in grief
- Celebration of Life Tree – express ways that the deceased had a wonderful, meaningful life
21. Build A Cairn
One unique memorial service idea is to build a stone memorial cairn. A cairn is a man-made pile of rocks, often used as a landmark but also from ancient times marking burial sites.
This can be over the place where they are buried (if on private property or if the cemetery allows it). But a cairn doesn’t necessarily have to mark a burial location. Rather, it can be done at a favorite hiking or fishing spot, in your garden at home, or any other favorite outdoor spot.
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.
Memorial Service Keepsakes & Giveaways
22. Favorite Candy or Candy Bars
Consider having a favorite candy in easy-to-reach bowls on each table at the reception, or pass out their favorite candy bar as parting gifts to attendees. Set up a display table near the exit with a photo of the person with their candy, and have bags of candy or bars with a note to take and enjoy in memory of your loved one.
Candy will add a splash of fun and some spark discussion of fond memories while providing a little treat to the attendees.
23. Memorial Pocket Charms
Little trinkets or keepsakes, called “funeral favors,” are a popular way to honor the memory of a loved one while saying ‘thank you’ to those who attended the funeral or life celebration.
These pewter heart shaped pocket charms, pictured above, come in an attractive organza pouch and include a printed card with a memorial poem. The charms are among our most popular memorial service ideas, and also come in shamrock and angel designs.
For more funeral favor ideas, see here.
24. Memorial Tree Seedlings
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. It’s also a lovely way to say “thank you” to those who attended the memorial service.
Ask guests to report back about how and where they planted their tree. It is always encouraging to know that there are trees growing throughout the region in honor of your loved one, allowing their memory to live on.
25. Wear a Memorial Photo
Pass out photo buttons of the loved one which can be worn during the service or celebration. This will provide a sense of unity while also giving each person a memorial keepsake to take home.
Or consider making them yourself as a DIY memorial service project. If you have a crafty person in the family, this can be a way for them to help out and use their abilities as well as an opportunity to use their imagination. Create a personalized button as in the picture above, make a photo clip attached to flowers, or create necklaces and wristbands with the photo as the charm.
Memorial Service Ideas: Having Fun
26. Memorial Fireworks
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. This will be a truly memorable event for all who attend.
You can use real fireworks if available, or try this LED Fireworks Projector which can be used indoors.
27. Floating Lanterns
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.
28. BYOB After Party
Truly celebrate the life of your loved one by inviting friends and family to raise a glass to their memory. Throw a BYOB after party and let the memories flow freely.
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
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. Potluck Buffet Reception
A potluck buffer will help keep the costs down, while still affording attendees the opportunity to share a meal together. Meals are important because it allows everyone at the funeral to continue to process their 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. You can also consider asking for certain colors of food, or keep it simple with finger foods and snack plates, or do a dessert-only buffet.
Don’t underestimate the power of allowing others to contribute. When people have something to do for you and the family, it is a tangible way for them to express their own grief as well as sympathy to you. As you host a potluck reception after the memorial service, you are opening the doors for everyone to come together in support and fellowship.
31. Make Beads from Funeral Flowers
Upcycle the funeral flowers by making them into beads for memorial jewelry. You can order them online here (they’ll have you send in your funeral flowers), or make them yourself by following these step-by-step instructions here.
Memorial beads made from funeral flowers can be something just for you, for a select group of family and friends, or a special token to include in your thank-you notes.
32. Treasure Hunt
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, who loved the outdoors, or for anyone with an adventurous spirit.
33. Viking-Style Sendoff
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
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.
Invite people to post photos and stories to the person’s page, or tag them in a post. Create a hashtag (for instance, #inmemoryofjohndoe2019) and there will be an online digital location for the family to see photos from the memorial service, interact with friends and family, see old photos they may have never seen before, and read stories of their loved one’s beautiful life.