Choosing Between Funeral vs Memorial Service vs Celebration of Life

by Shopify Mobikasa January 14, 2022 4 min read

When a loved one passes on, it's an emotional rollercoaster for anyone left behind. Life changes, financial situations may turn dire, and the comfort of the person will only exist in your memories.

You have a lot of work ahead of you, from choosing cremation urns or caskets to the type of service you'll have.

Traditionally, there are three main types of services that a person will have:

  1. Funeral services
  2. Memorial services
  3. Celebration of life

While you may think that all of these services are the same, they're distinctively different.


What is a Funeral Service?

A funeral is a service where the person's body is present in the same room. The deceased will remain in a casket, even if you've chosen funeral urns for ashes or decided on keepsake cremation urns already.

Instead, the body is cremated or buried following the funeral.

Most traditional services are funerals, but this trend is slowly shifting. The service will occur at a funeral home or church, and you can expect the service to be very formal. Often, the room will feel very somber, and there may or may not be a reception after the event.

You can have the funeral service in a church or even at the person's home, but most services are in the funeral home. For most services, you can expect there to be a four-part ordeal, which includes:

  1. Visitation: The part of the service where friends and family members can visit with the deceased. People often say their last "goodbyes" and/or say a prayer for the person. You may also call this part of the service the "viewing." You can have a private or open viewing.
  2. Funeral: The actual funeral service will involve one or a combination of the following: music, tributes, readings or prayers. A priest may be present to say a prayer and read scripture for the person.
  3. Committal: A committal is when the body is laid to rest. A procession may occur, where friends or family carry the coffin to the final resting place. However, with the rise of urns for human ashes, we're seeing fewer committals because families will scatter the ashes on their own or with a small gathering well after the funeral.
  4. Reception: Finally, the fourth, or third step if there's no burial, will be the reception. While an optional part of the funeral service, the reception will include food, where friends and family can mourn the person while eating together.

Funerals are often black attire events, and while many people still follow the tradition, there is a shift away from these sorrow-filled events.


What is a Memorial Service?

Memorial services are personalized events that vary from one family to the next. For some memorials, the event is a happier occasion, much like a celebration of life. However, there are times when the memorial is a mix of happiness and sadness.

Unlike a funeral service, a memorial service doesn't include the body.

A lack of a body can help some grieving individuals have an easier time getting through the event. Unfortunately, the body makes the death of the person very real.

You can have the memorial service in a variety of locations, including:

  • Church
  • Community center
  • Funeral home

Since the body isn't present, families have more flexibility for when the service is held. For example, the family may decide to have the memorial a month or two after the person's death. It's up to the family, if they opt to cremate, to bring the urn with them or not to the event.

If family members must travel long distances to see the body, a memorial service is often preferred.

The service can be at any time, so important family and friends that need to make arrangements to attend will have the time to make plans.

Since the person may have passed on weeks or months before, these events can be:

  • Happier, celebrations of the person's life
  • Less solemn than a funeral

Many families are starting to have memorial services at the person's favorite locations, such as a park or in the mountains. Even if the service is at a funeral home and closely resembles that of a funeral, the lack of a body will change the definition of the service to a memorial.


What is a Celebration of Life Service?

Celebrations of life are informal, creative and a more relaxed way to celebrate a person's passing. You can have the body present, but it's up to you. Depending on the celebration of life, it can even be a party where everyone celebrates in honor of the person.

And the event can take place anywhere, from the person's home to their favorite bar.

You'll often see a celebration of life that includes:

  • Stories of the person's life, recited by their friends or loved ones.
  • Toasts to the person's life, with some or all guests toasting to the person's life.
  • Events that are based on the person's life, major interests and hobbies.

For example, if the deceased was a major fan of the Dallas Cowboys football team, the celebration of life may be based on the team. You may hold the celebration during the team's first game of the season or replay a game from the team's championship year.

Attendees can also dress up for the game and wear Cowboys apparel.

How the event is held doesn't matter. What does matter is that you celebrate the person's life who has passed on.

Celebrations of life are becoming more popular as fewer people want their families to focus on the pain and sorrow of death. Funeral services can be gloomy affairs, and for many people, they want their loved ones to remember them during the happy times rather than have their last memories be staring at the person's body in a casket.

Thankfully, there is no right or wrong way to say goodbye to a loved one who has passed on. Unless the deceased expressed their last wishes or has them written down in a will, you can celebrate their life in any way that you deem appropriate.

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