What is The Difference Between a Funeral, a Celebration of Life and a Memorial Service?

Depending on who you ask, you may get a different answer to this question. While many people consider funerals, celebrations of life and memorial services to be one and the same, or very similar, there are some distinct differences we see at Country Hills Crematorium when helping a family to plan final arrangements.

Funerals, memorials and celebrations of life have much in common, yet they often appear very different. Each is a ceremony that consists of a gathering of people who share a common loss. The first two are more rooted in tradition, while the other is the result of recent changes in social values that are less conservative. That said, all three serve to:

  • Help the bereaved family, and their community, publicly acknowledge the death of one of their own
  • Support the grieving family by surrounding them with caring friends, co-workers and neighbours
  • Move the deceased from one social status to another

A funeral, memorial service and celebration of life all bring friends and family together to provide support to one another and commemorate a life, they just achieve this in very different ways.

Funerals are the traditional service you have likely come to expect including a visitation, a service that is often religious or ritualistic in nature, the committal and a funeral reception. The body is usually present and the atmosphere is typically quite somber. Attendees will usually wear formal attire, as the funeral is usually in a more formal location, and it is often a very quiet service with little joy or conversation. 

Memorial services became a more common option when cremation rose in popularity. A memorial service is quite similar to a funeral, but the deceased is not present. In most cases, they have already been cremated and their remains may be present in an urn during the memorial though. 

With a memorial service, the focus is on acknowledging the reality of the recent loss, while also paying tribute to their life. It is an opportunity to express grief and say goodbye. 

In both cases, memorial services and funerals include religious elements, a eulogy, readings, prayers, songs and reflection. They both also follow a similar order of services although there is no wake or visitation before a memorial service and you may find they are less formal than a funeral service. Both are usually held in a funeral home or place of worship.

Celebration of life services have become much more popular in recent years due to the desire to express a person’s individuality and rejoice in their memories.

A celebration of life is more focused on telling the story of the deceased rather than following a set protocol. Celebrations of life are just that: a time when people come together more to celebrate the unique personality and achievements of the deceased.

Since celebrations of life are commonly held after the individual’s physical remains have been cared for through burial or cremation, there is much more time available to plan the event. And without doubt, this allows you to be more creative in how you choose to celebrate the life of someone you dearly loved. 

A celebration of life differs from a funeral or memorial in that it’s often a more casual and less structured service. Many families consider a celebration of life to be more of a relaxed and party-like atmosphere with guests attending to celebrate a life well lived. A celebration of life may or may not include elements from a traditional funeral service, although the choice is left up to the family.

During a celebration of life, laughter, joy and conversation are more acceptable. There may even be music playing in the background, which creates a livelier atmosphere than the organ and hymns usually heard during a funeral or memorial service.

A celebration of life service may take place at any location, including a church, a family member’s house or a place of significance, such as the deceased’s favourite bar, a restaurant or hall. Outdoor areas such as a riverbank, botanical garden or park are also popular locations for these services.

The choice to hold a funeral, memorial service or celebration of life is based on the individual preferences of the person who has passed away and how their community chooses to honour their passing. A person who was more formal or had strong religious beliefs around death will be best remembered in a more traditional funeral service. A memorial can be a good fit when someone chooses to be cremated but would prefer the structure of a service. Celebrations of life are a great way to focus on the life led by the deceased and honour their memory in a unique way that suits their individuality.

While we’ve outlined above the most common differences between the three types of end of life observances, there really is no “set in stone” way that a funeral, memorial or celebration of life has to happen. We have hosted funerals that were joyous and celebrations of life that were quite somber and everything in between. Any time people gather as a result of a death, it’s the way the deceased was loved by the attendees, their age, the manner of death and the life that they lived that typically dictates the mood of the event, not the label. The personal and religious values of the family and friends planning the event is a defining factor as well.

All three options are a helpful and beneficial way to say goodbye to someone you loved. Each can be customized to suit your preferences and the needs of those who will be in attendance. If you are considering preplanning your final arrangements, or if you need to plan a service for a loved one, our Funeral Directors are available 24 hours a day to support you. 

We will work with you to handle your arrangements with care and dedication that honours the life that has been lost. Call Country Hills Crematorium today at (403)274-0576.

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