At Martin Oaks, we frequently receive questions about the differences in services that take place following a funeral. This is because we have a 3-acre cemetery in which families want to have some type of observance, either as a substitute for a funeral service, or following a funeral service.
The funeral directors who work with Martin Oaks have a variety of services to offer families: the options may be mixed and matched according to individual needs.
So, what is a graveside service?
Simply put, it is a service that is held at the gravesite in the cemetery prior to interment. The service itself can follow a traditional funeral service, or it can be a standalone event. Graveside services can be held for traditional burials, or even the interment of cremated remains.
Graveside services may be thought as pared down funerals: in fact, many of the features of a funeral can be incorporated in a minimal way into a graveside service.
The service itself is conducted by a member of the clergy, or a funeral director – in fact, some graveside services are conducted by family members, or friends of the family. Pallbearers generally are not used in graveside services, nor is music typically preformed. Eulogies can be given, but most often it is customary to have just one eulogy. Prayers can be offered, but again fewer than you would find in a traditional funeral. Flowers may or may not be present, but usually the arrangements are fewer. Video tributes are not part of a graveside service because cemeteries usually cannot accommodate them.
Graveside services often have relatively small attendance with the family sitting on chairs designated for them. These services can take place not only at a grave, but at a columbarium or niche.
Why do families choose to have graveside services?
The primary reason is often either financial, or because of the small number of survivors of the deceased who are present. Graveside services are a lot less expensive than a traditional funeral service. Families can save as much at $2,000 – $3,000 or more by eliminating the traditional funeral service. If the deceased does not have a lot remaining family members in the area, or if they have no particular church affiliation, it sometimes makes more sense to just conduct the memorial at the graveside.
Finally, families sometimes prefer the simplicity of a graveside service versus the ceremonies involved in a traditional funeral.
So, what is a memorial service?
A memorial service is completely different than either a funeral or graveside service. They can be held in any location (church, restaurant, meeting hall, parks, homes, or even at the beach). Often there is little to no formal structure to the service, with people participating in many ways. Eulogies can be delivered, prayers can be offered, musical performances can be given, whatever options the family of the deceased choose. The remains of the deceased can be, but are usually not present at the memorial. We have heard music by The Beach Boys, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or live mariachi bands at these kinds of events. Sometimes, if these services directly follow the funeral, they often are more like a post service reception than an extended event.
Often times we are asked about a committal service. Committal service basically is the last act at the cemetery. It’s committing the deceased back to the ground. As the coffin is lowered into the earth, people have their final opportunity to say goodbye. Rituals vary (shoveling dirt, putting flowers on the coffin, prayers, etc.), but basically what we are talking about here is family members and friends gathered around the grave as the closed casket is lowered.
As a final thought, please keep in mind that whatever service families choose is primarily for the living. It is a way of acknowledging a death, acknowledging the personal relationships that exist, and a time to experience the loss.