More families are choosing personalized memorial celebrations of life. Here are some options.
Have you ever been to a funeral or memorial service that took place somewhere other than a church, funeral home, or cemetery? Many people haven’t, because the traditional funeral format has been culturally dominant for the past century. And while plenty of people find great comfort in knowing exactly what’s expected — a visitation, followed by a religious service, followed by a graveside service — more and more people want to plan something unique for themselves or their loved ones.
One way you can break out of the traditional mold is choosing an unconventional venue for a memorial service or celebration-of-life event. What if, instead of sitting in pews at a church, friends and family could gather to celebrate a life under a canopy on a sunny beach? What if a person addicted to baseball could be remembered at their favorite ballpark, or an astronomy nut could be celebrated with a star show at a local planetarium?
If those ideas don’t seem exactly right for you or your loved one, here are some more ideas for unconventional funeral venues:
1. Movie theater
Celebrate the life of a movie buff by renting out a movie theater for a private screening. Plan some time before the movie for one or more people to say a few words about your loved one, then watch a film together. Maybe it will be one of the deceased’s old favorites, or maybe it will be the latest box office hit.
2. College or university
Some of us have deep emotional ties to our alma mater, and a service at that beloved hall of learning could be perfect. There are many potential locations at most colleges — a classroom, a theater, a gymnasium, a chapel. Think of what might work best for your loved one and work with university officials to make it happen.
3. Bowling alley
If your loved one never missed league night, honor their memory with a bowling memorial service. Rent out the alley for an afternoon and allow some time to share memories before bowling a few games together.
4. National, state, or city park
Bring the majesty of nature to a funeral service by setting it in one of the most beautiful outdoor areas our world has to offer. Whether you gather in a picnic area or step off the beaten path for a hike or a climb, you’ve found a perfect way to remember a nature lover.
5. Brewery or winery
If your loved one was a home brewer or winemaker — or just a connoisseur — remember them with a memorial service at their favorite local brewery or winery. Most will also serve soft drinks, so non-drinkers can be included too.
Charter a boat to take a sunset cruise or an afternoon sightseeing tour in memory of your loved one. Sometimes this idea is combined with an ash-scattering ceremony for a “burial at sea.”
A history or art lover might be best remembered at a favorite museum. Many museums have a hall or other meeting room you can rent or reserve, and guests can take in the exhibits before or after the service.
8. Botanical garden or conservatory
One way to have a beautiful service for a nature lover even when the weather is cold is to gather at a conservatory, where plants thrive in the warmth of a greenhouse. A botanical garden is the lovely outdoor equivalent.
A memorial service at a restaurant can be a fancy affair at a five-star favorite, a casual meal at a cozy diner, or anything in between. Reserve a side room or rent the whole place out, depending on your group’s needs.
Planning a memorial service for an animal lover? Many zoos have meeting rooms that can be rented out for a service, and sometimes those rooms will have views of some of the animal exhibits. Schedule a walking or bus tour of the zoo to follow the service so guests can share in the deceased’s love for animals.
11. Historic mansion
Many towns have an historic mansion that’s been converted into an event venue. This could be a graceful and stately place to remember a loved one.
Some of these ideas can come together even on a very slim budget, while others will be pricier to pull off. And some will require more advance planning than others — room rentals at some popular venues can be booked for months.
It’s not always a bad thing to wait a bit after a death before having a memorial service, though. These locations are generally places where you won’t be able to have your loved one’s body present at a funeral, so they’re better suited for a post-cremation service at which the ashes will be present, or one where the deceased is simply remembered with a favorite photo in a special frame. While it’s still more common to have a funeral service within about a week after a death, it’s not unheard of to gather after a month or two. This may work best if you’re looking for an unconventional venue.
On the other hand, a location like a park or a movie theater is more likely to be available on short notice. If it’s important to you to gather friends and family together for support while your grief is still fresh, consider places where you can quickly make a reservation. Or look at holding a gathering on a weekday rather than a weekend, as they tend to be less busy times for special event venues. And remember that a funeral director can be a huge help with booking a venue, even an unconventional one. They’ll do what it takes to help you plan the funeral you’re envisioning.