A simple guide to arranging a memorial service

- 22/10/21

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What’s the most appropriate way to celebrate the life of a loved one? Of course, there’s no right answer to that question, it’s purely a matter of choice and personal preference.

For some people, only a traditional funeral, with all its formality and ceremony, will do. And while you might think that’s the only way you can do it, traditional funerals are getting more and more expensive with costs rising every year, But there are alternatives available.

Like many people, you may decide that it’s the celebration of life (also known as a wake) that’s the most important thing to you, rather than a big funeral service. Instead, you can opt for a simple, straightforward direct cremation with a company such as Distinct Cremations. With cremations arranged directly with the crematorium, this is much cheaper option and much easier to arrange.

With a simplified funeral, you can focus on organising a separate memorial service that’s unique to the deceased and the way you want to remember them. Bringing people together to remember your loved one can be an uplifting experience and an important part of the grieving process. The good news is that you don’t need a funeral director to arrange a great memorial service, especially if you’d prefer to keep things simple. With a bit of effort and organisation, you can do it yourself.

Our guide will give you a few useful tips on organising a funeral service and how you might want the service to run.

What is a memorial service?

If you’ve never attended one before, a memorial service is a final farewell to the deceased, attended by friends and family, to remember them and honour their life. Memorial services can happen as part of the funeral or they can be held at a later date, separate to the cremation or burial. It’s also different to a wake which is normally an informal gathering of friends and relatives following a funeral.

A memorial service is an organised event with a pre-arranged programme of activities which might include readings, music and speeches from the deceased’s loved ones. There’ll also be a dedicated event leader who’ll oversee the service – either a spiritual leader, non-religious celebrant or a family member. All of our cremations offer family-led services, although you’re free to invite a celebrant if you’d prefer that.

Four reasons to arrange your own memorial service

Four reasons to arrange your own memorial service

  1. You can pick the running order. You’ll organise the service just the way you want, making an occasion of saying goodbye to the deceased in a way that’s unique to their wishes and personality.
  2. You can set the pace. With a self-organised memorial service, there’s no time limit on how long the event will last, so your service can be short and sweet or last a while, combining it with a celebration of life.
  3. You can make it personal. With the service arranged and ran by someone close to the deceased, you’ll be able to add a more personal touch to the activities.
  4. You can save money. A family-led service is typically less expensive than a traditional funeral, and you can easily organise it to fit your budget.

Our step-by-step guide to arranging a memorial service

1. Pick a date and venue

The first thing you’ll need to do is decide when and where you’d like the funeral and its service. You’ll need to decide on a venue and date that’s suitable for the deceased’s loved ones. You can have the memorial service wherever you want, like the local hall, a hotel, a park or somewhere connected to any clubs the deceased was part of.

Once you’ve decided, you should contact your chosen to find out if it’s available on your preferred date. When setting the date of the service, bear in mind that some people may need to travel from long distances and some will need to arrange for time off work, so choose a date that gives them plenty of notice if possible. Also, when considering the venue, it’s worth checking if there are any restrictions on numbers and whether it has the facilities you need such as car parking and disabled access or music and video equipment.

2. Decide who you’d like to be there

You may decide you want a small, simple service with just relatives and close friends. That’s fine but there may be other people that you don’t know well but were important to your loved one at some stage in their life. More people than you realise may wish to say goodbye, so if your chosen service allows for it, you may want to open the invitation up to anyone who wishes to pay their respects.

3. Spread the word

With all that sorted, you’ll need to start informing people of the event, date and time. You might want to issue formal invitations but it’s more likely you use email, phone calls and social media sites. If you’re having a large open service, an obituary in the local newspaper can work as well. It’s also best to ask people to let you know whether they're attending or not so you can keep track of numbers.

4. Decide who’ll conduct the service

If it’s a religious service in a place of worship, a member of the clergy will normally conduct the service but if not, you can it do it yourself or ask another family member.

If you’re unsure, you may find it less stressful to appoint a non-religious celebrant to lead the service. A celebrant will have extensive experience of memorial services and will talk to you beforehand to find out more about your loved one and hear from you about the mood and tone of the service you’d like. If you’d like to appoint a celebrant but don’t know where to start, get in touch with our team who can help guide you in the right direction.

5. Plan the order of events

The memorial service should have a set order of events and speakers to keep things running smoothly. Perhaps you want to include a eulogy, readings and play your loved one’s favourite music? If you decide to play music or show a video, check that the venue has the facilities you need and that they’re set up in advance.

6. Design a printed programme to hand out at the memorial service.

It’s easier than ever to create your own service programmes- all you need is a computer, smartphone or tablet and a printer. They can be handed out at the service and will give the order of events, the words to any songs or hymns and perhaps some photos and brief messages.

What happens at a memorial service?

Remember, there’s no set formula for a memorial service - each one is unique to the person whose life is being celebrated.

The order of events will depend on the time you have for the service. Most memorial services last between 15 minutes and 45 minutes, depending on the type of funeral you’ve chosen.

To get you started, here’s a typical running order for a memorial service.

  • Greeting

As mourners gather outside the venue, they’ll be greeted and invited to get ready to enter.

  • Entry

Music will start and the mourners enter the venue and take their seats. You may want to appoint an usher to guide them and help attendees with mobility issues. Organise the handout of printed programmes (if children are attending, this is a good way to get them involved).

  • Welcome

As the music fades, the service leader will formally welcome the mourners to the event. They’ll then introduces the first reading.

  • First reading

The first speaker will deliver a reading. This is usually a family member or close friend of the deceased.

  • Reflection

The service leader will invite mourners to remember the deceased and reflect quietly on a special memory of them. This can take place in silence or with background music.

  • Second reading

The second speaker will be invited to deliver a reading.

  • Farewell

With some final words from the service leader, reflecting on the life of the deceased, they’ll then thank mourners for attending and draw the service to a close.

  • Exit

Exit music will plays and mourners depart the venue, either to attend a burial, disperse or attend a wake for the deceased.

How to make a memorial service special

After the service

You may want to organise a gathering after the service where mourners can share memories and stories about the deceased over a drink and refreshments. This can take place at home or at a local pub, restaurant or hotel. It’s a great way to say goodbye to your loved one and give them the send-off they deserve in company they treasured.

Readings and poems

Did your loved one have a favourite poem or inspirational passage of prose? Readings by special friends and family can make the service unique. And if there are children who would be happy and confident enough to deliver a reading, this can raise the spirits of the attendees, seeing the children get involved.


It’s lovely to hear from the friends and family of the deceased, recounting their time together and sharing special memories. Speeches can be a very poignant part of the memorial service, recalling important, happy and even funny times together letting the mourners remember happier times. They can add a personal touch to the event and help overcome the sadness of the occasion by remembering the good times shared in life.

Just remember to ensure that speeches are kept short and the speaker is aware of the time allotted to them.


Playing your loved one’s favourite music is a special way to remember them. And it doesn’t have to be slow and sombre; if they loved country & western, show tunes or jazz, make that your soundtrack. If there’s a certain song they loved to sing at karaoke, or something you know people associated with them, be sure to incorporate it.

Videos and photographs

Nothing brings the memories back like photos and video of your loved one. Why not display some of your favourite pictures in the programme or put together a short selection of video clips?

Guest book

Consider having a guest book available for mourners to record their attendance in, and perhaps contribute a short sentiment or memory for the family to read at a later date.


Decorating the venue with flowers symbolises the continuance of life and adds warmth and colour to the event. Just be careful not to order too much as this can add significantly to the expense of the occasion. If you’re planning on incorporating flowers, why not choose a selection of flowers preferred by the deceased instead of traditional funeral flowers. A simple display of meaningful flowers can add a personal touch to the proceedings.

Distinct Cremations Limited (Trading as Distinct Cremations) | Registered in England No: 13366310 | Registered Office Westerleigh Crematorium, Westerleigh Road, Bristol BS37 8QP | Part of the Westerleigh Group