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’s a culturally “traditional” service, a “life celebration” party, or something in between, the abundance of choices and the lack of a widely accepted standard increases the pressure on the family to choose the right elements and tailor the service “how they would have wanted it.”
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.
55 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 décor theme can include hobbies, organizations and associations, sports, interests, and much more. Florists have made funeral flowers and casket sprays representing airplanes, motorcycles, footballs, guitars, gardening, police, crosses, cowboys, 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 in lieu of flowers.
These donations can be collected and given to a charitable organization or a fund that 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.
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
LINK / photo
It is appropriate and touching to display a photo of the decedent. 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:
- Customized funeral welcome signs with photo, name & dates
- A 3-dimensional image etched in glass
- Cremation urns with built-in photo frame
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 memorial candles are a bright and beautiful addition to the memorial service décor. 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 flameless LED candles are made from wax and feature 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 décor. Have photos of the inner city kids they mentored, or Habitat for Humanity projects, or volleyball teams they coached.
The ideas are endless!
9. Decorate a Story Table
Place your loved one’s personal belongings, photos, and favorite items on a table. Use the items to tell their life story.
You can also include personal items that spark memories such movie tickets, poetry, or souvenirs from family vacations. Cover the table with a roll of paper and let people write their own notes and stories!
10. Create a Memorial Website for your Beloved
A memorial website is easy to create and provide a space for funeral information, RSVPs, reception/potluck details, condolence messages, even donations.
Create and share a special hashtag so that anyone can tag photos they take at the memorial. On the website, include places for people to write out their favorite memories or notes to the beloved and/or their families. A virtual video of the service can also be posted on the site.
11. Live Music
Many people hire musicians for the service, to play hymns to sing or contemplative classical music during moments of reflection.
For the reception or a memorial that has more of a “life celebration” feel, get the party started with live music. Be sure to have them play covers of your loved one’s favorite songs.
12. Hang up a Memory Quilt
Bring quilt squares and have family members and friends decorate them with messages and artwork using permanent markers. Quilt squares can be purchased, or cut out of your loved one’s clothing to create a special tribute blanket.
This will be a meaningful memorial project to work on as you assemble pieces of your loved one’s favorite clothing articles and read all the special tributes.
13. Decorate a Memorial Tree
There are lots of ways to get creative with this idea. Perhaps you have the memorial at home in your backyard; in that case, hang ornaments or notes from your loved one’s favorite tree.
Otherwise, purchase a decent sized live tree in a pot. If it’s near the holidays, get a Christmas tree to display at the service.
Have everyone place ribbons, photos, notes, or ornaments on the tree. Each can include a special message. For instance attendees can write a tribute on these ornaments. Or print 50 of your favorite photos of your loved one, punch a hole in each, and have people write a message on the back, tie on a ribbon, and hang it from the tree.
Memorial Service Ideas: During the Service
14. 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 version 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.
15. 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
16. 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 an open-casket viewing.
If you’re looking for fitting music to use in these types of transitions, here is a master list of popular funeral songs. Other specific genres include:
Here’s a great download of mellow, instrumental versions of hymns and classical pieces such as Abide with Me and Canon in D.
17. 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.
18. Wear their Favorite Colors
During the service, everyone can wear the beloved’s favorite color in their honor. This is a fun way to get around the traditional black and answer the question on each person’s mind of, “What do I wear to the funeral?”
This time, the answer is: Purple! Or red or yellow or camo. Perhaps Hawaiian shirts or something with skulls or rainbows or puppies. Roll Tide. Hail State. Boomer Sooner. You know what they wore – and what it means.
19. Create a Memorial Capsule
Place a box where loved ones can place personal letters, favorite memories, photos, or items that represent your beloved to them in the box.
20. Decorate a White Coffin with Farewell Messages
Choose a white coffin for mourners to write personal messages as they say farewell one last time.
Read 100 Best Saying Goodbye Messages for inspiration on what to write.
21. Light a Candle in Memory
Lighting a candle in memory of a departed loved one is a way to pay tribute to their life and legacy. Have one candle as a centerpiece up front, or give everyone a candle to light at a special moment in the service.
Avoid: Balloon Release
Back in 2014, we had originally featured a balloon release as one of our memorial service ideas. Commenters quickly noted that balloon releases have some serious downsides. 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 interested in a balloon release, be sure to get biodegradable balloons.
Virtual Memorial Service Ideas
22. Choose Accessible Video Platforms
NOTE: such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Facebook Messenger
There are many ways to livestream the funeral or memorial service. Thankfully, many funeral homes are now set up to provide this for you.
However, it could be an additional funeral expense that you want to avoid, or you may want to stream a private service, or maybe you’re skipping the funeral home entirely. Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger and many more are available to use for free.
For a simple stream, all you’ll need is a smartphone, internet connection, and probably a tripod to make sure the video is steady. Then share the link to the stream on social media or on the memorial website, and you’re good to go.
23. Create Downloadable Funeral Program & Invites
If you’re going all-virtual, then there’s no need to print the funeral programs or invitation. Use one of these templates to create a gorgeous digital invitation and matching funeral program, then post online or send individually to each contact.
You can, of course, also print locally, online, or at home for anyone who wants a physical copy.
24. Hire someone to make sure the virtual service goes smoothly
LINK <- I found this company that helps plan virtual funerals
Memorial services are important, and should be done with excellence and dignity. While some people prefer to DIY, others appreciate what a professional can bring to the table.
A good funeral home will help you arrange both the in-person and virtual aspects of the memorial service. There are also companies out there like this one that specialize in creating beautiful online services.
Memorial Service Ideas for Cremation
25. 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 68 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!
Related: What to Say When Scattering Ashes
26. 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.
Find more biodegradable cremation urns here.
27. 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.
Here are more ways to plant a tree in memory.
28. Memorial Jewelry
Gather around and divide the remains among family members, placing a small amount of ashes (or a lock of hair) into cremation jewelry necklaces or rings.
Many families let the funeral home take care of this, or fill the necklaces at home. But you could incorporate the process into the memorial service as part of the ceremony to make it a little more meaningful. You could also fil the jewelry beforehand and then everyone can wear their jewelry to the service.
Memorial Service Ideas: Group Participation
29. 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.
The lovely multicolored rocks pictured above are Alaskan river rocks, which look amazing displayed in a glass vase.
Find more creative funeral guest book ideas here.
30. 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.
31. 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.
For customizable memory cards, check out our professionally designed cards here (matching funeral programs are also available).
32. 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.
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
33. 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.
Children & Baby Memorial Ideas
34. Bubble Release
If your child loved bubbles, you can take time to blow bubbles into the sky in their honor. This cute memorial idea hits all the right notes: Meaningful and sweet, beautiful and fun, simple and affordable.
35. 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.
36. 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.
37. Footprint Memorial Ring
If you have your little one’s footprint, have it etched onto this lovely memorial ring. Wear it always to show the love you shared.
This can be made with or without an inner compartment, which can hold a lock of hair, cremated ashes, or some other small remembrance.
Keepsakes & Giveaways
38. 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.
39. Memorial Tree Seedlings
Give out memorial tree seedlings to all attendees. This is a meaningful and life-centered way to pay tribute to your loved one.
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.
40. 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.
41. Christmas Tree Ornaments
If the memorial service is around the holiday season, consider giving out Christmas ornaments.
Here are 35 of our favorite memorial ornaments, which include many gorgeous personalized options like the ones shown above, plus DIY clear ornaments which you can fill with preserved funeral flowers, a special message written to your loved one, photos, and more.
42. Memorial Bookmarks
Create your own personalized memorial bookmarks with your loved one’s photo, name and dates, plus a sweet sentiment.
This is a simple, easy memorial tribute that you can give out at the service, and people can use them in books and Bibles or display them on the fridge or family bulletin board.
43. Tree of Memories
This adorable Tree of Memories comes with little heart papers so that attendees can write favorite memories, final farewells, or special messages of comfort to the family.
Place one at each table during the reception and watch the trees blossom with comforting and encouraging words.
Memorial Service Ideas: Having Fun
44. 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.
45. 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.
They are pretty simple to get online, but if you want to keep costs down, here are some ways to make your own floating lanterns for a memorial service.
46. Memorial Tattoos
Here’s a fun activity for the service or reception. Personalize a temporary tattoo memorial that everyone can place on their arm, and sport matching memorials as you gather, share a meal, and reminisce.
Or, as part of a private family celebration of life, go together and get matching real tattoos.
47. 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. Get some personalized memorial glasses to pay tribute to your loved one.
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.
48. 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.
49. 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 might 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.
50. Make Beads from Funeral Flowers
Upcycle the funeral flowers by making them into beads for memorial jewelry. Learn how to 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.
Here are several other methods for preserving funeral flowers, plus some creative keepsake ideas to make from them.
51. 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.
52. 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.
Here are some tips for a successful Viking-style sendoff.
53. 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.
You can also create a memorial website (for free) and encourage everyone to post photos, condolences, memories, and farewell messages. The website will be online forever, and you can always visit it to read the notes and stories and see photos of your loved one.
54. Play Their Favorite Games
55. Host a Picnic
Instead of the tradition venue of the funeral home or a church, why not do the memorial service at a favorite park? Have everyone pack a picnic blanket and a basket with sides to share, then grill some burgers and let the kids roam and play.
What a wonderful way to celebrate your loved one! Believe it or not, we have even more ideas here: 100 Inspirational Celebration of Life Ideas for an Amazing Person.
Ready to plan? Get our Funeral Planning Checklist
This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated and adapted throughout the years to keep up with current trends, best products, and the most accurate information.