Have you been invited to attend a memorial or a funeral service, and you are unsure what to expect? Or maybe, you are dealing with the death of a loved one for the first time and aren’t sure which service to choose.
We will explain the difference between a memorial service and a funeral service. This guide gives you the basics you need to know and what takes place at the services.
Memorial services and funeral services are often confused with each other. Knowing some necessary information and terminology can help you understand the differences. Learn how they are different, what to expect at each, and strategies to pay for them.
Memorial service vs. funeral service
A memorial service is a ceremony in which a deceased person is remembered without the body. These are common after a cremation, where the remains are in an urn. “If there is not a body present, it’s a memorial service, but the two terms are often used interchangeably,” says Alison Johnston, CEO at EverLoved.
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 home or in a public space (like a church hall or a public hall). Funerals are usually conducted 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 should be hired. They come to remove the body, and it is then prepared by embalming for a viewing and church service. Afterward, there is a procession that follows the body to the cemetery or burial grounds.”
A traditional funeral service includes the following:
- The funeral director and staff get the required medical and government authorizations.
- Transportation from the place of death to a refrigerated holding facility
- Refrigeration (required by law after 24 hours if not embalmed)
- Embalming and sanitary care of the body
- Choosing 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 the funeral ceremony in a church, chapel, or another facility. (excludes rental fees)
- Transportation to the cemetery in a hearse
- Memorial book
- A burial site; called a burial plot.
Fournier states, “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
When you hold a memorial service, you host a celebration of life to pay tribute to the individual who passed away. 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 a funeral service. 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 (churches and community centers are often used to hold a memorial service)
- The staff that assist with the ceremony
- Printed material to remember the person
- Decorations such as flowers, a large print of the person, etc.
The event’s cost depends on how many people attend, the location of the service, and what the ceremony includes. A funeral home can often service a funeral or memorial service.
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.”
There are significant savings between a traditional funeral and a memorial service with cremated remains. You find you can save an average of $4,000 by choosing cremation.
Johnston sites the 2016 NFDA report that states cremation is being selected more than 50%.
Frequently asked questions about funerals and memorial services
What are some creative funeral and memorial service ideas?
A memorial doesn’t have to be mundane and monotonous. Ceremony personalization is a growing trend, according to the information found on NFDA. Memorial services allow the flexibility to pay tribute uniquely. These events are more meaningful attendees. These services help everyone find more closure following a loved one’s passing. Here are 40 creative memorial service ideas.
What is the appropriate funeral and memorial service attire?
Memorials and funerals focus more on celebrating life rather than mourning a death. Some families may request special attire worn. Attire selections that celebrate the type of life and experiences of the individual.
Attendees would, traditionally, wear dress attire of dark or neutral colors. Avoid any eye-catching accessories.
Read the invite, ask if you aren’t sure, and go the traditional route if you don’t hear otherwise.
Is there funeral and memorial service etiquette I should know?
A memorial service or traditional funeral is an event in which many people will be grieving. It is important to interact in a respectful and supportive manner. Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
- Arrive on time or early and stay for the entire service. People generally arrive a little early. Following the service, you may pay your respects and visit with others. If you are in the event, show up about 30 minutes early.
- Sign the guestbook with your name; you may add your relation to the deceased if the family may not know.
- Be aware of the seating arrangements. Usually, the immediate family sits in the first row, and the extended family sits in the second. Avoid empty seats shouldn’t surround them.
- The decision to bring a child is a case-by-case situation. Weigh both the benefit of closure for the child and your ability to manage them during the ceremony.
- Family and friends will be navigating grief. Keep introductions brief. You may explain your relation to the deceased and offer your condolences. A hug and supporting words can go a long way.
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 or memorial service depends on 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 families afford a memorial service or funeral?
Memorial services and funerals can be hard to afford. 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.
These options can help you quickly come up with the funds when you need them.
Personal loans come with different rates, fees, and requirements. Check out the best personal loans to ensure that you choose the best option for you. If you’d like help finding the most affordable personal loan without hurting your credit, click here. To learn more about funeral financing, click here.
Traditional funeral vs. memorial Service: Planning ahead
The presence of the body is the main difference between a memorial and a funeral service. Price is another notable difference.
Many choose cremation in place of the traditional burials. This makes memorials a far more common manner to pay tribute. 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 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, friends and families can focus on celebrating an individual’s life rather than stressing 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).
Jessica Walrack is a personal finance writer at SuperMoney, The Simple Dollar, Interest.com, Commonbond, Bankrate, NextAdvisor, Guardian, Personalloans.org and many others. She specializes in taking personal finance topics like loans, credit cards, and budgeting, and making them accessible and fun.