How to | Memorials rooted in Family Memories

Just because you may not be formally religious does not mean you want a memorial service devoid of meaning and healing (for yourself or a loved one). And yet, where does one turn? Where to begin?

Conventional religious rites and ceremonies no longer speak to the vast majority of people tasked with organizing a memorial service. Invariably the people who call me to create a memorial or celebration of life are between the ages of 40 – 60, just like me.  It’s this demographic who are most often responsible for the memorial service. And that’s important because we couldn’t be more different past generations for whom death went hand-in-hand with a traditional service led by clergy. Our values simply don’t align with standardized ceremonies.

It can be one of the worst times of your life when a parent, spouse or child dies and yet you may find yourself at an utter loss as to where to turn. You will likely feel a deep yearning for your loved one’s life to be remembered in an eloquent and significant way but just don’t know how to make that happen.

It’s really a whole new landscape when it comes to remembering a life. Here are my practical tips to file away for when the inevitable losses happen in your family.

Tip #1  Timing

Vancouver has one of the highest rates of cremation in North America. If the body is cremated, it means you can wait until all the family is together. You can wait as long you need to prepare both emotionally and logistically. Surprisingly, weekday services are very well attended. Many employers give time off to attend services.

Tip #2 The right place

Venues typically used for wedding receptions can be great places to hold a memorial service. In West Vancouver, there is the stunning space at Gleneagles Clubhouse. The Pinnacle Hotel at the Pier and the Capilano Golf and Country Club have beautiful indoor and outdoor spaces. In Vancouver, the Celebration Hall at Mountain View Cemetery is perfect for 100 or fewer guests. Hotels, restaurants, and lounges are other options. In Burnaby, there is the Vancouver Golf Club.

Tip #3 Someone to guide you

Many people, because they aren’t aware of their options, end up having a ‘friend’ lead the ceremony. These don’t always turn out so well because the kind friend has no experience with the content and emotional arc of a good ceremony.  Do you want a professional Funeral Celebrant to guide you? Google ‘Funeral Celebrant’ in your area. Celebrants are trained specifically to do this work. Most will meet with you in your own home to hear your stories and weave them into an experience that suits your family.

Tip #4  What to call it

Memorial ceremonies run the gamut from lives lived till a ripe old age, to suicides and other traumatic losses. Certainly not every death is an easy one and ‘Celebration of Life’ can be jarring at a distressing time. So I came up with the term ‘Ceremony of Remembrance’ as an alternative that seems to resonate well. Don’t feel obliged to use Celebration of Life if it doesn’t feel good to you.

Tip #5  Don’t skimp on the microphone

A skilled ceremony professional can project into large spaces. Even so, they should use a microphone, as there will be guests with hearing issues and sometimes much larger numbers than expected. At a recent ceremony 300 mourners were packed into overflow spaces. Amplification was a MUST. The microphone is also a necessity for family and friends who will be speaking. Addressing a room full of people while grieving is extremely difficult. Avoid microphones that require speaking directly into. This is very awkward. A microphone that picks up sound from several inches away is so much better.

Tip #6  Video Portrait

Computers have made it quite simple to put together a slide show of images of your loved one. This can be one of the highlights of a modern memorial service. Videos seem to give people permission to smile and laugh through their tears! No longer than two or three songs is recommended. The first with a tone of nostalgia; the final should uplift people’s spirits, as this often marks the close of the ceremony.

Tip #7 Music is the Food of Love

It’s lovely to have soft music playing while people come in and get settled, as well as during the reception You’ll also need music for the video or photo-montage if you choose to do this. Choose songs that your loved one enjoyed listening to. Avoid overtly sad music for the reception. The ceremony is done and guests will appreciate the subtle permission to share stories and laughter.

Tip #8  Technology

It’s incredibly important to designate the family techie to make sure someone knows how to use the video, sound, and music systems.

Tip #9  Offering Food

Eating is healing. Many stories are shared when people break bread together. Hors d’oeuvre style receptions or light goodies like sandwiches and treats seem to work really well. A cold buffet can also be a good idea, with finger food that can be managed on a luncheon plate, as many people will be standing and mingling as they eat.

Tip #10  Mementos

Kids and teenagers enjoy putting together photo boards. Some families also like to bring items of daily life that belonged to their loved one. Gardening gloves, a favorite hat, watercolours and paintbrushes if the person was a painter, take-away recipe cards for a cook. It can be healing to bake a big batch of their famous cookies or squares to give away. But do be careful that it doesn’t become an exhausting task.

Want to chat more about this? Feel free to give me a call at 604-992-4217!

Funeral Celebrant Michele Davidson



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