To be (at a memorial service) or not to be


It’s funny how questions about my profession have changed over the years,
and the change reflects the growing preference for cremation as a
means of final disposition. A question I used to get was “What’s the
difference between a casket and a coffin?” With casket usage dropping and
many families selecting cremation, I now am frequently asked “What is the
difference between a funeral and a memorial service?” On the surface, the
question is easily answerable by the stock reply that a funeral has the
body present, while a memorial service does not. But what about when the
urn containing the ashes is present; does that not constitute a “body” and
therefore call for the term “funeral” to be utilized?

While it’s easy to get caught up in the semantics of what label to give a
ceremony, one thing I have found is NOT easy concerns the presence of
our personnel on memorial services at area churches. Many families tell us
our presence is not required for a memorial service, and that the
church will take care of all of their needs during the ceremony. These
“needs” include reserving pews for the family to sit in, the placement of
flowers/photos/mementos in the sanctuary, reserving adequate parking for
family members, delivery of the urn (if applicable) to the church, ushering
the family into and out of the sanctuary at the proper time and to/from the
proper location, placement of/collection of register book(s) at entrances
to the church, the handing out of memorial records/church bulletins to
those attending, making sure doors are closed once the memorial service
begins so outside noises and visual distractions are minimized, making
sure  the family receives the register book and any flower cards, and
the dispersal of floral tributes after the ceremony. As you can see,
there’s quite a lot that goes into a memorial service, even when it is NOT
a funeral with a casket present.

I’ll be the first to admit that several places of worship in our valley
have proven they have the personnel and/or volunteer corps to
successfully “pull off” the litany of duties involved in such an
event. But for every church that IS able to provide the comfort and
logistical assistance to families on the day of a memorial service, there
are others that have difficulty in this area.

Our funeral directors are trained to offer assistance at memorial taking place away from
our chapel, but of course we do have to include a charge for our
personnel, equipment, and vehicles. Often, family members tell us (in a
polite way) that Oakey’s staff members will not be needed at the church
when the memorial service takes place. Our response is to politely accept
this explanation and not attempt to push our involvement into the family
member’s face. When things at the church go properly, I rarely hear back
from attendees about the service. However, if problems manifest themselves
at the service, I often receive a call or visit from a family member,
clergy person, or simply a friend of the family present for the
memorial service.

Only recently, a pastor who I know and respect complained to me that
Oakey’s should have been at the memorial service. He stated a hallway
door did not get closed and created a problem during the service and
everyone in the sanctuary saw people going down the hallway during the
funeral. He also said a front door was left open and traffic permeated the solemn atmosphere. Nobody knew what to do with the
flowers afterwards, he said, and handicapped folks could not sign the “self
serve” register book. When I explained to him that the family turned down
our offer of help at the church, he merely shook his head and replied
he was a minister and not a funeral director!

I have a problem with our people not being at many of the church memorial
services, as well. Everyone who reads an obituary knows what funeral home
is in charge of the arrangements. If obvious snafus occur before, during,
or after the service, the funeral home mentioned in the obit takes
a hit to their reputation. “Why didn’t you have people in the parking lot
at (name) church last week, Sammy? That “funeral” was HUGE” was just one
comment I got two months ago when a family said they did not require our
help at the church.

So what’s the answer? I really don’t know. I DO know other funeral
homes are wrestling with the same problem, and are as confounded as I am
about a solution. So now you know the difference between a memorial service
and a funeral. I only wish the answer to MY problem was as cut and dried!

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