How To Have A Meaningful Memorial Service Without A Body

All deaths are difficult, and ones, where the body is not present, can be especially hard. This should not stop you from having a memorable service for the deceased. You want their memory to live on and having a memorial service can help with this. 

To have a meaningful memorial service without a body can be done by honoring the deceased while allowing the friends and family to heal. Without a body, you need to have other ways to facilitate the healing process. There are different ways to do this, and finding one can stat the grieving process.

Meaningful can mean so many different things to people. You should remember when searching for a meaningful memorial that it is not for the dead, it is for the living. You can have a memorable service by taking a few things into consideration and planning. 

Why do people even have a service without a body?

They have a memorial or service for the same reason they have one with a body. For those in attendance and afar to heal.

In our Western culture, we tend to associate death with a body. When one is not present it can hinder the grieving process. Usually, a  funeral involves a viewing and everyone has a chance to say goodbye to their loved one. This brings about a certain amount of closure to people.

A service like this should be a celebration of their lives. It can take the weight off from the mourning process and allow healing. The ones who have suffered the loss are dealing with grief and it is compounded by not having a body for closure. It can be a very uplifting and heartwarming event when friends and family are around and sharing their stories of how the individual had impacted them.

For many of the people attending, it can give them a glimpse and a dose of perspective into the life of the deceased, that they may have never been aware of. The distant friends and family who may have not seen them in a long time need closure as well, and this could be the time that it happens.

What are the reasons to have a service without a body? 

A memorial or funeral without the body present happens quite often. There are multiple reasons why this may occur but usually, a body was not recovered or could not be recovered. There may not be an actual physical body to bury due to circumstances such as plane crashes, war, disappearances, natural disasters, car accidents, and other extenuating circumstances. 

Nowadays families, friends, and loved-ones have services, even if there is a body, but do not want that to be the focal point of the service.  If they do have a burial it would be afterward and more of a formality. Even with cremation, a burial service isn’t required and for many, a memorial service suits them better as it is less formal than the traditional funeral. 

Family and friends that live in other parts of the world may also want to have a memorial service. Traveling takes a lot of time and money, and they might not be able to get to the funeral,  even if there is a body.

There are no laws that say you cannot have a memorial for the deceased, in a totally different country or region. As I said before, the main motive is to help with the grieving process and to say our goodbyes.

Planning Tips 

Memorial services allow for a great deal of flexibility as opposed to burying a body and the traditions that usually entail. The service does not have to take place right away, it is not unheard of to have it weeks or months later. An annual or decennial memorial is also common.

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However you decided to do it, this is a big step in the grieving process. You and your loved ones can spend as much time as you need to prepare for the memorialization of the deceased. 


When will you have the memorial? Since you do not have a body, this timeframe is much more flexible.

Depending on the situation on why there is not a body you may want to wait for legal issues to be cleared up. Either way, there is no rush, you want to have a well thought out plan first. Some people have the memorial on the day of the incident, the loved one’s birthday or a special day to them.  This also gives you ample time to schedule with the people that are very busy and/or live far away.  


Trying to invite everyone that was associated with the person could be very hard. This is a time where you could ask for help from friends and family on who to invite.

You want to try to invite all that were close with them and people that had connections. This may sound easy, but not everyone gets along with each other and it may be hard to invite certain people. Everyone is hurting and this could help out everyone in the grieving process if they were just invited. Just make sure that you are not putting your mental health at risk when trying to be inclusive. 

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During this time it is something else that is not a pleasant thought but needs to be brought up. How much are you going to spend on the memorial and what is needed exactly?

Memorials can be expensive, and you want to be cautious of how much it may be. Some ways to lighten the load could be having it in a public space or at someone’s home. A common thing that is done is to have people bring food/beverages and entertainment. It can be like a potluck. The family/ friends could also share the cost if possible. 

Religious Figures/ Places

If the departed had a will or it was well known, they may have wanted some sort of religious leader there to say something. The actual memorial could also be held at religious places such as in a church or a synagogue. If the person was not religious, the figure may just be there to give some solace to those that are.  


Some people abide by religious, cultural, or ethnic traditions. These are not always well known to friends and family but could be something that they wanted. Checking with all those close around the person may shed some light on if they wanted a special tradition followed. 


Without a body, you have a lot of possible choices. The memorial service does not have to be done at the traditional places e.g churches, funeral homes, chapels, mosques, etc.

It could be held at the person’s favorite spot, restaurant or even bar. It could be special to have it at one of these places. It is just as nice to have it in a park, community center where everyone can be around each other and interact. Try to inform the venue ahead of time so that they have room and can set up anything if need be. 

Food and Beverage

It is common at memorials to have some sort of food and beverage. If you are making this into a longer event it may be necessary.  If it is going to be short and outside having some light refreshments would be fine. This could get a little tricky depending on the venue. People often choose to imbibe at memorials and having it at a restaurant that serves all types off drinks may be an option. 

Thank You’s

Unless you have done everything on your own, it would be nice to send out thank you cards. Even if the people did not help out with the planning or execution of the event showing your appreciation for them coming. This can help with the healing process, in knowing that they were thought about. 

What are some ways to do this?

It could be easy to have a meaningful memorial service with a little imagination and ingenuity. In fact, it can be quiet moving to customize it.  When genuine articles or favorite places of the loved one are used to celebrate their life, it can make it that much more memorable.

These items/places elicit different emotions, like laughter or sadness which can aid the healing. This is because the person being celebrated meant different things to so many different people. Telling that story is important. 


A photomontage is a group of pictures that are put together to make another one. At the memorial, you could make a large photomontage or collage. The friends & family could bring the pieces themselves or you could have them there to create. You could even use personal items to make them 3D and give it some depth. This could be taken home by a member of the family or placed somewhere. 


Having a display or what some call a shrine is a way to honor the deceased and for talking points. These things could be items such as artwork, trophies, clothes, pictures, sporting equipment, car parts, awards, books, anything that meant a lot to the deceased and or the living.  The items could be larger and be the focus of the memorial such as a motorcycle, car or a sculpture.

Create an Event/ Charity Work

This is more of a time-consuming idea and you will probably need others to help with, but it would be very rewarding. Some events that you could do are a race such as a 5k, beach clean up, or food/clothing drive.

These could be combined with a fundraiser and the money could go to an organization that meant a lot to the deceased or even the cause for which they are not with you. This could extend their legacy in a positive light for you and others to remember them by.

Normal Funeral

Some people may choose to use an empty casket at the funeral. This, for some, will give the service a sense of normality. You can go through the whole process as if the body was there. The casket could be empty or have items in it that deceased treasured. 

If you are not going to bury the casket or choose to bury a lesse expensive model then you can rent a casket for the memorial. For more information on this, read my article on renting caskets.

Memorial Capsule

Instead of having a body buried in a cemetery you could have a time capsule of sorts.  You and those close to the deceased could put things in the capsule while talking about the items.  You could either bury this or keep it in a safe place. On the memorial of day, you could bring it out and reminisce. 


A cenotaph is a monument originally used to commemorate someone with no known grave. The ones for British and Commonwealth service people who died in and after the World Wars are a famous example, one such being in the heart of London, England. They are still used today, not just by the UK.  These do not have to be large and extravagant as they used to be. 

Military Burial/Memorial

The military has different kinds of burials and memorials depending on what branch of the service they served in. You should contact their offices to find out more. They may also have special places for this to happen and funds that could be used for it as well. 

A Slideshow

This is similar to the idea of the collage but could include videos and music. You could have a formal sitting of it or it could be playing in the background on loop.   Somethings you may want to include are important life events, places, people, pets, and days that shaped the life of the deceased.


Music is a large part of a lot of people’s lives. You could simply have music at the venue. The music could be their favorite bands and songs or ones that reminded you of them. Having a band is another option especially if it if they play the music that the loved one cherished. A memorial at a concert or their favorite music festival is a unique way to honor them.  

A Special Location

Many times places mean special things to us. Having a memorial at one of these places is something to consider. The deceased may have been an athlete or loved sports. The local sports field or a stadium are two places that could hold people and would be good for a gathering. You could even have it at a sporting event, the tailgate could be the memorial. 

Their Favorite Activities

An activity is normally sometimes at a specific location, but it does not have to be. What did they love to do? If they loved video or board games, having a get together where everyone could play these games is a fun idea. 

If the deceased enjoyed hiking on a specific trail, but it is not feasible to get there. Having everyone go for a hike with each other an having a picnic is the next best thing. Some other activities are paintball, amusement parks, fishing, watching a movie, cooking/BBQ, etc. 


Some people at any event probably want to give a speech and talk about the deceased. By asking the guests ahead of time who would like to give one allows them to prepare and you to find a venue suitable for this.

It does not even have to be a speech. People can read things like reading a poem, scripture, sing a song, deliver a eulogy, share a moment or even just tell a funny story.

Religious Memorial

You do not have to have a funeral to have a religious memorial/service. Sometimes people will have a special service or gather at their local institution. The people can come to the weekly service and the leader could say a few words during it. 

There are no rules and regulations for a memorial service, thoughts and prayers spoken by family members or close friends, scriptures, music selections, short sermons are commonly done at these. 

A Wake/Celebtartion/Party

A wake is usually after the funeral and is more of an uplifting event than a somber one. But, you do not need a funeral to have a wake.  You could call it a wake or just a party or celebration.

In many cultures this is common, people do not want everyone to be thinking sad thoughts. They want happiness and remembering the good times that you spent with the deceased. By calling it one of these things right away could alleviate some people’s fears and doubts about coming. 

For more ideas watch this video below:

What is the difference between a funeral, a memorial, memorial service, and a wake?

A funeral is a ceremony connected with the burial or the cremation of a body. They are usually held at a religious institution, funeral home, or any place with space.

 A memorial service or celebration of life is a funeral ceremony that is performed without the remains of the deceased person.

A memorial is something that is created to honor the deceased such as a statue or a plaque. 

A wake is traditionally held after the funeral to celebrate the deceased. 

How long does a memorial service last? 

There are so many different options, there is no set time. Do take into consideration, the venue, time of year, weather, etc. 

Do I need to even have a service?

No, you do not. Having one will probably help you and the rest of the bereaved, but it is not required. If you do not want to have one, maybe allow others to set it up. 

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