A truly meaningful Memorial Service or Celebration of Life event does more than just recognize and honor the deceased. It stirs fond memories, paints a fuller, more vibrant picture of the person’s life, and connects the attendees to the honoree and to each other. Remembrance activities during a memorial service can involve and engage guests, providing insight and impact, and encouraging them to share their personal stories after the service. Remembrance activities are often the thing that people remember most vividly in the ensuing months and years. Remembrance activities usually work best with a large group of guests coming from a diverse range of connections to the deceased. Here are a couple of possibilities:
Let guests know in advance that they’ll be invited to decorate a memory tree during or immediately after the service. People can bring photos, special poems, concert ticket souvenirs, a favorite recipe, or any kind of decoration that has a special connection with the deceased, attaching them to the memory tree with clothespins or alligator clips. For those who don’t bring something with them, have a supply of small pieces of paper nearby with writing utensils for people to write down a special memory or sentiment.
Who Among You?
The ceremony leader asks people to stand or raise their hands when they connect with a shared connection or memory enumerated by the service leader. Questions should be specific to the deceased, of course, but may include ones similar to the following. “Who among you….”
…is related to him?
…has toured his garden?
…got an annual birthday call from him?
…shares his love of the TV show “Bonanza”?
…volunteered with him on a committee?
…ate some of his delicious pie?
…shared one of his famous hugs?
…sang with him?
…knows his favorite breed of dog?
…worked with him on a social action project?
…was his student?
…served with him on the board of one of his charities?
…was his employee?
…received advice from him?
…got her toes stepped on while dancing with him?
…was a supplier to one of his companies?
…knew that his favorite song was “Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain and Tennille?
…went on one of his fishing trips?
…played with him on a team or at the court?
…groaned at one of his terrible puns?
Share His/Her Favorite Recipe
For some, this may literally be a food recipe, but for others it might be whatever was a key ingredient in his/her life: playing games, music, sports, ecology, etc. Whatever the unique theme is, talk about it during the service and include it mention of it in the program or take home souvenir.
Perhaps your loved one was known for his/her cooking, and guests can be encouraged to call out their personal favorite of all the dishes he or she used to make. Then the one special “family secret” recipe that she or he was famous for but reluctant to share during his/her lifetime can be given out to the attendees as his or her special legacy.
Maybe the deceased was a playful person who loved games. The program can include a mad lib, crossword puzzle or word search that represents the loved one. If the deceased’s favorite game was Scrabble, each guest can be given a single letter tile then challenged to seek out other people after the service to collectively spell a word that described the deceased. Be creative in how you incorporate as aspect of fun into the service, which would truly tickle your loved one.
If ecology was important to the deceased, consider packaging seeds that guests can take home to plant a memorial tree or flower. Or distribute petals from a “Commitment Bouquet,” with each petal issuing a challenge to honor the deceased by making the world a better place ecologically, such as:
-In the next year, I will spend at least 3 hours cleaning up a stream or beach.
-I will convert to reusable cloth shopping bags instead of plastic.
-For the next year, I will adjust my thermostat by at least two degrees to reduce energy consumption.
-I will start a compost collection routine.
Encourage participants to exchange petals with each other, based on what each would find to be an impactful and achievable challenge.