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What is the Difference Between a Funeral Service and a Memorial Service?

January 1, 2019

Some people use the terms funeral service and memorial service interchangeably leading to some confusion on the issue. However, there is a distinct difference between the two. A funeral service is a ceremony where the deceased person is present. A memorial service is a ceremony where the deceased person is not present.

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“At Keohane Funeral Home, we focus on the word ceremony. Burial and cremation are merely methods of disposition. It is the ceremony itself – the funeral or memorial service – that brings a family and community together to recognize what has happened, find support, seek consolation and begin the journey of grief,” said John Keohane, Co-President of Keohane Funeral Home.

While both funeral services and memorial services are ceremonies serving the same purpose, they are very different.

Funeral Service

A funeral service is a ceremony occurring not long after a person has died and before final disposition takes place. Typically, most families choose open casket visitation followed by a ceremony in a funeral home, church or other venue and then burial or cremation. This type of ceremony – where family and friends have an opportunity to see and say goodbye to the person who has died – dates back 33,000 years and was once practiced almost universally. However, in the United States and Canada, despite scientific data supporting its importance, some families choose closed casket ceremonies or ceremonies with the person present in an urn. Regardless of whether there is viewing or whether the deceased is present in a casket or an urn; the ritual and ceremony remain the same.

Memorial Service

A memorial service is a ceremony usually occurring after disposition has taken place so the deceased is not present. Some families choose a memorial service as an alternative to what is viewed as traditional yet there is little difference in the ceremony itself. A memorial service, like a funeral service or even a wedding ceremony, can be religious or secular and may be held in various types of venues. Other families feel that separating the presence of the deceased from the ceremony allows for more time for family and friends to gather and prepare for the ceremony. As people are less rooted in their local communities, memorial services may occur weeks or months after a death has occurred.

The choice of a funeral service or a memorial service is an important family decision. The Keohane Team is well-versed in the myriad of memorialization and disposition options available to families today, and we are always willing to help families create the personal and meaningful ceremonies that best address their needs.

If you have further questions or would like to talk to one of our knowledgeable funeral directors, please contact us at any of our locations or call our main office at 1-800-Keohane (800-536-4263).


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