Creating a Memorial Service

Creating a Memorial Service - image by Gerd Altmann

This Creating a Memorial Service section covers :   The entrance, meet and great, the Order of Service, Graphic Designers v DIY, ideas in what to give guests, themes and ideas, Musicians and Acts, the Eulogy, Tributes.

The actual Memorial Service and leading up to it, can contain multiple elements that you may want to include.  Here are ideas and things to possibly think about. It is the biggest section of the Memorial Service article. This section contains the BIGGEST number of ideas and suggestions we have ever seen or been collated on the Internet. We will also be updating this section periodically to include more and more ideas for you.



Creating a Memorial Service - Meet and Greet

When guests walk-in to the Memorial Service venue, many have no idea what to expect or what is going to happen in the next 30-60 minutes (or longer). They may never have been to a Memorial service before.

It is a good idea to nominate or have a few Meet and Greet people at the entrance door. This can be  family members, well known friends to all, or even venue staff.

Their job is to say, ‘Welcome to the Memorial Service’ hand out an Order of Service to each guest or couple, be a welcoming face and answer any questions attendees may have.  Having a friendly and perhaps known face to everyone, can set the tone and ease anyone’s anxiety. Venue staff generally do not have the same significance or importance.

What ever you wish to ‘give’ to guests / attendees as they enter is up to you.

As ideas, it could include:

  • A button hole flower.
  • A Button badge with his/her picture.
  • A Candle.
  • A piece of chalk.
  • A Pen and note paper for a Memory Jar.
  • A Post-It note for a message board.
  • A small picture / image of him/her.
  • A refreshment or Welcome drink.
  • An Order of Service programme/booklet.

The Order of Service

What is an Order of Service?
An Order of Service can be a sheet of paper right up to a small booklet that outlines what is going to happen, in what order during the service as well as poems, readings The Lord’s Prayer and any other information you wish to give your guests/attendees.

Where there are expected responses in the service or hymns that will be sung, the words can be printed for people to follow or join in.  It is ‘The Event Guide’.
How many pages does an Order of Service Have?

In printing terms, books, booklets, magazines are divided into what is called a ‘Signature’. The smallest signature a booklet can have is eight-pages.  
If only four pages are required, it is called a Folded Leaflet. It would contain: Front page (FP), Inside Front Page (IFP), Inside Back Page (IBP) and the Back page (BP).

The signature multiples are then 4-8-12 pages.

The number of pages will be dependent on what information you wish to give.


Deciding what you would like

What should an Order of Service Contain?
There are no rules as to what you can put into the Order of Service, however there are some conventions and guidelines:

FRONT PAGE - The Title Page

  • The full name of the person passed away
  • A photograph of the person
  • Date of birth and date of death
  • The location (address) of  the Memorial service
  • Date of the Memorial Service
  • Start time
  • If applicable; dress code

The selection of the Order of Service design ideally should reflect the personality, the character, the ‘essence’ of the person be it: formal, off-the-wall, themed (boats, planes, flowers, nature, Formula One, and so forth) plain or even ‘jazzy’.  

The Order of Service is a keepsake for you and your family, it can be given to those that could not attend or be there on the day of the service.
The font photograph need not be an up-to-date image, but one that captures the essence, the character of the person. A photograph people will generally know or accept what he/she was like in their prime.  Photographs of when they were very young or close to their death and not really suitable.


Contents of the Order of Service

Here are some ideas (it is not exhaustive by any means)

•    The Welcome speech (given by…)
•    Tributes (given by…)
•    Music (the lyrics can be printed)
•    Hymns.
•    Readings (Secular or religious)
•    Religious elements – The Lord’s Prayer, 23rd Psalm.
•    Poetry (the poem(S) can be printed)
•    Specific activities: For example, Candle lighting ceremony.
•    Acts – musicians, dance,  Play-acting.
•    Photographs/images.
•    Timings – if required for specific planned items (lunch, Bar-be-cue, Dove Release, Plane Fly-by and so forth).

Back page

•    Thanking people for attending - a personal note.
•    Donations – Name of the charity/organization, where or, how to give/website address.
•    Address and time of The Wake (if not held at or after the Memorial Service).
•    Any final words you would like to say.
•    Photograph/image(s).
•    Poem, Favourite sayings or quotes.

The feeling or tone of the Order of Service booklet should be unique to the person you are celebrating the life of.
If you are not sure how to put it together, what to say or what is appropriate; ask advice.

Graphic Designer v Template

Who can or will lay-out the Memorial Order of Service for me?
There are two basic options: The first is to find a Graphic Designer (not a difficult task; ask me or search Google).  The graphic designer does not even have to be in your hometown or country.  As it is simply a digital document, it can be created and sent to or from anywhere in the world via e-mail.

Creating the text you want; in the order you want will make the graphic designer’s life a lot easier and cost you a lot less. The Graphic Designer’s job is to translate the words you have written, in the order you have written them into a creative and beautiful layout.

A second option is for you (or someone you know) to ‘Do-It-Yourself’.  There are dozens if not hundreds of templates, printing companies that make it simple to create your own Order of Service. Some templates are more flexible than others to add for example quirky or unusual graphics or images where you want them.
There are so many different styles and ideas.  As an example, American Memorial Service layouts are very different to British layouts.  Each country has their own ‘style’.


How much will an Order of Service cost to be created and printed?

This will depend on whether you:

•    Hire a Graphic Designer or DIY.
•    How many pages in the Order of Service are required.
•    How many copies you require of the Order of Service.
•    Postage may or may not be included in the printing.
•    When do you require the Order of Service – tomorrow, next week, next month – all have a bearing on cost with some companies and people.

Obtain a quote (preferably several) along with the Graphic Designer and or Printer’s Terms and Conditions to obtain the best deal for your budget and what you would like.  Ask advice. Not all, but some suppliers can take advantage of those in a time of distress. If the price seems a little high, obtain another quote and compare.

Do-It-Yourself Order of Service

For a DIY templated Order of Service App/programme, compare the ease of use, speed, the flexibility to create what you would like and intuitiveness of the website tools. Do not select a site that has a ‘steep-learning-curve’ to create what you would like or settle for very plain designs when this is not what you would like.

If you are not computer literate or do not have a ‘feel’ for layout, a DIY option may not be a good idea for you. Most families have at least one person that is a 'dab-hand' at computers and perhaps layouts. They might be the one to approach or even, a friend that is willing to donate some time to do this for you.



“Never mind the quality, feel the width” in an Order of Service is something TOTALLY to ignore and be avoided.

Important aspects in selecting an Order of Service should be:

•    The quality of the card used.
     A ‘touchy-feely’ element. Does the card feel right to you, or does it seem a ‘bit cheap’ and over-priced?
•    The thickness of the card.
      Some cards can be quite flimsy while others (350g) can feel nice to the touch.  If it is a single sheet Order of Service, does the paper feel 'good' and is the right ‘colour’ that
      you want? You may need a very specific shade of yellow, blue coloured paper/card.
•    The print quality (for the images/photographs).
      Some card or paper do not handle images well. The print quality of images is a vital aspect. Cheap or inferior image quality does not ‘look right’ and can give a bad 
•    The physical size of the Order of Service.
      What size would you like? A5 (148x210mm), A4 (210x297mm) – bigger or smaller?  Most (not all) Order of Service tend to be A5 size.
•    Can quality envelopes be provided for sending to those that could not attend?

Ideas To Give Guests / Attendees as They Arrive

To be different or perhaps just more 'Welcoming', you may wish to give your guests / attendees a small gift or a remembrance item that may be used in the service later. Here are just some ideas. What you give your guests will depend on how you wish the service to be, what you expect of your guests and the theme(s) to the memorial Service.  It is not obligatory to give guests anything, it is just a nice idea.

A Piece of Chalk - Blackboard

As attendees enter, a large backboard on an easel can be waiting or available for them to write a note, quote, message – something they may wish to say. Giving each person a piece of chalk will encourage them to ‘graffiti’ the blackboard.

Button Badges, Photographic

Give a Photo badge to each guest entering. The button badge can be:

•    Text (name of the person passed away).
•    A picture (of the person).
•    Club, society etc., logo they were a member of.
•    An emblem.
•    Family Coat of Arms or crest.

or whatever you think is applicable. It can create a unity for all in attendance.
A badge can be seen as a hand-me-down keepsake for next generations to see, keep and hold - a memento.

Flower Buttonhole

At weddings, a corsage is handed to the family friends as a sign of love and affection.  Why not do the same for a Memorial service.  Give each guest entering a flower corsage, a posey, a small bunch of flowers or even a single stem flower from your garden.

A Pen and Sheet of Paper

The sheet of paper would be for guests to write down their memories, the good times, an anecdote, a message for a Memory Jar.

A Post-It Yellow Note Pad

Similar idea to the pen and piece of paper idea but creating (or making) a ‘board’ where guests/attendees can attach/stick their post-it note with a memory or message. Having different coloured Post-It note pads can create a beautiful patch-work-type colourful board. Have plenty of disposable pens available as not everybody will have a pen with them!

Memorial  Service Themes  And  Ideas

Is it OK to have a theme to a Memorial Service?
Yes.  If the person passed away was a ‘real character’, you may wish to create a theme around his/her life – a prominent thought or idea which could be anything, literally anything.

Here are just SOME ideas and themes (by no means  exhaustive). A couple or more themes can be created based on his/her character.  Multiple themes could be confusing, messy, and seen as a jumble and not coherent. One or possibly two clear themes can work very well. Here are just some title ideas:

He or she loved:

•    Animals
•    Bar-Be-Cueing
•    Cars
•    Cats
•    Christmas
•    Circus
•    Collectables
•    Comic Books
•    Cooking
•    Coronation Street
•    Country pursuits
•    Cruises, Sea
•    Cycling
•    D.I.Y
•    Dogs
•    East Enders
•    Emmerdale (Soap)
•    Family
•    Farming
•    Fast cars
•    Flying
•    Formula One
•    Garden parties
•    Garden, Their
•    Gardening / Flowers / Vegetables
•    Gin and Tonic
•    Golf
•    Holby City (Soap)
•    Holidays
•    Horses
•    Knitting
•    Motorbikes
•    Music
•    Puzzles
•    Racing
•    Rambling
•    SCUBA Diving
•    Soaps (in general)
•    Sports - general
•    Sports Cars
•    Superheroes
•    Swimming
•    Viking
•    Walking

Just SOME ideas:


If food, hors D’Oeuvres, nibbles, snacks are to be served at the Memorial Service, why not have a bar-be-cue theme; have a caterer, friend or someone produce them on a bar-be-cue unit (gas  or charcoal).  

If the passed-away person loved a particular bar-be-cued item; sausages, burgers, wings, ribs, etc.,  why not chose this item to give away to guests. It may not be a complete ‘meal’ but a token or nod to what he/she loved to have.  It will certainly put a smile on the guests’ faces.


A family time and much-loved time of year. As an idea why not wrap small ‘presents’ in Christmas wrapping paper to give to guests as they arrive. The ‘gift’ or present does not have to be of any monetary value; it is more the idea and thought that counts.

Christmas Tree at the entrance with lights will set the theme to the memorial Service. This type of theme works best outside of the Christmas period, such as in the spring or summer.  What did he or she love most about Christmas? Bring this idea out and perhaps expand on it for all to know and appreciate.

Circus - Theme

If the passed away person loved the Circus or loved to Juggle, be a clown, why not incorporate this idea into the memorial service?

Circus Acts could include:

•    Acrobat
•    Clown
•    Fire Act
•    Juggler

Talk with a circus if you could borrow any circus items you could use to decorate or theme the room. Just a  few props go a long way.

Cruise, sea

If he, she, or you both (if it is your loved one that has passed away) loved cruises or cruising, creating a memorial service around this theme can be quite emotional and poignant.

Seascape backgrounds can be hired or purchased from most Fancy-Dress shops or online. Borrow some sea bunting from your local Sea Cadet or Marine Cadet station. Hung at the entrance, bunting/flags can be very effective in setting the tone and atmosphere.  It is not a funfair, but a string or two of bunting will set the scene for most people.

Boards of pictures or images of the places you have been to are very effective. Rather than one large random display of pictures, collate the pictures into groups:  “The Mediterranean 2015”, “The Norwegian Fjords 2011”, “The Caribbean 2005” and so forth.

If this was a big part of your/his/her life, then this will not seen as boastful; but a real and touching tribute to that person.  Our lives are built on memories.  Sharing memories is a great human feeling and release.



If he or she loved creating jigsaws / puzzles, as guests/attendees enter the building/location, why not give each guest just one small jigsaw piece.  Have a large table prominently located in the room and ask each person to lay their piece. By the end of the Memorial Service (hopefully) the jigsaw will be completed – in memory of him/her.
When guests leave the service, why not do the same?  Give them each a single piece.  When they next visit you at your home (or wherever you wish), ask them to bring the jigsaw piece they have to complete the jigsaw you have started. It keeps the memory of your loved one alive.


The room could be decorated as an underwater theme – corals, cardboard, or fish replicas,  as well as large boards with photographs of him/her underwater.
If he/she belonged to BSAC, PADI or any other scuba diving organization, their badges, qualifications can be proudly displayed.

If they dived in various countries, why not create a large map (be it of the World or a map of the UK - if they only dived in the UK) identifying where they dived (the location) with a string/ribbon to a photograph of that dive site.


If he or she loved or followed a particular football team, hockey team or whatever sport they loved, why not ask guests to wear the team’s shirt, scarf, rosette, hat, or any other symbol representing the team. Giving each guest a small rosette at the meet and greet entrance point is an idea (if the budget will allow).

Why not write a letter to the Manager of the team and ask for a personal Tribute, video, Photographs or anything they would like to contribute to the Memorial service. You may be surprised.

Theme Viking Sea 'Burial' / Funeral

Due to the laws on cremation in the UK, using the cremated remains would work and could be considered a Viking send-off.

The Viking boat does not have to be a Thor Heyerdahl size long boat. An old rowing boat, wooden dinghy or wooden vessel that can be dressed-up to looking Viking will be adequate and look good.

Permission to use a lake, large pond or stretch of water more than likely will be needed. Private land is more preferable to public areas where the Viking service may become more of a spectacle than a moving, emotional event. Permission in all cases would need to be sought.

If no water is available or permissions not forthcoming, a Viking Funeral may be the next idea – a Viking shaped boat on large logs to burn (a Viking Funeral Pyre).  Again, cremated remains should only be used as it is illegal to cremate bodies yourself in the UK without permissions. You will more than likely not get permission on public land for this.

Viking Re-enacted Groups may give some good advice and help.

Musicians / Acts

Musicians and especially Acts could be seen as ‘entertainment’ but in the context of a Memorial Service, the Acts(s) would need to be carefully vetted and you identify what you would like them to do specifically or what they could do that was fitting and respectful to the day.

The list of Acts or items you can have is vast.  Here is just a very short list – ideas of what you could incorporate:

•    Artists/Painters
•    Circus - stilt walkers, jugglers etc.,
•    Thespian (Actors – Shakespearean etc.,)
•    Dancers – Ballet, contemporary, modern, rock ’n’ roll, etc.,
•    Magician


Music can have a powerful and emotional effect on people.  Having a ‘live’ musician play a song, a musical interlude can certainly be very moving and have great impact on people.

Here are some ideas of musicians that could play a part in the Memorial Service:

•    Bagpipes
•    Band, a (any genre)
•    Choir (Classical, Welsh Male Voice, Female, modern)
•    Clarinettist (Jazz, big band, classical)
•    Drums
•    Guitarist (Classical, flamenco, jazz, country and western and so forth)
•    Harpist
•    Orchestra (small to large)
•    Pianist
•    Quartet
•    Saxophonist
•    Singers – operatic, classical, contemporary
•    Violinist

And many more.


A Memorial service can be as long or as short as you wish. There are no set time-limits or must haves. However, one must think of your attendees and guests.  They may be on a time schedule (have to go back to work, need to pick-up the kids, have an appointment they cannot miss and so forth).  You may be available all day, but they may not.

As a general rule, Memorial services (without food/catering) are usually 30 to 60 minutes in duration.

If food, a meal, or sustenance is provided, the service and continuing activities/celebrations can continue for much longer. Letting people know what to expect will help enormously even to the point of having times in the service where guests can without embarrassment leave to go back to work or do things they must do.  It may be much nicer or preferable to have someone you love, a close friend to attend the Memorial Service for a short while, than they feel embarrassed because they think they have to stay for the entire service.  They will inevitably not turn-up at all, if this is the case.

If the Wake / Life Party takes place after the Memorial Service with drinks and food, this can continue into the evening without any problems – as long as guests and venue know!


Timings for the Service

In the anticipation of a Memorial Service, it is easy to get carried away and plan to have everything and do everything you want. This may not be feasible or practical. It is better to have a few things done well, than lots and lots of things done poorly and ‘go on and on and on’.

As a Funeral Celebrant I work by timings.  As an example, a Crematorium sets defined time limits for each service – a 45-minute slot, but a 30-minute service. Running over time can be dire in many ways and have consequences

Memorial Services can follow many patterns from strict (to the minute) timings (as in a Crematorium) to very much a laid-back affair.  However, most people/attendees like to know what is happening, in what order and what time they can expect the service to (reasonably) finish. A Memorial Service does not have to be ruled by timings alone and can be a more relaxed affair. Running-over by five or ten minutes is generally not a problem. Thirty-minutes can be a problem for some.

Time Limits for Speakers

Creating a time limit for Tribute givers and speakers is a good idea; the length defined by you and within the balance of the service.  Better to have short Tributes than long ones that go on and on – unless he/she is a professional entertainer and can ‘entertain’ everyone with a brilliant, amusing and fun set of stories.

Without sounding rude, non-professional speakers can ramble on and on and have the potential to be uninteresting to those in front of them. The moral is: It is far better to be short than too long.

A Tribute if delivered by a non-professional (or someone entertaining and knows how to deliver a story) should be around 3-5 minutes in length.
Professionals should be given anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes.

Who should give a Tribute at a Memorial Service?
The most moving and emotionally felt tributes are generally given by the closest family members. However, friends, colleagues and even neighbours will give a different angle or a different side you may have not seen or known.  As they wish or have agreed to give a tribute, you can be certain it will be a positive and good tribute.

The skill of delivery does not matter, as it will be from the heart and sincere.

The Order of Service

The Celebrant will co-ordinate and ‘set-times’/outlines for you.  They know what is right, what will work and more importantly, what will not work. Trust their judgement!

As with an Order of Service for a Cremation service, the Memorial Service Order of Service should be along the same or similar lines –

•    A Welcome
•    Eulogy
•    Tributes
•    Music
•    Poetry
•    Readings
•    Closing words / parting words

Apart form The Welcome, the order and length of each section or element can and will vary. The content is up to you; you may not want any poetry or even readings. The style and theme will dictate what to include or not include.

It is NOT obligatory to have all the elements mentioned above. With myself, you can decide what you like, what is appropriate and what is fitting.

Open Mic

Treated in the right way, this can be a fun idea that could find some rare gems of humour, stories, and joviality.  Create a time limit for each speaker as there is a possibility they can run on and on.

Float the idea to appropriate guests/attendees’ way before the service. It will give them notice to perhaps collate stories or ideas.  

Many people think a Tribute Speech should be or will be, very structured, be grammatically correct and so on and so forth.  With an Open Mic section, this can ease a potential speakers’ anxiety of standing up and ‘reading’ or saying something.  An Open Mic can be off-the-cuff, easy-going, and caters for all types of people – as long as they are willing to stand up and say something.

An Open Mic section may not have to physically involve holding a Microphone at all. If the room, seating and arrangement permit, attendees that wish to say something can just stand-up and say what they would like.  Someone like the Funeral Celebrant should then act as MC indicating whom and when a person can talk. Ten people all standing up at the same time is not a good idea!

Visual Presentations

A Visual Presentation is a beautiful way to show the life of someone in pictures, music, and words.
See section EQUIPMENT for more information.

Eulogy and Tributes

The Eulogy can be many things; however, it usually follows a certain pattern or content such as:

•    Chronological life story of the person passed away.
•    Anecdotes and stories of their life.
•    Humorous snippets of their life.
•    A speech of their life and achievements.
•    Just random set of good memories.

Writing a Eulogy is an art form, taking time and careful crafting. It can be more formal than a Tribute. There are many websites giving methods and ideas for writing a Eulogy; if you wish to write it yourself - which on most occasions is a good idea.

Who reads the Eulogy?
The Eulogy can be written and read by the Celebrant or a family member. A family member reading the Eulogy can be more powerful and emotionally charged.

When is the Eulogy read?
There is no set time or time when the Eulogy should be read during a service; however, it is usual to be read at the beginning of the service.  It sets the tone of the service. It sets the character and the person he/she was. The Eulogy can allude to other events planned in the service to make the whole Memorial Service flow in a coherent way.

How long should the Eulogy be?
The key is that it should be interesting and hold peoples’ attention.  The style, content and tone of the service will dictate the length. As a general rule, the Eulogy should be anywhere from 5 minutes to ten minutes at the very most.  Short and interesting is preferable to long and boring.  The minutia of detail is not important as a general rule for most Memorial Services.  It is the essence, the character and the personality one is trying to capture.

What should the content be?
It is almost like saying, ‘how long is a piece of string?’  Eulogies can take many formats and styles.  However, there are some golden rules which are important:

•    It should always be positive.
•    Create a visual impression of the person.
•    Show the ‘human’ side to the person.
•    Relatable.
•    Be humorous but not ridiculing.
•    Not be boring or repetitive.
•    Be uplifting.
•    Show another interesting side to the person others may not have known about.
•    Finish on a high note.

The delivery, style and presentation are important factors for a successful Eulogy.  This is a compete section in its own.

Religious / Non-Religious

Was the person that passed away religious?  Are you (the organizer) religious?  This will have an impact and the way you design or construct the service.

There is of course a middle way where only traditional religious elements can be included if you do not want to go down the complete religious route or even discount any religious pieces at all. Pieces such as:

•    The Lord’s Prayer (traditional or Contemporary versions)
•    The Lords My Shepherd (spoken or sung)
•    The 23rd Psalm

Choosing the right Celebrant is important and vital for a successful service.  A Humanist Celebrant will not allow, read, or include any religious elements what-so-ever. None.
A Civil Funeral Celebrant will cater for any and all religious elements if you wish without compromise or question. They are not an ordained minister and will not be able to give blessings or any religious rituals. However, including any religious elements is not a problem.

Music / Hymns

Music and or Hymns are important aspects of any Memorial Service. Music can uplift as well as create tears and deep emotions.  There are tens of thousands  of songs/tunes you can choose and literally thousands of hymns. The mood, atmosphere, sentiment, and style are staggeringly huge to choose from.

One of the most important elements to decide upon is how religious or how not religious you wish the service to be. This will then dictate which pieces if any to have.


Let's move on to SECTION NINE - Decorations


Sections to The Ultimate and Complete Memorial Service Guide:

Section ONE - The Basics
Section TWO - The Logistics
Section THREE - The Room
Section FOUR - Equipment
Section FIVE - The Bar
Section SIX - Catering and Food
Section SEVEN - The Invitation
Section EIGHT - The Service
Section NINE - Decorations
Section TEN - Give-away, Take-Aways and Afterwards
Section ELEVEN - Memorial Service Summary