10 Ideas for a Memorial Service
One of the effects of Covid-19 was that people were not always able to attend funerals. For some, this was due to limited numbers, for others the restrictions on travel. Because of this, some families chose to have a memorial service later. We are really fortunate that we can offer families a place to do this where their loved ones are resting.
But it got us thinking about memorial services… There are many reasons people may choose to have a memorial service instead of a funeral and here are some different ideas you can include in a natural burial memorial.
Why have a memorial service?
For some having a funeral straight away is too much. If you find that you are not ready to plan something with family and friends at the time of a burial or cremation, that’s ok. Don’t rush.
We all grieve in our own way; sometimes we need a bit of time and space before planning a funeral. In these circumstances, it can help to have a simple burial with close family first and a memorial service for family and friends later.
‘I needed the fog to clear first’.
Sometimes it’s about planning a fitting farewell, someone who once put it in a very perceptive way said, ‘I needed the fog to clear first’. They needed to be able to think straight so they could plan what they felt was a worthy celebration of life. They couldn’t do that straight away as the grief was overwhelming. So they had a simple goodbye which they felt they could manage and arranged a celebration of life for the memorial service about 6 months later.
You may also find that a simple no-fuss burial or a direct natural burial is part of your loved one’s wishes. However, there may be people that need a chance to say goodbye, or you may want to celebrate the life of your loved one after. A memorial service is a great way to do this and it can be anywhere so can even be at the wake.
Ideas for a memorial service
There are lots of things you can do to make a memorial service or memorial celebration of life special. Here are 10 ideas that we have put together that may be useful:
1. A Candle Lighting
Lighting a candle in memory of someone special is one way to give family and friends the chance to say a personal goodbye at a memorial service. It reminds us that the people we love shine on in us, and in our memories. There are many ways to make candle lighting personal. You can make it a focal point of a memorial service. It’s also something you can ask family and friends to do in their own time after the ceremony has ended. If you are using a venue or natural burial ground you will need to check they permit candles.
There are lots of ways you can safely incorporate candles like using jars for tea lights. A nice way to personalise this is to ask family and friends to decorate and bring their own jar. This is also a great way to include children in the candle lighting. If you can’t have real flames there is always the option of LED tea lights. These look beautiful and have the same symbolic meaning.
People can then take these home and light them when they want a moment to remember.
2. A Memorial Picnic
A memorial picnic is something that you can arrange at any of our natural burial grounds. You may want this to start before the ceremony so people can sit down and get comfortable with a drink first. Another option is to have the memorial service first and follow this with a ‘picnic wake’.
You can keep this very simple and ask that people bring a blanket and a picnic basket. We have also had occasions where families have ordered takeaway pizza, fish and chips or hired an ice cream van. Another idea is to ask everyone to ‘bring a plate for the table’ for all to share. It’s a very relaxed and personal way to raise a glass and celebrate someone special in beautiful surroundings.
3. Memorial Seed Scatter
A memorial seed scatter is a simple ceremony where family and friends take a handful of seeds. They then scatter these in memory of the person they love. This may be to say goodbye, or it may be in remembrance and thankfulness.
If you have planned a memorial service after a natural burial this may be something you can do on or around the grave. It is important that to check first that you can scatter wildflower seeds and if there is a specific mix of wildflowers you need to use. At some of our natural burial grounds we can only plant or scatter native species indigenous to the area because they are in protected areas of natural beauty. Our custodians can advise you on the correct wildflower mix for our natural burial grounds.
If you can’t scatter seeds at a burial ground you can arrange for packets of wildflower seeds or seed paper that people can take away. It’s lovely to watch these grow when scattered or planted in the garden. There are some lovely ways to personalise these with words, photos and even the wilflower mix you choose.
4. Placing a Memorial Plaque
Having somewhere you can go to remember the people you love and see their name is important. At our natural burial grounds, we approach memorials in a very down-to-earth way. These are made from Welsh slate and oak sourced from within the UK and placed within our memorial frames or shelters.
The placing of a plaque is something that you can include in the memorial service. It gives you a moment to remember and say goodbye. It also gives family and friends a place they can return to, which has a special connection.
5. Memorial Tree Planting
A memorial tree planting is something you can include as part of a memorial service. If you had a natural burial you may find that this is something you can have at the natural burial ground. This is something you can include as part of a memorial service at Aylesbury, Pembrokeshire, Cothiemuir Hill and Dorset Downs Natural Burial Ground.
It’s something that family and friends can be a part of as everyone can sprinkle earth, mulch or water on the tree or wildflowers around the tree. It can be a focal point of a memorial service and you can find a tree with a special meaning and incorporate this into the service.
If it’s not possible to do this as part of your memorial it may be something you can do at home following a memorial service. You can explain in the memorial service that this is something you will be doing later. You can also include if you have chosen a particular tree and the reasons why.
6. Pet-Friendly Memorials
Some people choose to have a natural burial with us because of their love of animals and their pets. We understand that sometimes having pets at a burial or funeral is important and that they do help when we are grieving. This is why our natural burial grounds are pet-friendly and you can have a pet-friendly Memorial.
This is something you may keep to your pets, but you can share this with family and friends if you feel they should be included. If your loved one was part of a dog walking group you may want to ask them to bring their dogs. You could even have a memorial dog walk as a special way to finish the service. This may be around our permissive walks or at a favourite walk after.
If they loved horses you can bring the horse to lead everyone over to where the memorial is taking place. For those that can’t be there, you can bring something special like a paw print, a photo or a special item. We have had cotton slippers in the past because they were always covered in dog hair.
It’s also good to know that we can include pets’ ashes as part of a natural burial or interment of ashes so this is something you may wish to consider.
7. A memorial service with an Interment of Ashes
Natural burial is not for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have your ashes interred at a natural burial ground if you feel this is the right place for you.
Sometimes this is the perfect chance to have a memorial service as you can have a final farewell with your loved ones’ ashes. This is a nice idea if you have chosen to have a direct cremation or a private service at the crematorium. It gives family and friends the chance to say farewell when you are ready, away from the crematorium and set time slots. You have space and time to plan something really personal and you can use the interment as a focal point for a moment of farewell within the celebration of their life. There are lots of ways to make this personal including down the ashes urn you choose.
At a natural burial ground urns need to be biodegradable, but there are some wonderful ways to personalise these. We have seen quilted urns with pictures of a favourite hobby and woollen urns that have special felted decoration. We have also had cardboard boxes decorated with paintings or favourite photos. You can keep it very down to earth too by choosing something beautiful and natural like a willow, wool or nature-inspired urn.
8. Scattering ashes
We have touched on interment of ashes above, but another idea that is similar to this is a scattering of ashes.
Before you scatter ashes you need to get permission and check it will not damage a fragile ecosystem. This is due to the minerals and high PH of the ashes which make it difficult for plants to grow. We know that people tend to choose places they loved visiting like beauty spots because it was an area they loved which hold good memories. If these are areas with special eco-systems or at-risk species the effects of ashes could be detrimental to that area. The last thing you want to do is damage an area you loved sharing together. You can read more about scattering ashes here including how it can affect the environment and the best way to approach it.
However, some places may be able to offer a scattering of ashes onto the surface in areas that are suitable. This is something we currently offer in our woodland at Delliefure , Cothiemuir Hill and Hundy Mundy Woodland Burial Ground. We also offer scattering of ashes into an interment plot where scattering directly on the surface would be detrimental. This is something you can arrange at our natural burial grounds in Bath, Aylesbury, Cardiff, Pembrokeshire or Dorset Downs.
When scattering into a plot you may be able to involve family and friends with the backfilling of the plot and placing of turf if you wish. Another idea is to ask the natural burial ground to do this while you are continuing your memorial service. At the end of the service, you may want to come back and place some flowers or sprinkle some wildflower seeds if allowed.
9. Memory Book
A very simple, and personal way to add a special moment to a natural memorial service is by including a memory book.
This gives people a chance to share a story, memory or a message. Sometimes looking back at these can help if you are having a difficult day. It may be something you would like to include in the service itself and read a few of these memories. If so you can ask people to fill out a note beforehand that you can place in the book on the day or ask them to write something before the service begins. It’s a lovely way to find out things you may not know. It can also help to see how the person you are celebrating has been a special part of other people’s lives.
The lovely thing about a memorial book is that you can make it really special. You can have a book printed with a photo or words or decorate a book yourselves. This is a great way to include children too as they also need a chance to say goodbye. You can also keep it simple and find a book with a photo or cover that reminds you of a special memory. To add another personal touch you may also want to suggest that people bring a photo or item that you can place in or next to the memory book for the service.
10. Include the memorial as part of the wake or ‘party’.
If you would like to have a more relaxed memorial service one way you can do this is by including it as part of the wake or party to celebrate a life. It’s something that you can arrange at a later date if you have chosen to have a direct natural burial or small intimate send-off first. You can have a memorial service anywhere so this could be at a favourite pub, village hall, venue or even at your home. If you want someone to help with the memorial service a celebrant can help you to create a personal service and will be able to tailor this to the venue you have chosen.
At our natural burial ground, you can also arrange to have a marquee so you can have the memorial service and wake at the burial ground itself. This is perfect for families who want to have something near to the grave and close to nature. In the past families have done this very simply by bringing the camper van for tea, coffee and cake. During the memorial service, people sat and listened with a cuppa which naturally blended into the wake. It was a very relaxed atmosphere.
We may also be able to recommend venues available for hire that are close to our natural burial grounds. This gives people the option to have a memorial service and wake at the venue, while they can also take a moment to visit the natural burial ground.
Share your ideas
These are just a few ideas that we have come across. You can combine these if you want to include a few different ideas in your memorial service. We are sure there are many other ideas that we have not mentioned and would love to hear your ideas and experiences.