Checklist for Planning a Funeral or Memorial Service

Planning a funeral or memorial service need not be an overwhelming task. This checklist is designed to provide structure to the planning of a funeral or memorial service.

In many cases, the celebration of a deceased person’s life includes not just the funeral memorial service. It also encompasses the burial as well as some sort of gathering of friends and family members as part of the farewell.

Select a Venue

Oftentimes, the location of the funeral or memorial service is a given. If the deceased person was part of a religious community, the funeral typically is held at a church, synagogue, or other designated gathering place.

In the alternative, if the person who passed is not part of a religious community, a funeral home nearly always has a chapel. The chapel can be an ideal location for a funeral, indeed is designed specifically for a memorial gathering.

Depending on the wishes of the deceased person, or other specific considerations, the family of a deceased may elect to have a graveside service. On a seasonal basis, this type of memorial gathering is not only simple, but beautiful.

If a nonreligious memorial service is desired, the list of prospective venues is expansive. In making a selection of this nature, attention can be paid to places and activities that were favored by the deceased person.

Select Service Officiant

Following the selection of a venue for the service, choose the service officiant. If the funeral will be held in a place of worship, the leader of the religious community is the likely officiant. If the church or other religious community has multiple ministers or religious leaders, you likely will be able to select one that had a particular connection to the deceased individual.

Services held at nonreligious venues can feature virtually anyone as the officiant. This can include a religious leader like a minister, an experienced member of a funeral home’s staff, a family member, or a person specially trained in presiding at secular funerals.

Choose Pallbearers

Pallbearers are individuals that form something of an honor guard around the casket of the deceased individual. Historically, they were wholly responsible for carrying the casket from one destination to another. Today, at many funerals, the casket is carried by pallbearers for only short distances, if at all.

The practice has been for men to serve as pallbearers. Six are selected to serve in this capacity, based on the six handholds on a typical casket.

You are not limited to six pallbearers. Some people select six primary pallbearers, to lift and carry the casket as needed. In addition, they add additional honorary pallbearers to walk alongside the casket.

Some religious communities restrict pallbearers to men. However, absent that limitation, the inclusion of women as pallbearers or honorary pallbearers is not universally prohibited.

Select Eulogist

Selecting a eulogist for a funeral can prove to be a bit more complex than might imagine. Some religious organizations maintain a practice of the pastor or other leader or the community delivering the primary eulogy at a funeral. Others feature a minister or other religious leader presenting a primary eulogy, with a family member or other individual making remarks as well.

Some religions have highly ritualized funeral rites. These include the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. As a result, some parishes limit what is done during the way of a eulogy during the religious funeral service itself.

Eulogies are presented after the religious funeral is completed or during a reception or luncheon following the service itself. If a eulogy is delivered by a family member or friend during a religious funeral, bear in mind that the pastor or other religious leader may impose restrictive time limitations on remarks.

Understanding these possible limitations, potential eulogists can include:

  • Family members
  • Close Friends
  • Work or professional colleagues
  • Community or civic leaders

Choose Readers, Prayer Presenters, Musicians

If a funeral is held in a church or other religious gathering place, some of the decisions regarding readers, prayer presents, and musicians may be a matter of routine or prearranged. This particularly is the case when it comes to musicians or singers associated with a funeral. The church choir may perform as a matter of routine.

Understanding these practices, you likely will need to aid in the selection of readers and prayer presenters. These can be family members or friends of the deceased loved one. At a religious service, readers and prayer presenters may need to be a congregant of the religion itself. (This is not always required, and you need to inquire of any limitations.) A nice touch to a funeral is a song or other musical presentation by a family member or friend.

Select Music

If a religious funeral is planned, a church or religious organization may provide a listing of songs permitted at a service. Keep in mind that some, but not all, churches or religious organizations are firm in what is and is not permitted in the way of funeral music.

Select Readings and Prayers

A funeral at a church or other religious venue may have some guidelines for readings and prayers that can be used during a funeral or memorial service. A church or other place of worship is likely to have a list of different readings and prayers you can select from for a funeral.

In a secular setting, you have broad latitude to select readings and prayers. Consider have a prayer, or prayers, written and then presented by family members and friends of the deceased person.

Choose Photo of Deceased Love One

Select a photo (or perhaps a couple photos, but don’t go overboard) of the person who passed. A nice touch at a funeral is to have a photo or two displayed in the foyer or lobby of the site of the service or near the casket.

Choose Memorial or Prayer Cards

Memorial or prayer cards are oftentimes passed out at a funeral or memorial service. Check with the funeral home to see if they offer customized memorial or prayer cards. The common practice would be for you to select a card design, an accompanying prayer, and then specific information about the deceased loved one is added.

Create Service Program for Attendees

Many funerals and memorial services include a “program” for the occasion. This need not be anything complicated and is a printed sheet, oftentimes folded like a theatre program, that includes basic information about the deceased person (including dates of birth and of passing) as well as the names of the different people participating in the service.

Select Floral Arrangement

Many funeral homes will assist you in selecting a suitable floral arrangement to be displayed on or near the casket during the service. Indeed, you may be able to order this through the funeral home.

In the alternative, you can reach out to a local florist (including accessing a shop online) to select a floral arrangement. You need not go overboard go overboard when it comes to a floral arrangement at a funeral. The mantra of less is more does apply here. A tasteful, pretty floral arrangement need not be some sort of large display of blooms.

Select Guestbook

As is the case with other aspects of preparing for a service, a funeral home may provide a guestbook (or guestbooks) as part of their services. The guestbook may seem like something of a minor point. However, once things begin to return to a semblance of normal after a funeral or memorial service, you and others will be pleased to have a guestbook to look at and remind yourself of those who were on hand for the celebration of your loved one’s life.

Will a Viewing Occur Before Funeral?

As part of your checklist for planning a funeral or memorial service is a viewing. A decision needs to be made as to whether a viewing of the deceased will be held, whether the casket will be open or closed.

A viewing can be held before the start of the funeral itself. The casket can be placed in the lobby or entrance to the church or other venue. The casket can be placed at the altar, or the designated resting place for the service, and the viewing held there.

Consider Entrance Procession

There are two ways in which a funeral or memorial service can commence. The service can begin with a procession into the church in which the casket is borne by pallbearers into the celebration space, typically followed by the family and others involved in the funeral. In the alternative, the casket can be in place before the start of the service, without a procession. Some churches include a procession as part of the funeral rituals.

Internment or Burial

The last will and testament, advanced funeral and burial planning, or some other directive may set out how the deceased person’s remains are to be disposed. If there is to be an internment or burial, you need to consider whether that will be include as an extension of the funeral.

In some cases, the internment or burial is more private and occurs sometime after the funeral itself. If it will be an extension of the funeral, you need to decide whether a procession to the cemetery will occur or whether family and friends will gather at the cemetery at an appointed time following the service.

Note on burial in a National Cemetery: If the deceased person served in the military, he or she is entitled to burial in a National Cemetery. There is no charge to be buried in a National Cemetery. The funeral home can assist you with the specifics of arranging a burial at a National Cemetery.

Informal Gathering After Service

Oftentimes, an informal (social) gathering occurs following a funeral (and burial, depending on the structure of the day). This type of gathering takes many forms, including a lunch or reception at the church or service venue or a coming together at the home of a friend or relative.