What to Do for a Graveside Service?

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Key Takeaways:

  • A graveside service is held at the burial site to honor the deceased’s life and memory.
  • Location, timing, attendees, music, flowers, eulogy, readings, conductor, etiquette, and visitation are key considerations when planning.
  • The service can include eulogies, prayers, readings, music, military honors, or other elements.
  • Inform guests of attire, weather preparations, directions, and any restrictions.
  • Arrive early to arrange flowers, chairs, sound system, and consult with staff.
  • Stand at the head of the casket to face guests. Follow any instructions from staff.
  • Personalize with the deceased’s favorite or meaningful songs, readings, flowers, or other details.

A graveside service is a memorial service held at the burial site, providing a final opportunity to honor the deceased’s life and say goodbye. This solemn ceremony allows family and friends to gather at the graveside as the casket or urn is lowered and the burial completed.

Compared to traditional funeral services, graveside services are typically shorter, simpler, and more intimate. They may be held as the sole service or in addition to a funeral or memorial service at a church, funeral home, or other venue. For those seeking a meaningful but low-cost final farewell, a graveside ceremony can provide closure and commemoration.

What Are the Key Elements to Plan for a Graveside Service?

When organizing a graveside service, there are several logistical details and creative touches to consider for honoring the deceased in a personalized, meaningful way:

Where Should the Graveside Service Be Held?

The location of a graveside service is quite straightforward – it takes place at the burial plot where the casket or urn will be interred. This may be a cemetery, churchyard, or other burial ground. If the deceased’s cremated remains will be placed in a mausoleum, the service may be held just outside the mausoleum.

Be sure to consult with the cemetery or funeral home to determine the exact gravesite or mausoleum location for the service. They can guide you in selecting the optimal spot.

What Time Should the Service Occur?

Graveside services are typically brief, lasting from 15-30 minutes. As a result, they can be scheduled for any time of day that is convenient for attendees and the cemetery staff. Often, they are held early in the day, around 9-11am. Afternoon or early evening times are also options.

If the graveside service will follow a funeral or visitation held earlier in the day, allow at least 30-60 minutes of travel time in between. Communicate the timing clearly to all invited guests.

How Many Guests Should Be Invited?

One advantage of graveside services is convenience, as people can go directly to the cemetery without needing to travel to a funeral home or church first. However, the gravesite itself may limit the number of attendees.

Assess the physical space around the burial plot to determine how many people can comfortably gather. Cemeteries can also advise on capacity. For larger groups, arrange some chairs around the gravesite. For intimate groups of 10 or fewer, guests can stand around the grave.

Only invite the number of people who can be safely accommodated in the space. For larger invitation lists, consider having a funeral or memorial service in addition to the graveside ceremony.

What Music Is Appropriate for a Graveside Service?

Music lends a beautiful, emotive atmosphere to a graveside ceremony. It can include the deceased’s favorite songs or pieces holding special meaning for them or the family.

Options include:

  • Religious hymns like “Amazing Grace” or “How Great Thou Art”
  • Classical music or instrumental numbers
  • Patriotic songs for military veterans
  • Meaningful pop ballads

The music can be played via a sound system and speakers set up at the site. Check with the cemetery staff to ensure amplified music is permitted and arrange for equipment if needed. Keep volumes low out of respect for other cemetery visitors.

Should Flowers Be Incorporated?

Flowers have traditionally been a part of funeral and burial services, representing life, beauty, and the circle of life. They provide beauty and fragrance around the gravesite.

Consider displaying floral arrangements that feature the deceased’s favorite blooms and colors. These may be provided by guests, florists, or purchased wholesale from flower shops. Potted plants that can be planted at the grave or taken home by attendees are also nice options.

Set up flower displays near the gravesite before guests arrive. Remove any cemetery rules prohibit certain flowers, plants, or vases.

Will There Be Eulogies at the Graveside Service?

Eulogies—speeches honoring the deceased—are common at funeral and memorial services. At a graveside service, brief eulogies can provide meaningful remembrances and a final tribute beside the burial place.

Eulogies are usually delivered by close family or friends. Encourage them to share special memories, the deceased’s achievements, or the impact they made. Eulogies at the grave are often less formal than those given previously at a funeral or memorial service.

Should Readings Be Incorporated?

In addition to or instead of eulogies, other readings can contribute meaning and reflection during the graveside service. Readings may include:

  • Poems about grief, hope, or fond memories
  • Religious passages or scriptures
  • Favorite quotes or excerpts from books
  • Song lyrics that were significant to the deceased

Ask different family members or friends to do readings that align with their relationship to the deceased. Provide them with copies of the reading beforehand.

Who Will Conduct the Graveside Service?

A funeral home staff member often conducts graveside services, especially if a full funeral is not held. They will guide the burial and basics of the ceremony.

Alternatively, you can ask a religious officiant like a minister, pastor, rabbi, imam, or priest to lead the service. Or a family member or close friend can conduct it in a more informal, personalized manner.

Notify the cemetery in advance regarding who will officiate so they can coordinate. Provide direction to the officiant on the order of service and other preferences.

What Special Etiquette Applies at Graveside Services?

The graveside setting calls for some special etiquette considerations:

  • Attire: Guests should dress formally and conservatively out of respect. Avoid bright colors or provocative clothing.
  • Weather preparations: Provide umbrellas if rain is expected. In cold conditions, have blankets available.
  • Seating: Offer chairs for elderly guests, or those unable to stand for long periods.
  • Directions: Provide clear directions to the gravesite ahead of time. Staff may also direct traffic flow the day of the service.
  • Restrictions: Follow any rules from the cemetery regarding photographers, amplified music, types of flowers/plants, etc.
  • Demeanor: Remain quiet and avoid chatter out of respect for the deceased and their family. Silence cell phones.
  • Following instructions: Listen to any guidance from cemetery staff regarding where to stand or procedures.

Will There Be Visitation Before or After?

You may choose to have a period of visitation before or after the graveside service. This provides a time for guests to speak with the family and offer condolences.

If held right before the service, visitation can take place in a funeral home chapel at the cemetery. Following the service, you can invite people back to a residence for refreshments and fellowship.

Having visitation and the graveside service on the same day provides convenience for out-of-town guests. Allow at least 30-60 minutes between events for driving between locations.

What Happens During a Graveside Service?

The flow of a graveside service can vary, but often includes the following components:

Gathering at the Grave

Guests are directed by staff from the parking area to gather around the burial plot. Their assistance with mobility or seating needs is arranged. Any flowers or music equipment will already be set up.

Opening Comments

The officiant opens with a greeting, prayer, or brief remarks to begin the service. They may welcome and thank guests for attending.

Eulogies and Remembrances

Preselected speakers come forward to share eulogies, memories, or anecdotes about the deceased. These last 3-5 minutes each.


Appropriate scriptures, poems, lyrics, or other readings are shared by one or more guests. Readings provide reflection and messages of comfort.


Live or recorded instrumental or vocal music is played at one or more points during the service, often preceding, following, or between remarks.

Concluding Comments

The officiant closes with a summary, prayer, benediction or committal statement entrusting the deceased into God’s care.

Lowering of the Casket/Urn

The casket or urn is reverently lowered into the ground or placed in the mausoleum (out of sight, if family prefers). The burial is completed.

Flower Placement

Immediate family members may be invited to approach and place flowers on the lowered casket or scatter petals across the burial site.


The officiant makes announcements regarding the reception or provides instructions for departing. Guests slowly disperse to their vehicles. The immediate family may linger to observe the final sealing of the grave.

How Should You Prepare and What Should You Bring for a Graveside Service?

To ensure a well-organized, smoothly coordinated graveside service, keep these tips in mind:

  • Arrive early: At least 30-45 minutes before the service, meet any vendors like florists or musicians and consult with cemetery staff.
  • Check setup: Verify seating, flowers, sound system, etc. are properly arranged. Stand at the head of the grave to visualize sight lines.
  • Have programs: If created, set them out on seats or hand them to people as they arrive.
  • Provide direction: Greet and gently direct guests to the grave location. Hand out service bulletins outlining the order of service.
  • Bring tissues/mints: Have tissues available by the gravesite for tearing up. Mints can also soothe emotional moments.
  • Have water ready: Bring bottles of water for family members and speakers in case of dry mouths or thirst.
  • Share instructions: Advise guests to silence phones and speak quietly. Note any restrictions on photography, noise, etc.
  • Watch time: Keep the service moving according to schedule out of respect for the cemetery and guests’ time.
  • Confirm processional order: Before starting, verify with cemetery staff the casket/urn lowering and flower placement processional order.
  • Consider keepsakes: If allowed, distribute roses or other mementos for guests to toss onto the casket or take home.
  • Stay to the end: Remain at the graveside as staff complete closing the burial site, to show care and honor for the deceased.

How Can You Make a Graveside Service More Meaningful?

Every life and passing is unique, so graveside services offer chances to reflect that individuality. Weave in personal touches and details that celebrate the deceased’s personality, interests, and loves.

Music choices – Select songs, hymns, or instrumental numbers that held special meaning and memories for the deceased.

Flower tributes – Incorporate favorite flowers and meaningful arrangements. Display photographs among floral wreaths.

Custom programs – Create programs featuring the deceased’s photo, favorite scripture or poem, and a personal note from the family on the back page.

Storytelling – During remarks and eulogies, share positive memories and funny anecdotes that provide glimpses into the deceased’s life.

Keepsakes – Provide small gifts like memorial cards, bookmarks, or pins featuring the deceased’s photo or favorite saying.

Visual displays – Set up poster boards with photos, awards, artworks, or other memorabilia reflecting the deceased’s life and talents.

Refreshments – If allowed, offer the deceased’s favorite foods and drinks at a reception following the service.

Takeaways – Give seed packets for attendees to plant in memory of the deceased and grow their favorite flowers or herbs.

Personal relics – With permission, place nostalgic personal items like glasses, hats, medals, or books inside the casket before burial.

Culturally significant symbols – Use items of cultural importance like flags, candles, gestures, or other traditional symbols if appropriate.

Quiet moments – Build in time for private reflection and goodbyes beside the grave before it is closed.

Gratitude – Close with sincere thanks to all who attended in honor of the deceased.

Remembering our loved ones at their final resting place provides cherished closure. With mindful organization and personalization, a graveside funeral service can offer the perfect ceremonial sendoff. By incorporating favorite elements and special details, these intimate gatherings allow us to memorialize the deceased in a way that beautifully reflects the unique story and spirit of their life.

Frequently Asked Questions About Graveside Services:

What should you wear to a graveside service?

Wear respectful, conservative clothing in dark colors or black. Dress for the weather while maintaining formality. Avoid bright prints, distracting accessories, jeans, or revealing outfits.

Do you need a casket for a graveside service?

Yes, a casket is typically present, even for brief graveside services. The casket is lowered and buried at the gravesite. For cremated remains, an urn is used instead.

Can you take photos at a graveside service?

Check with the family and cemetery on their policies. Discreet photos are usually fine, but maintain reverence. Avoid flashes, sounds, and blocking sight lines.

What happens if it rains on the day of a graveside service?

The cemetery staff will have a rain plan in place with tents, tarps or a covered area to provide shelter from rain near the gravesite. Bring umbrellas.

How soon after death is a graveside service held?

Gravesides are typically held within a few days after death, but may occur later depending on arrangements. Cremated remains can be buried months or years later.

Can a graveside service be held without a funeral director?

Yes. The cemetery staff will coordinate the burial, while the family can plan the service details. However, hiring a funeral director provides guidance.

How long should a eulogy be at a graveside service?

Eulogies at gravesides are usually brief, approximately 3-5 minutes long. Focus on key memories and the deceased’s legacy without lengthy anecdotes.

What religion has open casket graveside services?

Open casket gravesides are more common in Protestant Christian denominations. Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim traditions typically involve closing the casket before burial.

Can you scatter ashes at a graveside service?

Yes, cremated remains may be scattered during or after the service if permitted by the cemetery. Some families place the urn in the grave and scatter symbolic ashes.

Who pays for a graveside service?

Funeral and graveside costs are usually paid by the deceased’s estate or family members. Life insurance policies may cover these final expenses. Veterans may qualify for burial benefits.

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