What does an offbeat memorial service look like?

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By: chema.focesCC BY 2.0
Recently my husband had a very dear friend pass away after a long battle with ALS. While I don’t personally feel like I need services to grieve, my husband with his deep southern roots and traditions would like to honor his friend. We are financially unable to pay for traditional services, but are willing to host a memorial service.

Has anyone planned what will boil down to an offbeat memorial service? Ideas are appreciated. -Mashatater

Comments on What does an offbeat memorial service look like?

  1. When my stepfather passed away, we held a private day of remembrance at my mother’s house. We bought ingredients for a sandwich bar, I made some of his favorite desserts, and we spent the whole day telling stories about the good times and watching his favorite movies. It was very healing and fairly inexpensive. I hope this can help your husband in this difficult time.

  2. Did you know that many certified Celebrants also perform memorial services? I used a celebrant for my wedding, and was interested to find out she also performed offbeat end-of-life ceremonies. Fees vary depending on what you want and who you hire, but starting rates are pretty reasonable. Even if you don’t hire a Celebrant, you might find this page from the Celebrant USA Foundation helpful: http://www.celebrantusa.com/funeral.html. If you happen to live in the Chicagoland area, I’d be happy to refer you to my Celebrant.

  3. When my grandfather passed away we remembered him by doing something that he loved (and was unable to do the last decade of his life). We went on a sunset sailboat ride to a location where we had permission to drop his ashes (in the water). We had upbeat music from the 40s and 50s and some sandwich trays from the local grocery store.

    My friend Ryan passed away about two years ago, and every year a group goes camping on his birthday–it’s an activity that he really enjoyed and a nice way to remember him in a happy way.

  4. My dad passed away in January, and while I’m certain he would never think of himself as ‘offbeat’, his service was a lot different than the traditional religious funerals people tend to have where I live. The funeral home helped organize a lot of what I’m about to share, but I think most of it is stuff you could do on your own in your home or maybe at a local park or meeting place.

    What we did was have a period where people could come and visit and offer condolences, then after that, we had a short service in the funeral home (burial was private the next day). We created a few photo boards of pictures of my dad throughout the years, but we also gave those pictures, and even more, to the funeral home and they made a video slide show that they displayed on tvs. We also gathered some mementos of his, including military honors, his favorite coffee mug, and some other things, that they put on display. They had a basket filled with all his favorite candies at the front door for people to take. They also let us bring our dog to the service. 🙂 My dad and that dog were inseperable, so it meant a lot to everyone to have him included. He was very well behaved (I think he thought everyone was there to visit him!) – your milage may vary depending on the dog and their temperment.

    After that, the celebrant they had on staff spoke about my dad for 20 minutes or so. We met with her and told her all the best stories we knew about his life, and she compiled them into a lovely tribute. They played some of his favorite songs at the end, when they came out with little bags of tiny dog biscuits to give everyone in honor of his love of dogs.

    It was really a perfect tribute to him, and everyone I know who attended said that they loved all of the personal touches. Maybe some of this could be used as a template for you to design your own ceremony. Since he was such a close friend, maybe he can pull together some similar meaningful things to pay tribute. I hope this helps him as he works through this difficult time.

  5. My condolences to you for losing your friend.

    I love all the tributes mentioned above, like doing things your loved one liked, eating their favorite foods, having their favorite music, etc.

    It was my husband’s grandmother’s wish that when she passed away that people come over to the house for pizza and beer! She didn’t want the typical sad funeral. It was a great way to celebrate her life.

    Another great tribute to someone could be volunteering for a cause they believed in for a day or on the anniversary of their death.

  6. When my mother in law passed away we knew a traditional memorial was
    Off the table! She was a vibrant, flamboyant woman who only had one black piece of clothing in her wardrobe – a skin tight little black dress.

    We got in touch with a retro diner style brunch place and asked if they could open for us for a few hours. It was also lovely because it was right across the street from her work, so coworkers could come on their breaks.

    We covered the place in photos from her apartment (she had many!) and her work brought over trays and trays of nibbles and mixed in her favourite candy. Her good friend at work was in the floral department and also brought over three large and brightly coloured bouquets.

    People came in and out as they could and it was very informal – no speeches or ceremony, just individually paying homage to a woman whose bright spark left us much too soon.

  7. My friend recently had an uncle pass away, and they had an small service similar to what you seem to be wanting. There was a minister there, who read some verses and a meaningful poem to the deceased. Someone played the guitar, and sang a song or two. They lighted some candles, and spent a few minutes sharing why they loved the person. All told, it took about 30 minutes. My friend said that helped her so much, and gave her some closure. There were less than 10 people at this little service.

  8. My condolences on your loss

    I don’t know if it would suit you, but in my family, after a very formal and rigid funeral, we hold a wake. We put a bunch of pictures and memorabilia of their life on a table, set up food & drinks (Very alcoholic ones) on another, and dance, drink, and share stories all night. Then in the wee hours of the morning, their “Legacy” (a wedding ring, special instrument, or whatever was important) is passed on. In the case of my grandfather, a very old and valuable violin of his was passed to my mother, who played the last song of the night. It turns a loss into something beautiful, and a slightly more pleasant send-off.

  9. My father passed away last year and following his cremation we decided to have a memorial service in his honor. My parents had been living in a beautiful farmhouse when he passed, so we arranged to have the event there. We spoke with a minister from my mothers church (UU) about planning the service, but chose all our own readings and she just MCed the event.
    My dad was usually our “food guy” so we decided to let the universe take over and have a pot luck. Our family, friends and community came through with a tremendous outpouring of amazing food and support.
    For the service itself, we chose songs that had meaning to my father and readings that had meeting to us. I’ll upload a full copy of the program later today. We had a slideshow set to Salisbury Hill by Peter Gabriel and a small scrapbook set up for people to record their memories of him.
    My favorite part was that we asked everyone to bring a stone and at the end built a cairn in his honor that still stands in my mother’s yard. It was a beautiful tribute to my father that helped us feel connected to him and each other.

  10. When my grandfather died of ALS, before the funeral was organized, the whole family went to my grandmother’s home for an impromptu BYOB remembrance party. This party was more significant than the funeral to many of my family members.

    Another idea I have seen, for a memorial where people can’t all come to someone’s house is to have a “tea party.” The host mails a tea bag to each guest, and requests that they have a cup of tea on a certain day and time to remember their loved one.

    • This is sort of how it was when my grampy passed away. There was an Eastern Orthodox Catholic mass funeral planned, but the night before when all of my siblings slept over at his house was far more significant. Sleeping bags in the basement….We spent the evening reminiscing about goofy times as kids, we played Jenga (with oven mitts on, for some reason), and drank Diet Coke (which us soda-deprived children always got to drink at Grampy’s house). It was much, much more memorable than the service, which was just a Catholic mass that had nothing to do my my Grampy. Who’s this Joseph guy, and why is this whole thing about what a sinner he was and how we’re praying for his sins to be washed clean, instead of being about his children and grandchildren and his love for hunting, fishing, and woodworking?

      So, I don’t have any particular suggestions for off beat memorial services….except to NOT have a Catholic mass funeral. Blech.

  11. My aunt passed away a couple of years ago. Her passing was unexpected and since she was Baha’i, her internment took place quickly. There was no time to plan a funeral, and she wouldn’t have wanted anything too formal anyway. The youngest of the kids were allowed to play nearby during the brief ceremony at the cemetery. She loved watching them play and their laughter was a better farewell than crying and hymns. After, we all went to her house and sat on the floor of her living room in a circle and shared our fondest memories of her. About a month later, we gathered at her favorite meditation garden for a potluck picnic and dedicated a bench in her honor.

  12. The general structure of a memorial service (and I’ve been to three this year, so ugh) is pretty basic: People gather. There’s an MC of some sort, either a religious leader, funeral home employee, or someone who knew the person well but not so well that they are to emotional to do the job. They welcome everyone, saying a prayer if that’s relevant. There are pre-assigned people who give eulogies or readings or a prepared talk about the deceased, and often there’s kind of an “open mic” period after that where anyone can come talk. Sometimes there’s music. Sometimes there’s a sermon. Usually these days there’s a photography slideshow. The MC closes or provides a benediction, and then people stick around for a reception with food and drink (alcoholic or not depends on the circumstances). Generally the venue for the reception has artifacts of the person’s life; often the slideshow is replayed on a loop so people can watch it at their leisure.

    The three memorials I’ve attended this year all stuck to the same basic structure, even though one was for my 84-year-old grandfather, one was for a 35-year-old programmer very involved in the local programming community, and the other was a 40-year-old mixologist, gourmand and writer. Every single one of these was very different, despite their nearly identical structure. One was in a funeral home, one in a Unitarian church, and the third in a warehouse/art gallery. The decor and food differed at each, according to the deceased and his loved one’s preferences. (My grandfather’s had THREE Jell-O salads. The mixologist’s involved upscale catered food.) The music ranged from traditional hymns to They Might Be Giants to The Mountain Goats. Simply put, there is a huge amount of freedom within this basic structure.

    The goal is for people to connect and tell stories, to grieve together and remember the deceased. My favorite memorial service was very, very simple: about twenty people gathered in a circle and told stories. There was food and drink, but we really just hung out for a while and told stories of the deceased.

    I wish you and your husband peace as you process your friend’s death.

  13. Our family also has our own version of a wake (although not the full on tradition of having the body present or being a huge gathering. We usually just do something small with the family. We have supper together and share stories. Love the idea of doing things people enjoy. I know my Dad will want something somewhat offbeat so I’ve told him to write down what he wants since he used to just tell me things.

  14. While overall my husband’s grandpa’s funeral was pretty traditional (in a church, with a minister and the after-party sandwiches and cold-cut tray in the fellowship hall), we had a full New Orleans style Jazz band play the hyms because grandpa LOVED that type of music. At one point when the band was playing the song WAY TOO SLOW in a dirge type way, the minister stopped them and said “hey, can we speed this up, and a one, and a two, and a three…) and it was brilliant! The guests loved it because it was SO grandpa…it felt like a party and a celebration of life.

  15. In the past couple years, I’ve unfortunately had two friends in my greater circle die of cancer. What their families have done was pretty similar in structure but each was very specific to the style & memory of each person. Both memorials were essentially “people gather, there’s a couple pre-assigned speakers at first, then there’s an open mic where anyone can come up & share stories about the deceased, also there’s food & sometimes booze, music/photos/video/objects related to the deceased are around the space.”

    One of the memorials took place in a conference room at the hotel where his favorite gaming convention always happened. It was at night, a lot of his gaming figures were displayed, & there was a bar. That fit his style perfectly. The other was in a Japanese garden just before sunset, the choir she had been in sang (including a Latin drinking song), & her costumes & artworks were displayed, & video of plays she’d been in were played. That fit her perfectly. At both, family & friends spoke & shared memories, stories, poetry, & we laughed & cried together.

  16. My dad died of ALS last year after a very short 10 months from the onset of initial symptoms. In a way it was almost a relief that he didn’t have to suffer longer, but it was definitely a shock to go from talking to him at Christmas and everything being fine, to May when he can barely talk and is given a definitive diagnosis for the first time. The military paid for his memorial service, and my aunt handled all of the preparations and whatnot, but it was basically just a small potluck style service in his hometown. Definitely family friendly for his brothers and sisters.

    But I know for my brothers and I, it was kind of… inconsequential. It felt rather pointless and more like an excuse for the family to meet up than to say goodbye to my dad. If it were just up to us, and there was nobody else involved, then I think we would have sat around a table playing Apples to Apples and sharing stories and laughing while listening to classic rock. It’s what we would have done if my dad was alive and healthy, and it’s what we will do in the future as a family, too. For me, saying goodbye is less about mourning the loss of the person and more about celebrating the life they lived.

  17. For my father-in-law (when we were just dating) they had a funeral, but it was a pagan service with lots of old photographs around, and music he loved was played (Judas Priest, Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy”, Metallica, The Ramones). For my husband’s grandmother they just invited folks over to the house to hang out and eat. When my dad’s good friend passed away all of their friends got together for a party with homemade chili, good beer, and lots of music playing as he had made guitars when he was alive.

    Basically, whatever helps you all remember this friend and come together will be great. There’s a lot of good pointers above me, so I’ll leave it at that.

  18. When my pop (my grandpa) died very suddenly, he had nothing to his name but debt and 2,000 in life insurance, we were all at a loss of what to do. He already had a plot, something my great grandmother did for him. We all pitched in what we could and my uncle took out a loan for the rest. The cemetery would only leave the flowers at the grave for 4 days after the funeral. so we only purchased a casket saddle and a few long stemmed roses to put in the casket with him. We used the flowers friends and family sent to decorate my dad’s house for the reception after the service. In our state, if the body is not embalmed, only immediate family may view it. So since we couldn’t afford the embalming, we just used the funeral home’s private viewing room for the free 2 hours they would allow immediate family to see him. My dad is military, and even though we are not very religious people, his chaplain friend offered to do the service at the grave. He only charged us a plate of food at the reception. My uncle gave one of his suits for my pop to wear and be buried in, since the funeral home was going to charge 200$ for burial clothing. My other uncle sang a Johnny Cash song, and we played 2 Elvis songs on an ipod/speakers at the grave side service.
    Family and friends helped out with the potluck reception. There was booze and tons of good southern food.

    It wasn’t a very sad, boo-hooing event. Of course we were heart broken, but we just sat around talking about what a crazy guy he was, and how they don’t make men like Pop anymore. After the older relatives left, the alcohol flowed a bit more freely and we lit off some fire works for Pop.

    Cheap, but very effective at remembering his spirit, and no so much his death.

  19. I recently attended a dance/karaoke party to celebrate the life and passing of a friend. Loud music, good food and fun karaoke songs made everyone feel better.

  20. When my daughter died at the beginning of the year, we were caught of guard. She was diagnosed with a CHD at birth and had undergone open heart surgery, but were not prepared for her passing either financially or emotionally. Also, our family lives on the other side of the country so we were basically alone. She had spent her too-short life in the NICU and the chaplain visited her daily so we looked to her for help, despite the fact that we are not affiliated with any religion. We had a short service in the hospital’s chapel. The chaplain presided, her NICU nurses and heart surgeon attended as well as my parents, her brother, and the only friend I have out here. Then my partner, son, and I went out to dinner with my parents after. It was short, simple, and touching. There wasn’t a fancy funeral parlor or a dozens of people. There were just a portion of the people’s lives she touched, some pictures, and a bouquet of flowers in a tiny hospital chapel. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. The intimacy is definitely what made it bearable. She didn’t like to be crowded or noisy affairs anyway. Basically, in that long ramble, what I am saying is just do what feels right for your friend. Even if it is just dinner at his favorite restaurant or a tattoo from his tattoo artist. I think it is important to honor the person, not the tradition of what people say mourning is supposed to be. Also, given the chance, people can surprise you. The hospital and chaplain volunteered the use of the chapel and services for free. The doctors/nurses who showed up were genuinely mourning her loss and took time off their shifts or came in on their (only) day off to attend, and my parents (whom I have never been close to) flew out to act as a buffer between us and people who were well-intentioned, but far too nosey. Ask around and I guarantee people will step up. Give them a chance. As heartbreaking as it is for us when someone dies, sometimes we forget that there are others whose lives were touched by that person as well. By accepting help, I was able to take a step toward healing and so were those that stepped in. No one needs to couple grief with feeling overwhelmed or useless.

  21. My condolences.

    My grandmother was offbeat her whole life. As a teen, she ran away from home to hitchhike across depression era America, stopping in road side cafes to drink from all the creamers while the waitresses weren’t looking. Later she became a seamstress– sewing early prototype deep sea diving suits– a wood carver, an illustrator, a house builder, a potter, an art teacher, a fruit tree grafter, and a maker of the most delicious crunchy whole grain pancakes.

    We held her memorial service outdoors, in the backyard of the house she built, surrounded by her sculptures. One of her favorite students MCed, and anyone who wanted to talk was invited up to share anecdotes, impressions, and memories. We laughed, cried, and remembered together.

    Private memories and thoughts were written on little cards and tied to the branches of one of her favorite fruit trees.

    No one wore black. She would have loved it.

    Really you just have to bring in the details that would really have thrilled your loved one. When my grandpa passed, we served all his favorite foods. You’d be surprised by how well chicken nuggets, corned beef on rye, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches go over at a memorial service.

  22. My grandmother passed away about two years ago and she hated funerals and was not religious by the time she died. We had a really nice wake at a bar where the walls had been flown in and reconstructed from Ireland, and the bar was part of an Irish church altar. This was important to her because she had Irish heritage and before she lost her ability to walk, loved going to Ireland (word to the wise, the Irish countryside is lovely but not walker friendly really, from out discovery). My grandmother had bought funeral insurance, and what was left after her non-ceremonied cremation went to buying drinks, and food for the night. We set out photo albums at different tables and we all circulated and talked. The room itself was free as long as we ordered a certain amount of drinks and food (which I think was like $250 maybe, which was easy between 40 people). I would reccomend something like that because it gave everyone time to reminisce as a group, and people could stop in and out. There was also enough room in the room to withdraw if you needed to be alone. There were drunken toasts, laughter, tears, spinach dip, and whiskey, and I think that that is how my grandmother would have liked it.

    Word from the other side though, if you do this rent out a whole room of a bar that is fairly private. One of my grad school orientation nights accidentally ended up booked in a pub with a wake, where the wake was not private or blocked off in any way and it made it a little weird for all involved.

  23. Though I’ve never actually seen this done, as a fan of the Ender’s Game series I’m interested in the concept of having a Speaking at a funeral or memorial service. (The term Speaker for the Dead comes from the end of the first book in the series. It is the title of the second book, which explains the concept of a Speaking.) Basically, a Speaking is much like the traditional speeches given at a funeral or memorial service, with one important difference. The Speaker is supposed to truly tell the story of the deceased person’s life, both the good and the bad, so that the deceased may be better understood.

    I would say this should be something that you know the person would have wanted, preferably something they specifically requested. Unless your husband’s friend happened to be a fan of this series, this probably isn’t a helpful suggestion. However, it might be a helpful thing to others reading the comments, so I mention it.

  24. I’m so sorry for your loss.
    For me personally, pictures and music would be the most important. I’ve never planned a memorial service, offbeat or otherwise, but those two would be my priority. Pictures remind people of happy memories and get people talking and reminiscing (My family is super Irish, so Irish wakes are really my frame of reference). Music would also be important to me, but not like bagpipes or any of that kind of thing. Either the person’s favorite band or something really meaningful. (Think the funeral scene at the beginning of Love, Actually https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tJbXSiuRdE).

  25. When a friend of mine’s father, who was agnostic, passed away, they rented a party hall, brought in a bunch of photos of him, got some cheap booze and snacks, and had a party. After everyone had had a few drinks folks took turns standing up and telling stories about him. Some were funny, some were touching, and of course some where very tear jerking- I’ve always felt it was the best memorial I’ve been to, and if you don’t have the funds for a party hall, the same sort of event could be thrown in a backyard, public park, or house with a large living room.

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