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What is the Proper Etiquette for a Memorial Service?

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A memorial service is a service held without the remains present, usually occurring within a week of a loved one’s death (although this has the tendency to vary based on individual circumstances). The memorial service itself is more informal than a funeral, and guests can exchange stories and other personal tributes to celebrate the life of the deceased. Individuals planning or attending a memorial service are encouraged to learn about proper memorial service etiquette, as many people have varying opinions on what the service should look like.

For example, you may want to consider how to make it appropriate for all in attendance who have many thoughts and religious beliefs. If you are holding a memorial service in a house of worship, you will most likely need to consult with the pastoral staff for guidance. If you choose not to hold the service in a house of worship, you have a variety of other options in which you can structure the service.

Behavior at a memorial service

Attendees are advised to arrive to the venue early – at least 15 minutes before the memorial service starts. Once you arrive to the funeral home or house of worship, death and grief experts recommend finding a seat right away or briefly offering your condolences to the family should they be available. It is important not to overwhelm the family, especially if they are accommodating a number of guests.

Memorial service attendees are encouraged to socialize with others after the ceremony as much as possible, and to speak to the family after the service as well. It is also advisable not to bring small children to a funeral service who may not comprehend what is happening. All attendees should have an understanding of death and should not be surprised by the funeral process, as that could result in inappropriate disruption.

How to show respect

The abiding rule at memorial services is to be respectful at all times. Avoid eating and drinking inside the church or funeral home (unless food and refreshments are offered) or answering phone calls during the service. Whether you are attending a memorial service or traditional burial service, consider sending flowers (or a plant) with a sentiment card at least one day prior the event.  Usually, the funeral home website will point you to a reputable florist that works directly with the funeral home or an online store to connect you with one.

An important role of flowers at the funeral service is providing comfort and warmth. Flowers also play a functional role after the funeral. Flowering and foliage plants appear to be more than a keepsake from the funeral; they are a living memorial to the deceased.

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