Published: Tuesday, Jan. 4th, 2022
Performing a funeral ceremony or memorial service for a grieving family takes incredible empathy and understanding. Funeral services and memorials are emotional events, and everyone deals with loss in their own unique way.
As the officiant, you’re likely to encounter tears, laughter, and sometimes even anger, as people work through difficult feelings and memories.
If this is your first time serving as a celebrant, minister, or master of ceremony for a funeral service, read How to Officiate a Funeral or Memorial Service to learn the basics:
Memorial services and funerals honor the memory of a deceased loved one. However, bodies, caskets, and other forms of remains are not present at memorial services. When a casket or remains are present, the service is called a funeral.
Memorial services are usually held at family homes, and funerals often take place at funeral homes, but they don’t have to. Anyone can perform these rites, but qualities like compassion, service-mindedness, public speaking, organization, and composure make ordained ministers uniquely qualified, and many families prefer working with one.
(Get ordained online here.)
These services include any elements a family wishes and should reflect the spirit of the person they honor. Most follow a similar outline: A welcome, opening remarks, stories and memories about the deceased (or a eulogy speech), and a ritual of remembrance for friends and family members to participate in, such as a candle lighting ceremony.
To customize this script, add details and stories about the deceased's life gathered from their family and friends. Include details about their favorite hobbies, music, sense of humor, friends, travels, etc.
"Welcome everyone, and thank you all for being here today as we share in this service of love for our beloved friend ___________.
For those of us who knew ___________, we will never forget the way they made us feel. (He/ she/ they) had that warm, welcoming smile that radiated peace and comfort and said “I accept and love you for who you are.”
It didn’t matter what your musical tastes were, who your favorite sports team was, your culture, race, religion, creed or even your political ideology, ___________ could always find a way to relate to you as an individual, and always found a way to connect and find common ground and similar interests.
___________'s greatest joys were taking time to hike out in nature, having a good meal and a few drinks on his front porch with friends, or going out to the lake for a late night swim.
It wasn’t uncommon to see ___________ caught up in a fiery discussion about something they’d read in the news that day, or to catch them joining neighbors in a heated pick-up football or basketball game.
(He/ she/ they) just had a charismatic energy and laugh, and it was hard not to be drawn to them. Those of us who were able to join (him/ her/ them) in these moments are of course saddened that these times are in the past. But we can find comfort and happiness in those blissful memories, and hold them dearly in our hearts forever.
Let’s stop for a minute – and remember. What was your happiest memory with ___________?
(pause here for a moment or two)
It was ___________’s wish that we shouldn’t cry or be sad here today. In fact (he/ she/ they) would want us to celebrate life instead – to spend today doing something we love.
I know that even in ___________’s last days, (he/ she/ they) felt all of your love for (him/ her/ them), carrying it in their heart.
Let us carry that love with us today, and every day, in their memory."
(Unlit candles are arranged in the front of the room before the ceremony begins, with one larger candle lit and burning. This larger candle can be used by the guests to light the other candles.)
"Now, we have a few candles placed up here in the front, so if anyone here has a special memory of ___________ which they would like to share, they should come up here, tell their memory, and then light a candle.
Please give an opportunity for family members to share their memories first.
(After candles are lit, and there is a small pause, continue with the ceremony)
Thank you all for those beautiful memories."
"This short poem perfectly captures the way ___________ would want us to feel about (his/ her/ their) passing, and their return to the beautiful natural world they loved so deeply.
It’s called “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep,” by Mary Elizabeth Frye.
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
This poem reflects ___________’s sentiment towards life, and attitude towards death.
Not only would they want us not to sit too long in the pain of loss, they would want us to appreciate life and spirit in nature, and in all the things around us that are still living."
"Before we say a last goodbye to ___________ , their family has asked me to thank everybody who came today.
I know we’ll never forget ___________, our friendship with them, and the way they made us feel about life, and ourselves, and each other. May their memory live on in our hearts and minds."
This is the end of the service, and friends and family are encouraged to talk with each other, hug, and exchange more memories of the deceased before moving to the next planned activity. The officiant (celebrant) can take a few moments after the service to offer additional comfort and kindess to the deceased's close family.
We spend a lot of time talking about wedding ceremonies here on the American Weddings blog. This makes sense... Wedding ceremonies (and wedding officiants) are awesome! And they’re our primary focus and passion.
But AMM Ministers don’t just marry people. When they choose to, their roles can extend much further, supporting their communities in important ways, and celebrating not just new beginnings, but endings, too. This deserves to be highlighted!
Ordination through American Marriage Ministries gives our ministers all of the same rights and protections held by ministers ordained through traditional brick-and-mortar churches. As an AMM Minister (or Reverend, Pastor, or Officiant, whatever title you choose), your right to conduct religious ceremonies of all forms is protected by the religious non-establishment clause of the first amendment. While many of our ministers only conduct wedding ceremonies, others also conduct baptisms, funerals, baby blessings, and other meaningful rites.
Learn more about what it means to be an AMM Minister by visiting our FAQ page.
Become a Wedding Officiant with Our Free Online Ordination!