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Memorial service etiquette

By Robbie Miller Kaplan

A reader shares: "My brother's funeral was in another state and my immediate family was unable to attend. I'm coordinating a memorial service for him in our hometown. How can I 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'll need to check with the pastoral staff for guidance. But if you're not holding the service in a house of worship, I believe you have a lot of flexibility in how you structure the service. It can be formal or informal, participants sitting in rows or a circle. One individual can lead the service or it can be participatory, for example, asking everyone in advance to prepare something to say if they would like to participate.

The point of a memorial service is to remember the deceased and it's often done with stories; funny and endearing, that depict their qualities and life. It is one last time for all of you to share the deceased, whether friend or family member. You can choose prayers or one prayer to say, either by clergy, yourself, or all together. The important point is to have a fitting memorial for your loved one so everyone can have some closure.

Robbie Miller Kaplan is the author of How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss. Now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities" and "Divorce."