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What I Learned Organizing Mom's Memorial Service

by Jen, age 39 11/12ths

The body
We knew Mom was dying. Dad thought to check with the funeral home before she died, so we knew they were expecting to pick up the body. Chatting with them also let us get a head start on planning.

Dad also told the hospice who to call before she died. Again, planning ahead.

  • I was lucky: My parents chose cremation when I was in high school, and made arrangements for their ashes to be placed in a double urn at a columbarium. So we didn't have to decide whether to cremate or bury, and we didn't have to think about where to put the ashes. (Well, I didn't. Dad talked about scattering some or all, so I asked if we could re-sell the niche and urn. It's possible, but we went ahead and used them.)
  • We did have to decide about embalming. Usually it's done to preserve the body for the viewing. Dad really didn't want to have a viewing. To me, it was unnecessary. So we skipped the embalming.
  • We also chose not to get a "good-looking" casket.
  • I was on guard about "upselling", but it only happened once - an inquiry about whether I might want to buy / make arrangements for myself.
Memorial Service
What's the point?
I wanted people to have a chance to tell their stories and say goodbye as a group, and Dad agreed with that. Once you know what you want to do,

How do you focus the service on what you want?
In our case, we used photos of Mom, music she liked, a eulogy, and threw the floor open for people to share memories. Then we used a prayer to say farewell.

We also had a map & "tour guides" so people could visit Mom's spot in the columbarium.

Where'd you get prayers?
Mom told me she'd gone to a wide variety of churches in her time, so I felt free to pick from my own church's prayer book, especially since it's available online. Cut-and-paste, how I love thee.

You can avoid "I didn't know Mrs Name personally, but"
Tradition calls for a clergy member. If the deceased has a faith community, this works great. Mom hadn't been active in a church for 30 years. So, we thought "Mistress of Ceremonies". We split the difference by asking a family friend (knew Mom) who is a former missionary and lay worker (experienced in acting in a pastoral role) to officiate.

Try to pick a good time for people to attend the service
....but don't freak when the person whose schedule you were most concerned about ends up stuck in Montana. These things happen.

Also think about what you'll do before and after
I pushed to have the service fairly early - 10am - so that I would have less time that morning to angst, and more time afterward to unwind with friends.
Hire people!
  • Okay, we didn't hire people for everything. I worked with the MC on the service, did the program and put together a mix CD of music Mom liked.
  • The funeral people made a movie out of pictures of Mom, which was a great way to get people's memories going. It also reminded the people who hadn't been able to bear visiting her lately of how she had been.
  • Dad didn't want to host a crowd at his house. Neither did I. So we got a private room at a nearby restaurant that could setup a buffet for after the service.
  • We had the service at the funeral home, which meant they knew the facility and we were convenient for those who wanted to "visit" Mom after the memorial service.
Have back-ups
I didn't know how "with-it" I would be during the service, so I asked my old friend Lisa to help keep things on track. Which helped enormously - she and the funeral director helped keep track of things like music, guest book, handing out programs, directing people to the bathroom, coat closet, and chapel.

Jesse babysat me - he drove, reminded me to get coffee & visit the bathroom, rubbed my feet, and so on.

The MC kept the service going & reminded everyone of brunch.

Death notice vs Obituary
The difference: An obituary is a notice of the death of a person, usually published in a newspaper, written or commissioned by the newspaper, and usually including a short biography. It is similar to a funeral notice, which is usually also published on the obituary page. A funeral notice is a paid advertisement written by family members, placed in the newspaper by the family or the funeral home.

In my case, I wrote the notice, got Dad's agreement, and contacted the newspaper.

You made a map?
I asked Yahoo for a map of the area with the funeral home and restaurant. I copied it and labeled things (funeral home, brunch, columbarium) and drew the easy driving route to brunch. I used Snagit, but Paint would have worked too, or PhotoShop Elements. Basically, work with what you have. Then I pasted it into Word.

A word processor can layout a booklet
I was thinking I'd have to do the layout in Publisher. Nope! I told Word I wanted to print the doc as a booklet on legal-size paper, and voila, out comes 2 double-sided 8.5x14 pieces of paper that fold into an 8-page booklet. Which reminds me...

Kinko's is cool
I showed up with the doc on a floppy. Kinko's printed a proof, I picked the paper, and they built 50 copies.
More info:
FTC on funeral choices:


General on memorial services:

Differences between funeral practices by religion:


Memory-ing this. Thanks. I hope I don't have to do this soon, but I suspect I might... it'll prove useful.
Thanks for writing this. (Saves)
My condolences on your loss.