Funeral/Memorial Service


If someone does not belong to any organized religion, what kind of funeral or memorial service options are available to the family?

My wife’s aunt is dying of terminal cancer.

Neither the aunt, nor her father, nor her brother nor her daughters belong to any organized religion. Their beliefs range from atheist (father and brother) to loosely Christian (the aunt and her daughters). One of her sons-in-law is a cradle, orthodox Catholic, and the other is a member of the UCC. Only the son-in-law have been baptized.

I am concerned about a memorial service for the family and who will be responsible for planning it and running it in a case like this.


If she is dying get a priest to her asap! She’s not dead yet.

Normally the immediate family makes arrangements, but due to the stress of dealing with a loved one’s death its not uncommon for another close family memeber to make arrangements asking the immediate family’s imput. It is usually a pretty good idea to ask the question what type of service would she have wanted. Your wife can definitely offer to make arrangments.

I’m both she and the priest would appreciate it more if a priest is called now rather than after she’s dead for a memorial. Having a collar beside you can be very reassuring in times like these.


She’s not Catholic, and I wouldn’t expect any deathbed conversion. I appreciate the support and notion, but we need to approach the end of this woman’s life from the perspective that she’s not Catholic (or any Christian denomination), and she’s not going to be.


I don’t know where she lives, but does the family have access to hospice care? They can help the family through the process. My husband’s grandmother and the rest of the family were helped tremendously by hospice when she died. It is not a religiously oriented service, at least not as we experienced it, though they are certainly open to that I believe. The hospice personnel could help your aunt and her daughters examine their options. has a US, a UK and an International hospice directory on it.

In the US, one can have a memorial service at the funeral home that deals with the burial, if desired, which is what they did for my uncle who was not religious in any way. The funeral director can assist in planning a memorial service where friends and family have an opportunity to speak if desired. Most have a generic chapel sort of room that can be used. I’m sure they have some sort of option for music, either a piano, or a sound system for cds of music meaningful to her.

If she is dying of cancer, has she been asked what kind of funeral or memorial service she would like? It is not uncommon for terminally ill folks to want to be very involved in planning their own memorial services. It is an option for control that is not available obviously when someone dies suddenly. It may help to bring her some peace, knowing she has done what she could to ease the decisions that will be faced by her children and family after she is gone.


In general for persons not attached to any particular denomination, the funeral home is quite capable of arranging a dignified service, and may call upon a local clergyman if the family requests it. A visit from a chaplain will be comforting to anyone in this situation, unless they are known to be violently anti-religion, in which case it would be an imposition. Ask the person now, while she is able to express herself, if she would welcome a visit from a chaplain, and what her wishes are about her funeral arrangements. If she has already reached the point where she cannot speak for herself, the next of kin or legally appointed person is the one to make the arrangements.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit