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When a Funeral Isn't Possible or Is Delayed


When a Funeral Isn’t Possible or Is Delayed

If you’re unable to have a service for your loved one, or if it will be delayed, it may be difficult to accept that you will be limited in your ability to invite others to pay their respects and support you immediately following your loss. However, it’s never too late to honor the life of your loved one and there are many options to do so in the future, once it is again safe for family and friends to gather. You can start planning at any time, either for a traditional memorial service or for smaller memorial gatherings with friends and family.

If you're supporting a friend or family member who has experienced the death of a loved one, learn several ways you can express condolences.

Your Guide to Planning a Future Service

Note: A free download of this guide, including a planning worksheet, is available on the Free Resources page.
If you’re unable to have the funeral you would like to have due to the pandemic, you can still plan to have a traditional memorial service in a few weeks or months once social distancing and other restrictions have been lifted. While delaying a memorial service may have some disadvantages, there are also some benefits.

Having a memorial service several weeks or even months after a death:
  • Provides ample time to create a very meaningful tribute that beautifully honors the life of your loved one.
  • Makes it more possible for friends and family, especially those who live at a distance, to be in attendance.
The memorial service can be held at a funeral home, or you may want to select a location that has significance to your loved one or the family – perhaps a church, restaurant, or park. Contact a local funeral director to get started. To find one near you, use our Find a Funeral Home search tool.

Initial Planning

Timing. You may start planning a meaningful service at any time, even if it won’t be held for several months
Location. The service can be held at the funeral home, at a church, or at another place with special meaning to you and your loved one.
Refreshments. You may want to serve food and beverage for your guests. Make it meaningful by including your loved one’s favorite foods.
Type of service. Whether you have a more formal service with a set program of readings and music or a more casual gathering is up to you. Your funeral director can help you create a meaningful service.
Music. Whether you feature traditional music reflective of your faith or another genre of music favored by your loved one, music can create a special environment for mourners. Perhaps there are guests who would appreciate having the opportunity to perform a piece of music.
Speakers. If you’re planning to have readings, such as scripture readings, poems or letters, consider who might appreciate the opportunity to speak.
Officiant. Consider if you'd like to have a faith leader or celebrant lead the service or participate in some capacity.
Décor. Enhance the space with flowers or personalize it with items important to your loved one. 
Budget. Be open about your budget so your funeral director can work within it and offer options that are meaningful yet respectful of your budget. Regardless of your budget, your funeral director can help you plan a service that reflects the life of your loved one.

Make it Meaningful

Display the urn. If you chose cremation for your loved one and still have the cremated remains in your possession, the urn can be displayed at the service if you wish.
Gather meaningful mementos and photos to display. Your funeral director can help you create a thoughtful display that honors the life of your loved one. Objects may include photos, letters, awards, a favorite book, artwork, a record collection, a special watch, or other meaningful objects. 
Prepare a eulogy or other remarks if you would like to speak about your loved one. Invite others to speak as well.
Offer guests a small memorial token. Whether you give your guests a traditional prayer card, a copy of your loved one’s favorite quote, a small stone or metal heart, or another object of meaning, a memorial token can keep a loved one close as guests continue on their grief journeys. Your funeral director can also suggest some options.
Highlight a cause important to your loved one. Invite guests to donate to a cause important to the person who died, whether to an organization of personal interest, such as a humane society or food bank, or one that raises money for a specific health issue, such as heart disease or cancer.

Involve Your Guests

Involving other mourners in the service can play an important role in helping you and others continue on their grief journeys.

Storytelling. Your guests will likely have their own stories to tell about your loved one. Invite them to share the serious, playful and humorous memories that defined how your loved one lived their life and impacted the lives of others.
Memory book. Make a large blank book available to guests so they can write down a memory or two.
Memory jars. Place empty jars throughout the space and invite guests to write memories on small pieces of paper provided nearby and place them in the jars.
Virtual options. It’s possible not everyone will be able to attend the service you have planned. Consider offering a virtual option for out-of-town guests or for those who, for any variety of reasons, would find it difficult to attend in person. Your funeral director can help you find the virtual option that is right for you and coordinate the details.

Planning Future Gatherings of Family and Close Friends

A memorial service is a wonderful way to provide a large group of people with the opportunity to say goodbye, share stories and support each other as the grief journey begins. There are, however, other options for sharing memories with smaller groups of family and friends, all of which can help keep the memory of your loved one alive.

  • Honor your loved one at a special family gathering, celebration, reunion or holiday dinner.
    • Invite family and friends to share stories of your loved one.
    • Prepare your loved one’s favorite food.
    • Bring out photo albums and reflect on fond memories.
  • Recognize your loved one’s birthday or a special anniversary. Light a candle, bake a cake or prepare a special meal in their memory.
  • Host a small, casual dinner with close friends and family and share stories. The meal could feature your loved one’s favorite dishes, perhaps even prepared by those in attendance. If inclined to do so, you may want to give each attendee a special item that belonged to your loved one as a remembrance – perhaps a photo, a piece of jewelry or a special collectible. If applicable, share a story or memory about the item.
  • Plan a group activity based on one of your loved one’s interests or hobbies, such as a camping trip, a painting/wine party, or a movie night featuring a selection of his or her favorite movies.
  • Invite some family members and friends to join you at the gravesite (if you chose a burial) for some silent reflection, to share stories, or say a prayer.

Practicing Self-care and Staying Connected

Having the opportunity to gather with friends and family to collectively mourn the death of your loved one may seem very far off. Until then, however, there are a variety of things you can do to practice self-care and stay connected with family and friends while you begin the grief journey.

  • Post notice of your loved one’s death on social media. Invite your friends and family to post a memory and/or photo.
  • Post notice of your loved one’s death in local newspapers and the funeral home’s website. Most funeral home websites offer the opportunity for friends and family to contribute a comment or memory.
  • Write a letter about your loved one and memories you have. Make copies and mail them out to friends and family. Invite them to reply to you with memories of their own.
  • Reach out to family and friends by phone. They’ll enjoy hearing from you and it’s an opportunity for you to share a memory of your loved one and for them to do the same.
  • Keep a journal. As you are inspired to do so, write about memories of your loved one and how you are feeling about your grief. Share those memories with others as you are comfortable in doing so.