Memorial ceremonies have always been a part of human culture. We usually associate them with celebrities, public figures, the army forces or public services. However, memorial ceremonies are on the increase for others members of our society, as more families are shunning what are viewed as traditional funerals. As a funeral Celebrant, I have definitely seen an increase in families choosing to celebrate their loved ones lives with a memorial rather than a funeral.
Unlike a funeral, a memorial ceremony usually takes place without the body of the deceased person being there. Due to this, a memorial can be held anywhere; at any time, and more importantly for any length of time. Funeral ceremonies or services as they are also referred to, are mostly held in designated buildings within a city council owned cemetery.
There are exceptions if a funeral takes place in an independently owned woodland or natural burial ground. As an alternative Celebrant, I am an advocate for this type of green and environmentally friendlier funerals. Families choosing these kinds of funerals generally have as much time as they require to say goodbye to their loved one, rather than the usual twenty to thirty minutes ceremonies held in council run cemetery buildings.
For those families who choose cremation for their family member, memorial ceremonies are becoming a new addition to the procedure. Cremation has been the alternative to burial since it became legal in 1885. 70% of funerals today are cremations due to family choice, beliefs or lack of space in council run cemeteries.
Last year however, I noticed a significant increase in the number of families holding memorial ceremonies. The families I worked alongside had made the decision to have a life centred memorial after a direct cremation had taken place. Direct cremation involves the deceased person’s body being collected from a hospital, funeral director or family home and taken to be directly cremated without any ceremony.
These families had expressed a wish to avoid having a funeral ceremony. One family member told me ‘we couldn’t cope with the lasting image of the sight of a hearse arrive with a coffin containing Mom’. Another family member described a funeral as a ‘unnecessary waste of money’ and expressed ‘we would rather spend the money on a family party to honour Grandad properly’.
Memorial ceremonies have a completely different atmosphere to them in my experience. Gone is the traditional black clothing, men in dark suits and sombre looking faces. In their places, are everyday clothing, people smiling and a happier atmosphere with laughter and smiling faces. Guests are also more willing to speak as they feel more relaxed and at ease.
The presence of a coffin in an unfamiliar room, associated with feelings of sadness and grief, makes a traditional funeral a completely different occasion to a memorial. Memorials, whether there is an urn containing the cremated ashes of the deceased or not, are a more positive occasion. Children especially are encouraged to attend memorials as opposed to being shielded away as is common at funerals.
Memorial ceremonies are the perfect way to inclusively involve everyone of all ages in celebrating the life of a family member. Rooms and venues chosen for memorials can display not only a few possessions and standard style framed photographs as at a funeral; but can be filled with visual memories of the family member. Families can have large photographic displays, memory boards with quotes and thoughts associated with their loved one, books of remembrance, and family video memories.
I have been involved with memorial planning and I suggested a thumbprint tree painting by all who attended and this was turned into a framed print, displayed in the family home. The family also had a screen put up and their Father’s favourite film was shown during the memorial ceremony. It was a relaxed atmosphere with food available and everyone sharing thoughts and memories. An ‘open mike’ situation where anyone present could speak, was part of the celebration of life. A photographer captured the event just as a wedding, party or other social occasion would be photographed.
2016 started with the news of two celebrity memorials. Both Lemmy from Motorhead and David Bowie were privately cremated, and memorial ceremonies took place instead of traditional funerals. Lemmy’s was a very public event, with stories and speeches from his son Paul and famous friends. It was streamed live to the world via Youtube. Bowie’s was a very private and family only occasion, with news of a music tribute concert happening in March 2016.
Celebrity funerals and memorials influence fans into talking about their own arrangements with family and friends. Media announcements of direct and private cremation followed by personalised unique memorials, inform people of the alternative choice of having a funeral.
In my role as a funeral Celebrant, I help and support families in all aspects of saying goodbye to their loved ones. I work alongside undertakers and funeral directors who help families wishing to have direct cremation memorials to do so.
Memorial ceremonies are certainly memorable occasions, with tears of laughter and happiness as well as grief. They are a truly personal way to celebrate the life of a loved one. Will memorials become the personalised, cheaper and new way to mark the passing of people rather than the traditional funeral?
For more information on memorials or funerals, please contact your local celebrant here.
Original written by Ellie Farrell