3 min read

Your guide to planning a memorial ceremony

Memorials are bespoke ceremonies that focus on celebrating the life of a loved one. We look at the different ways you can plan a memorial and how memorials are changing end-of-life traditions.

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As we lead our own unique journeys, our personal legacies can shape new traditions for how we celebrate the end of our lives. There aren’t any rules you need to follow when saying goodbye to a loved one, but it can help to have a guide when planning a meaningful service in their honour. Memorial ceremonies create a time and space to celebrate the life they lived and remember who they were in a way they might have wanted.

What is the difference between a memorial and a funeral?

One of the main distinctions between a funeral service and a memorial ceremony is whether or not the deceased's body is present at the gathering.

A funeral service traditionally involves:

  • engaging a funeral director

  • a viewing of the body

  • a coffin or casket present

  • cremation or burial after the ceremony

A memorial ceremony takes place without a coffin or casket present, so you’re not limited to having it at a church, chapel or cemetery. There's no particular timeframe, meaning you can plan for a memorial whenever you're ready. You’re also able to organise it on your own, or you might like to ask your friends and family to help.

How do you put together a celebration of life?

When contemplating how to celebrate your loved one's life, it’s best to reflect on who they were as a person and what they enjoyed. You have the freedom to pick a special spot and organise the details around what made them who they were. It can be as low-key, extravagant or formal as you like.

When deciding what the memorial should be like, you might like to think about:

  • having a toast to them at their local hangout

  • visiting a familiar holiday location that holds special memories of them

  • serving their favourite type of cuisine (if they were into a southern BBQ, think ribs; if they had a sweet tooth, try for some desserts)

  • hosting a picnic surrounded by nature

  • planting a memorial tree and scattering their ashes

  • getting together with their friends and family at the beach

  • creating a playlist of their favourite songs and letting them be the DJ

Planning for a memorial ceremony could involve:

  • finding someone comfortable to lead the service with a eulogy or tribute

  • reaching out to close friends and family who might want to do a poetry reading

  • creating a collage of photos to display or a slideshow of photos

  • requesting people to wear particular colours on the day

  • asking guests if they’d like to share any fond memories

  • considering flowers or charitable donations

If they were cremated, you might like to bring their urn and make sure there’s a special spot to place it. When planning ahead, it can also be helpful to think about what you’d like to do with the ashes, whether you plan to hold onto them, scatter them or create a memorial keepsake.

How are memorials changing end-of-life planning?

With more Australians identifying as non-religious, we could see more changes in how we plan for the end of our lives. Where traditional funeral services were once considered the norm, people can find new comfort in creating their own special rituals away from religious ceremonies. Private cremations and memorials give people a personalised and affordable way to remember our loved ones’ unique legacies.

Last updated 08th July 2022
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Daniela Brinis-Norris
Writer and Editor
For Charities
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