Funeral or Memorial Service: What's the Difference?

How does a funeral differ from a memorial service after a death occurs?

Cremation urn at memorial service
What's the difference between a memorial service and a funeral?. Photo © Chris Raymond

These days, it's increasingly common to run across the term "memorial service" in an obituary or death notice, or when speaking to someone following the death of a close loved one, but many people do not realize there is a difference between this form of service and a traditional funeral. This article explains the similarities and differences between a funeral and a memorial service.

Funeral vs. Memorial Service

In general, a funeral service includes/incorporates the body of the deceased individual. Most often, the person who died rests in a casket during a "traditional funeral," which usually offers a wake/visitation. During this time, mourners can view the embalmed body and pay their final respects before the start of the formal funeral service itself.

On the other hand, a memorial service typically does not include/incorporate the body of the deceased person. Families selecting cremation, direct cremation, whole-body donation to a medical or research facility, alkaline hydrolysis or some other non-traditional form of body disposition often choose to hold a memorial service days, weeks or months after the actual physical disposition occurs. This flexibility in scheduling a meaningful ceremony is one of the many reasons why U.S. consumers increasingly select cremation services for a loved one -- particularly when the deceased's family members and friends live far apart.

Despite the significant difference between the two funeral forms (the presence of the deceased), both a funeral and a memorial serve the same function, i.e., to help survivors confront and accept the reality that a death has occurred; honor and remember someone significant in their lives; and help those grieving begin adjusting to life after the loss, among other reasons.

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