What should I expect when I attend a memorial service?

Do you need to attend a memorial service for a friend or a loved one? If you are not used to attending memorial services, it’s normal to feel nervous about it since you are not sure about what to do. It may also feel unnerving especially if you do not know what will happen in the event. How should you dress? Are you allowed to interact with people? What do you say to the bereaved? 

Lessen the jitters by preparing yourself before you go to the memorial service. When you get there prepared, you will not be as nervous and you can avoid awkward situations. If you have never been to a memorial service before, this article is the perfect guide for you. With the right information, you’ll know what to expect and act appropriately.


What are the differences between a memorial service and a funeral?

Memorial services and funerals are often used interchangeably but note that they are two different things. Both events, however, are ways to honor the deceased. Funerals usually happen immediately after death while memorial services can be before the funeral, immediately after the funeral, several months later, or even on the anniversary of the death. Most of all, a casket and the body of the deceased will not be present in a memorial service. Instead, a photo of the deceased in a picture frame will be the center and main focus of the memorial service. 

Moreover, a memorial service is also commonly held after cremation. Apart from a picture, a customized urn containing the ashes may be displayed. People usually have different plans and ideas when it comes to organizing a memorial service. In some memorial services, you might find yourself in a religious ceremony with a priest. If you know the faith of the deceased, it would help to do a quick Google search so you’ll be familiar with the customs and traditions that may take place during the ceremony.


Where will the memorial service take place?

The location of the memorial service will be any place that is convenient for many. It can be at a gravesite, a private home, a funeral home, a religious hall, or any meaningful and memorable place for the deceased. Notably, there are also families who like to plan the memorial service by themselves. They encourage some of their family members and close friends to share eulogies to honor the deceased. Alternatively, some families also hire a professional to plan and organize the memorial service. 


What etiquette practices must I keep in mind? 

If you receive an invitation to attend a memorial service, treat it with utmost reverence because it is a solemn but meaningful event to celebrate a person’s life. Even if you don’t know the deceased well, and are there to support the spouse or other family members, it’s prudent to be mindful of etiquette. Start by sending your RSVP and dressing appropriately for the venue. Most of all, make it a point to be there on time with your gadgets in silent mode. If you have no seat assigned, pick an appropriate spot where you can view and pay attention to the services.  


What should you wear?

You for sure know that wearing black is a way to show that you are grieving. However, you can also wear other neutral colors like gray and white as long as the outfit is not too flashy. If you were attending a funeral, what would you wear? Whatever your answer is would likely be an ideal ensemble for a memorial service. 

Traditional funeral colors are applicable if the family did not mention any specific dress code in the invitation. However, some cultures have specific grieving colors like white for the Chinese and Koreans or red for South Africans. Moreover, some families choose the deceased’s favorite color like pink or purple. Follow what’s stipulated in the invitation to honor the wishes of the family. And remember, whatever you decide to wear, ensure that it is an appropriate outfit. Don’t forget the following: 

  • Never wear slippers, shorts, or ripped jeans in a memorial service. 
  • You’re safe to wear a dark suit, button-down shirt, and a nice tie for the men out there. 
  • For the ladies, put on a conservative skirt and blouse or a long dress, keeping legs and cleavage appropriately covered.  


What should you bring to the service? 

If you are not very close to the deceased but are there to support the bereaved family, you can bring a card, food, or cash as your sympathy token. However, if you are close to the deceased, you can bring something more personalized like the following:

  • Favorite flowers of the deceased in a nice vase
  • An elegant picture frame of a special snapshot 
  • A scrapbook showing the fond memories you had together. 


What are the features or format of the memorial service?

Most memorial services usually follow a similar format from praying to reciting the scriptures out loud or reading an excerpt from a favorite book of the deceased. The songs in the memorial service may include religious hymns or the favorite playlist of the deceased. There are also some families who sing the songs themselves while others opt to hire a live band or a professional pianist.

Readings, lighting of candles, and mindful silence are also features of a memorial service. 

If this person was well known in the community, then you can expect more readings and speeches in their honor. After these services, you’re free to interact with grieving family members. Your presence in the service communicates your support, but it would still be helpful to say simple words of condolence and give a caring touch like a pat on the back. These small gestures remind those in mourning that you are there for them, and they are not alone. 

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