Memorial service at home: English version

Ritual of memorial celebration for family-members not able to attend the funeral-service of their loved one.

Written by:  drs. Luis Kaserer, Dutch Chaplain, Gouda,  April 2th, 2020


Grieving family-members and friends in mourning may not be able to physically be present and attend the funeral service of their loved one. This is a serious and sad situation to deal with. May be it’s happening to you. You desperately want to be close to your deceased loved one to show your affection and respect and to receive and offer sympathy to others for the loss and yet: it’s not possible. This is a tragedy and hard to cope with. What are your options now?

This ritual-manual intents to offer some hints for a possible structure to deal with this complex and sad situation. Proper grieving and mourning are important copying-practices for staying strong or regaining health and a sense of well being for the long term. Suppressing feelings of grief and sorrow is not a good idea. It may make things even worse for the long run. Your task may well be to deal with this situation in a way that is helpful for you as well as your loved once now and in the future. Feel free to find your own way to deal with this complex situation. This manual wants to offer some suggestions in case no other and better options are available. Used this manual freely and choose whatever may meet your needs.  

Note that to perform this ritual of memorial you do not have to do anythings you don’t want. Are you a  (Christian or other) believer? Perform the ritual of memorial according to your religious convictions. Are religious or spiritual activities and practices not part of your lifestyle? Do it in your own way! Choose what’s helping you right now. Disregard the rest. There are many ways that lead to a mountain top. Choose your own and feel free. Find a meaningful way that suites your spiritual, existential and psychological needs to cope with your task: To say good-bye to your loved one in a meaningful way from a distance. The body of the deceased may be at a funeral home, a place of worship, a graveside or elsewhere for burial or cremation. You cannot be there. This is a tragedy, yes and it hurts. May be you just don’t want to do anything right now. That’s o.k. too. May be you want to be left alone. On the other hand: May be you want to do something that feels more meaningful for yourself  and for other loved once connected to you. May be you want to do something together. It may help you and them too. Doing something and doing it together is better than doing nothing. Maybe it supports your healing process and helps your resilience to stay in – or to regain your  own personal power and strength.

  • Arrange with the funeral-director the date and time for the actual burial or cremation. Share this information with your relatives and friends.
  • Plan sufficient time for this ritual at home. About 40 minutes. Make sure you are not disturbed in this time.
  • Inform relatives, friends and others affected about the agreement concerning the burial or cremation ceremony of your loved one. Tell them also about your plans for this ritual of memorial  at your home. Invite them to feel free to join you and to perform a similar ritual at their own home at the same appointed time.

Points to remember

  1. Prepare this personal ceremony by creating a ‘sacred space’ at a table. Let’s call it: Remembrance-table. It can be arranged anywhere in your house. Find a nice piece of cloth and place the chosen attributes or symbols there. Choose attributes and symbols that connect in a special way to the person, lifestyle and spiritual tradition of the deceased. Is there a list of the wishes, the wanted type of funeral-service, favorite texts, hymns, songs, poems etc, follow them up as much as possible in this ritual of memorial. Notice what cannot be done, cannot be done. Get to terms with that.
  2. Place a candle at the center of your ‘sacred space’ with  three candle-lights (wax-lights) safely around. Instead of wax-lights you may choose little stones(minerals), flower-buts, fruits, beads etc. Be creative!
    • A photo of the deceased
    •  Choose a flower of fresh flowers – if available – that symbolizes something you enjoyed about the deceased passions and interests.
    • A symbol that relates to the spiritual or religious tradition like a crucifix, statute or picture of a saint or an angel, a bible or another Sacred Scripture, a picture of Boeddha, etc.
    • A symbol that relates to the personal life like a jewel, a given or received present, a handicraft or an attribute relating to work or hobby…
    • Choose one important text for reading: From the Bible, from the Koran or other Sacred Scriptures, form a prayer-book, a personal letter or poem etc.
    • Make a playlist of 3 pieces of your favorite music. 
  3. Arrange these meaningful symbols on the remembrance- table. Let other relatives  and friends know of this en take notice of their own creative arrangements and get inspired. This may deepen the connection with them. That is what you may want.

Your memorial celebration at home

  1. At the appointed time sit down at het remembrance-table.
  2. Begin with a moment of silence. May be you hear bells. Take a few deep breaths.  Connect in your mind, heart and thoughts with the deceased loved one and with all who are taking part in this ritual elsewhere. Think of them and visualize them in your mind.
  3. Now (safely!) light the candle in the middle. Do this mindfully and calmly. Deep breathing may help you get calm and concentrated.
  4. Now call out  loud the names of your loved one: All the names by which he/she officially was called, the nicknames and family-name etc. In these names de deceased always will be remembered in the hearts and minds of others.
  5. Listen now to the first piece of music. (Music evokes emotions, so be prepared for tears and emotions. Let be what is and what wants to be expressed. Notice that this is part of your healing proces.)
  6. Now walk with your thoughts in your mind through his or her life: from the beginning tot the end and let memories come up.  You can divide the life e.g. into three periods: Childhood, Adulthood and old age, whatever suites the particular situation. For every period light an wax-light or put the mineral, the flower but, fruit, beat or whatever on its place next to the light en say loudly what you are doing in a form of eulogy.
    • ‘I light candle for your period of childhood, and I remember…’ Go through the early history. What do you know about the childhood, school, study, youth, etc. what were big and life changing events. Remember all that comes to your mind.
    • After that: remember de period of adulthood, light a candle or lay down a mineral-stone, flower-but etc. What were the relationships like with the family, friend, at work, in business and private. Where did he/she feel most at home, at ease, in control? What were the achievements, what was the significance of his/her life for de family, the communities, etc. What was beautiful, good and holy? What were the personal convictions? What pain and frustration was there that caused copying with suffering? 
    • Remember the times of old age and the last periods. The great times but also the difficult periods, the suffering, loss and grief. Light a candle, lay down a flower – bud etc.  for this period. Remember: Not everything needs to be remembered or mentioned. Just say the things that come to your mind.
  7. Now take some time of silent reflection. This life is now completed. This is what it is. No more days to come. Think about what this has meant for you. What does it mean right now? What will this life  be the meaning for you in the future? Keep these thoughts in your heart.
  8. Now play the second piece of music.
  9. Now read out loud the texts that you chose beforehand. Let they inspire you in your  situation.
  10. After that you may find a prayer or other words. If you have no words, light an incense -stick or imagine that you walk with your loved one to the port of heaven and say good bye there: What would you say? What would you hear? Listen to your heart and your intuition. Speak the words of affection. Are you thankful? Say what you are thankful of. What do you wish for him/her? Say it out loud or in the stillness of your heart. Is there anything to forgive or be forgiven? Say it. Is there anything to be asked for? Ask it in your mind. What are your last words for this loved one? Feel free to do al of this in your own way.
  11. Now play the third piece of music
  12. Now keep still till the appointed time  has passed. You may now want to make contact with other loved once by calling them. May be you want to share your experience. Share your tears, your grief and sorrow. Share your emotions. Share what you liked and what you enjoyed and what inspired you. If something unexpected happened that makes you laugh or smile. Share it. It will help relief.  
  13. Now put out the candles to close the ritual. You want to keep a candle burning? Do so, but try to close the ritual by doing something different. Drink something, move about, stretch etc. You may want to clear the remembrance-table and move the attributes or symbols elsewhere. Do what feels right for you.


It is possible that you may need help to cope with this extraordinary situation and with what you are going through. Try than to find help in your environment. Your loved once will want to help you. You may want more professional help. Ask the family doctor, social worker, spiritual leader or other professionals that you trust and that are available to you.  Take good care of yourself and remember grieving is hard work and there is no other way round. Face the truth and its pain, for it will eventually help you through and lead you to healing. Only you can make a difference. Take courage!