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What to Expect at a Memorial Service Held at Home

(Charlotte Nation / Getty Images)

A casual setting can make it more comfortable to share memories.

Q.  I’ve been invited to a memorial service that will be held at home. Although the deceased and I weren’t close, he made an important impact in my life, and I want to pay my respects. But I don’t know what to expect. The other memorial services I’ve attended were held at funeral homes, churches or other places of worship, or in hotel event spaces. Also, how long should I plan to stay?

Memorial services in homes are on the rise, due both to economics and our increasingly secular society that makes its own rules. Staying home is a lot cheaper and more convenient for the bereaved, who may also prefer the warmth and comfort of familiar surroundings. 


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The more casual setting can benefit attendees, too. An apartment or house lacks the majesty of some places of worship, yet its very simplicity encourages people to connect, reminisce about the deceased, and find solace together. Weather permitting, the home service may even take place in a garden or backyard. Some people may have been asked to speak; others may volunteer to say a few words. A clergyman and prayers or selected poetry may or may not be included. 

For example, I recently attended a memorial service held in a large apartment. The deceased, a colleague I’d lost touch with, had been cremated weeks before. The bereaved sent email invitations to a “celebration of life” to a list of family members and friends. Speakers were asked to emphasize humorous memories, if possible.

I found the home service (my first ever) to be an enriching and humbling experience. About 40 people attended, helping themselves to a buffet of sandwiches and wine. And we listened to each other’s stories. To my shock, I learned so much about a person I thought I knew. I had no idea of her difficult childhood, how much she yearned to go to medical school, her passion for the beach, and how beloved she was by her extended family.        

As for timing, I stayed about an hour. I might not have stayed that long had there been fewer speakers or if I hadn’t so enjoyed catching up with several people I hadn’t seen in years. We plan to get together soon. Because I would have felt uncomfortable being the first to leave, I waited for one or two others to seek their coats and joined them at the elevator.   


Florence Isaacs is the author of several books on etiquette, including My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes


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