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What is a memorial style funeral, or memorial service?

Comparing a memorial service with a traditional funeral

We might all have an idea of what a funeral is. But the specific details of how they are run and why that is so are not things that we think a whole lot about. This article will help you understand the difference between a traditional funeral and a memorial style funeral.

The Oxford definition of a funeral is “a ceremony, often a religious one, for burying or cremating a dead person”.

Both traditional and memorial style funerals fulfil the criteria of this definition, but there is one simple difference. A traditional funeral is where the ceremony happens before the burial or cremation. A memorial service is where the ceremony happens after the burial or cremation.

What are the differences?

By holding a memorial service after the burial or cremation has taken place, the most obvious difference to a traditional funeral is that a memorial service will be held without the person’s body physically present (held in a coffin).

If a coffin being on display is an important symbolic element, whether that’s for religious or other reasons, then a traditional funeral will be the most suitable option. But if the reason for the burial or cremation to occur after the ceremony is being considered purely because it is the default option, then you should think about all of the benefits that come with doing a memorial service instead.

The final goodbyes

For some people, the idea of farewelling their loved ones body after they’ve been placed in a coffin at a funeral parlour is not what they want their final memory to be.

Maybe they were lucky enough to have a final goodbye, or they spent some private time just after their person had passed, or the last living moment they spent together is the final memory they want and need.

If that’s the case, then a memorial service can remove a whole lot of the typical funeral elements, which add cost and difficulty without necessarily any benefit to the experience. There’s no need for expensive coffins to be put on display, no need for any mortuary preparation that uses all sorts of techniques to dress up a dead person and make them look ‘less dead’, no need to worry about the transporting of the coffin to and from the service and no need to limit your options on where the service takes place.

Memorial services will usually follow what is known as a ‘direct cremation’, where the person is placed in a coffin and taken for a private cremation as soon as possible. It’s an extremely dignified way to farewell someone, as it means they won’t be kept in ‘mortuary storage’ facilities for any longer than they need to be. It also means that the person’s family won’t have any decisions to make on the logistics of their body – they can focus entirely on grieving.

The benefits of a memorial

We love memorials because we think they make the whole funeral process less stressful, more cost effective and more remarkable. They actually remove most of the need to use a funeral director at all, which might be why funeral directors don’t promote them as much.

The funeral director will still need to collect your person and organise their cremation and associated paperwork, but beyond that most of the ceremony planning does not need to be done by the funeral director at all. By removing the logistical challenges that come with having a coffin present, the memorial service can become a really beautiful, healing event and one which better reflects the person who has died.

Sometimes memorial services are referred to as a cheaper alternative to a traditional funeral. We don’t think that’s the right way to look at it. Yes they can be cheaper, but they also just offer families the opportunity to spend on the more important parts of the events – a more optimised way to spend their money on a funeral.

The reality is that a memorial might be cheaper than a traditional funeral, or it might be more expensive. Rather than spending money on things like coffins, coffin handles, hearses, funeral company staff, floral displays and funeral director service fees, families can choose to spend it on things like a live band, food and drinks or even fireworks.

memorial candles in a peace design

What does a memorial service look like?

Here’s an example of a beautiful Tomorrow style memorial.

And here is the what the process looks like:

  • A person dies at hospital. Their immediate family and friends may come to the hospital to say their final goodbyes, spending a few hours of quiet reflection with them after they die.
  • The family or friends calls us and we will organise the transportation of their person into our care. We’ll liaise with the family to complete a Cremation Authorisation Form and book in the cremation at a local cemetery within a day or so. The family may speak to us as much as or as little as they wish during this time. Unlike arranging a traditional service, the family do not need to visit the funeral parlour to make a multitude of decisions about things like coffins and coffin handles.
  • We’ll confirm the time of the cremation with the family, who might get together for a private gathering to raise a glass or share a few words as this happens. Their loved ones’ ashes will be hand delivered to them shortly after, generally within a week or so.
  • When the time feels right, the family can begin the process of organising the memorial ceremony. This might be days later, it might be the next week, or it might be months away – the decision really rests with the family. Limited only by their imagination, their celebrant will work with them to create something very special. This might mean a simple service at home or it could be something more sensational or anything in between.
  • We encourage our clients to consider a meaningful place to hold the memorial. They might up a tribute table at the front of the room, which includes not only their ashes but also a beautiful photo, candles and a spot for guests to place a personal items that meant something to them. As guests arrive, the table fills with everything from photos and books to sporting goods and plates of food!
  • A Tomorrow celebrant not only helps plan the service and give the family ideas, but also leads the proceedings for the event. The ceremony might start with a live band playing the favourite songs of the person, followed by a series of speeches from family and friends with a tribute video and photo slideshow in between.
  • Guests spend the day laughing, crying and sharing stories over some delicious food & drinks (which are a definite upgrade from the catering packages available at a funeral parlour).

How do you organise a memorial service?

You can choose to do a memorial service with a traditional funeral home, but it can be a bit like using a plumber to build a whole house. Funeral Directors specialise in the logistics of funerals, so with that part kept simple it doesn’t really make sense to engage them for what’s really an event planning activity.

Alternatively, you can engage a funeral company to do a simple direct cremation and manage the rest of it yourself. But this is only suitable if you feel comfortable taking on the responsibility of organising your own memorial service, which can be daunting given the emotional state you might be in following the death of a loved one.

The best option is to speak to us at Tomorrow Cremations & Memorials – we’re the first funeral business in Australia that focuses exclusively on memorial style funerals! We offer one transparent $6,400 package that includes all of the funeral elements, a whole host of special extras (such as a personal memorial website) and your very own celebrant to help plan and lead your memorial event. We’ll be with you from start to finish, managing the entire process and ensuring that we create a remarkable experience.

We’re always here to help

Call us 24-hours / 7 days on 1800 574 824
Our Journal contains our entire list of resources for creating personal memorials.
Or visit our funerals page, for more information on our unique memorial style funeral package.