Have you been invited to a memorial or a funeral service but aren’t sure what to expect? Maybe you are managing the death of a loved one for the first time and aren’t sure which service to choose. If you’re trying to work out the difference between a memorial service and a funeral service, this guide will explain everything you need to know.
Memorial and funeral services are often confused with each other, but there is a distinct difference you should know. Learn how they are different, what to expect at each, and strategies to afford them.
Funeral service and memorial service definitions
A memorial service is a ceremony in which a deceased person is remembered without the presence of their body. These are common after a cremation.
“The only real difference between a funeral and a memorial service is that the body of the deceased is present at a funeral service. If there is not a body present, it’s technically a memorial service, but the two terms are often used interchangeably,” says Alison Johnston, CEO at Wonderful Life.
What happens at a memorial service vs. a funeral service?
“In general, you’ll expect to find loved ones and family members at each of the services, but the setting could differ greatly. Memorial services are generally held at someone’s home or in a public space (like a church hall or a public hall) while funerals are usually conducted directly at the graveyard or a place of worship close to the graveyard,” says Nate Masterson at Maple Holistics.
Here’s an overview of what to expect at each ceremony.
Funeral service programs
Elizabeth Fournier of Cornerstone Funeral Services says, “The traditional way of dealing with the death of a loved one in the U.S. has been by holding a funeral. When someone dies, a funeral home would be hired. They come to remove the body, and it is then prepared by embalming for a viewing and church service. Afterwards, there is a procession that follows the body to the cemetery or burial grounds.”
She explains, “A funeral service traditionally includes:
- The basic service of the funeral director and staff to obtain the required authorizations (which include notifying social security and contacting primary care for the signing of the death certificate)
- Transportation from the place of death to a refrigerated holding facility
- Refrigeration (required by law after 24 hours if not embalmed)
- Embalming and or basic sanitary care of the loved one
- Choosing of a casket
- Dressing, casketing, hairdressing, and cosmetology
- Facilities and staff for viewing (2 hours, same day before the service)
- Equipment and staff for graveside services
- Facilities and staff for funeral ceremony in a church, our chapel, or another facility (excludes rental fees)
- Transportation to cemetery in hearse
- Memorial book
- A burial plot
Funerals can cost upwards of $9,000 or more, and to some, it is worth it to honor their loved one. But there are other options available. Many people are opting to forego the full funeral and have a memorial service instead,” she says.
Memorial service programs
A memorial service is just a ceremony in which friends and family come together to honor the passing of a loved one. People will speak about the person’s life, and there may be singing and other activities. “Because there is no deceased body present, a memorial service can be held anywhere,” says Fournier.
Masterson adds, “Memorial services tend to be more intimate affairs and are closer to Sunday lunches or family gatherings than all the pomp, rigor, and tradition that comes with funeral services. If you’re on a tight budget, I’d recommend having a private memorial service instead of a costly funeral procession.”
A memorial service typically includes:
- Renting of a venue
- Staff that assist with ceremony
- Printed material to remember the person
- Decorations such as flowers, a large print of the person, etc.
The cost will vary greatly depending on how many people attend, where the organizers hold the service, and what the ceremony includes. Also, keep in mind, the memorial costs will be in addition to the costs for handling the body, whether that be by cremation, direct burial, or burial and a funeral.
For a cost comparison, Johnston says, “According to data from the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), a memorial service with cremation would cost $4,713 (median). This doesn’t include post-service reception costs. Further, if a family chooses to bury the ashes, that would add additional costs, as well.”
When compared to a burial and funeral, a cremation and a memorial can save you an average of $4,000.
“As an industry, we’re seeing preferences shift from burial to cremation at a pretty rapid rate, with cremation crossing 50% in the U.S. for the first time in 2016, according to the NFDA,” adds Johnston.
5 frequently asked questions about memorial and funeral services
1) What are some creative funeral and memorial service ideas?
A memorial doesn’t have to be mundane and monotonous. On the contrary, personalization of the ceremonies is a growing trend, according to the NFDA. Many people do something special to remember a loved one, something that uniquely represents who they were. Doing so can make the event more meaningful for all attendees and can help everyone to find more closure. Here are 40 creative memorial service ideas.
2) What is considered appropriate funeral and memorial service attire?
The way you should dress will depend on the approach taken to honor the person who passed. Traditionally, attendees would dress formally in clothes of dark or neutral colors. This includes a suit for men, a modest skirt and blouse, business casual pants and a blouse, or a modest dress for women. Any eye-catching accessories would be avoided.
However, times have changed. Memorials and funerals now focus more on celebrating life rather than mourning death. In some cases, families will request special attire such as jerseys from the person’s favorite sports team or bright colors because the person lived vibrantly.
Read the invite carefully, ask if you aren’t sure, and if you don’t hear otherwise, go the traditional route.
3) Is there funeral and memorial service etiquette I should know?
A memorial service or funeral is an event in which many people will be grieving. It is important to be prepared to interact in a respectful and supportive manner. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
- First, arrive on time or early and stay for the entire service. People generally arrive a little early and stay afterward to socialize and pay their respects. If you are in the event, show up about 30 minutes early.
- Sign the guestbook with just your name. You can add your relation to the deceased if the family may not know. This is not the place to leave condolences.
- Be aware of the seating arrangements. Close friends and family should have the seats closest to the front, but they shouldn’t be surrounded by empty seats. Usually immediate family sits in the first row, and the extended family sits in the second.
- Bringing a child should be decided on a case-by-case basis. Consider if it will be beneficial to them for closure if it will overwhelm them, if you will be able to properly care for them during the ceremony, and if they will be a disruption.
- Finally, be mindful that others are grieving and be prepared to offer condolences; a hug and supporting words can go a long way. If you are introducing yourself, keep it brief, tell your relation to the deceased, and offer your condolences.
In summary, remember to be on your best behavior and show respect for those going through a challenging time.
How long is a memorial service or funeral?
The length of a funeral memorial service can vary from one to the next depending on the person who passed, the organizer, and the program. They can be as short as 15 minutes or as long as two hours. Count on an average length of one hour.
How do people afford a memorial service or funeral?
The costs of a memorial service or funeral can be expensive, and especially hard to afford when it is completely unexpected. Here are a few ideas on how to pay for the costs:
- Get together with close friends and family to raise the money
- Create a crowdfunding campaign to raise money from a wider circle of people
- Take out a personal loan from an online lender
- Use a credit card with a no-interest introductory promotion
- Take out a home equity line of credit
- Get assistance from the government
All of these options can help you quickly come up with the funds when you need them.
While the main difference between a memorial and funeral service is the presence of the body at the ceremony, another notable difference is the price.
Many are choosing cremation in place of the traditional burial, making memorials more common. Johnston adds, “Some other trends impacting this have been the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, an overall decline in religion, and the green movement.”
No matter which service you and your loved ones choose, planning ahead can save everyone a lot of stress. Consider what you want and how you will cover the costs, and encourage your family to do the same. As a result, loved ones can focus on remembering the person rather than stressing over financial matters.
To help cover additional costs, start by getting personalized loan offers to see what rates you qualify for (this will not impact your credit score).