Food for memorial

Somber topic. My apologies.

My brother-in-law passed this morning. We knew this was coming. Lots of advanced planning so he could participate in decisions. One thing we didn’t get to was the little details of the memorial service. We have the big things.

It is my experience that a social time after services is part of the closure process. What experiences have you had that were most appropriate (obviously a personal judgment)? Whatever we do will be catered but we need guidance for the caterer. Carl will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery and there is a delay so there is no rush to a grave site.

I’m the primary logistician and have lots of other things to do in honor of Carl and in support of his wife. My creative soul is worn pretty thin. No guarantees that I’ll do what anyone suggests but everything will be read carefully and considered. Thinking about food is a comfort to me - I’m finding I’m just not very good at it right now.


@Auspicious - Dave, first - my “like” is actually a :broken_heart: for you and your family. I’m so very, very sorry. Even with knowledge that it was going to happen, it’s never easy. BTDT ever-so-recently myself, having just gone through this with my mother passing just before Thanksgiving.

We chose to have a family/close friends “Celebration of Life” for her two weeks after her passing at a restaurant in a private room. We kept it simple - appetizers, salads, dips, drinks (open bar) and small desserts. All “finger food”.

I know some people do a full meal, depending on the time of an actual memorial service. Foods that are easy to serve: Chicken Parm, Lasagna, pasta/chicken/broccoli with a cream sauce, salads, rolls, etc. were what I’ve had at “mercy meals”, as they’re sometimes called in New England for practicing Catholics.

Think about deviled eggs, scalloped potatoes, macaroni and cheese, meatballs, meat/cheese trays with rolls and condiments, fruit trays as options. Those attending the after-service meal will certainly not be expecting a big “to do” - unless that is what you and Carl’s family wish to do. It’s usually buffet-style, at least those I’ve been to.

Whatever you do, it will be appreciated. Perhaps the funeral home can offer suggestions for caterers, and the caterer(s) themselves can offer additional suggestions.

My heart goes out to you and Carl’s family.


Sorry to hear your news, Dave.

My only recent experience was earlier in the year when my father in law died. Arrangements proved to be a bit tricky as there had to be agreement with his wife and the various children. It was agreed that the “wake” should be an important part of the day. It allows folk to chat about what a good guy he was (or, indeed, what an awkward old bugger he could be). The family decided to have the wake at a local pub which he used to visit in his younger healthier days and they did the catering. Now, it turned out that the “event” side of things was fine. It was nice to see family members who hadnt been seen in some years. But the buffet was poor quality and insufficient quantity and expensive - so poor that we complained and got a significant refund - but thats little comfort on a day when you need everything to go well. I mention this only because I think Linda’s suggestion of asking the funeral people if they can recommend a caterer is a good one.


Sorry for your loss Dave.
When my father died a few years ago we had a reception at a church hall following the funeral [at a different church than the funeral, despite the fact that he designed the parish hall where the funeral was held and was a lifelong congregant - but no I’m not still bitter with the church about that]. He wasn’t a foodie by any means but always liked the fried chicken from a local deli, so we got trays of fried chicken from them, pulled pork with mini buns, mac and cheese, cheesecake and served it buffet style. A few people randomly brought desserts, cookies, cakes, etc. Very much “comfort” food that was easy to serve.


My sincere condolences. It is never fun.

My experiences with after service social aspects has varied depending on family/region/cultures/etc. But, they essential fall into one of two categories - 1) a sit down style meal at a restaurant or 2) a “come and go” get together (sometimes at a house, sometimes at a church in the basement/community room, etc).

Since you mentioned a caterer, I’m assuming you are leaning towards the second option. In those instances and given the time of year, my recommendation is to focus on room temperature foods (sandwiches, salads, finger foods, etc) with a few hot items (maybe a soup, maybe one of Linda’s options that holds well in a chafing dish). My experience is also that these are buffet style functions but people come and go during this time, which is why I lean towards room temp food since it holds over time better. This style of food also encourages a little more of a “stay and mill about” gathering (but you may not want that - a restaurant meal gathering has been a more finite start/stop type of gathering IMHO).

Another aspect of a room temp style buffet, is that it sometimes is more economical since it doesn’t require anyone to attend to chafing dishes, changing out hot food, etc. Most caterers will likely drop off covered trays/bowls (with maybe 1 or 2 electric soup warmers which you can return later), so there is no hourly fees associated with staffing something. I don’t mean that to be crass, but unfortunately funerals can add up quickly, so something to consider.


Sorry for your loss, Dave. Peaceful Thoughts for you and your family. Food is most def expressed as love and comfort.

My tribe tends to celebrate with music and foods that our loved one enjoyed. When my FIL passed, a proud Marine who loved a well made deli sub and all the picnic sides, we went with that and cadets played Taps.

Whatever you decide I know it will be done with good taste and care.



When we were talking to the funeral people, they asked if the FiL had military service. He had - he had spent a number of years in the regular army. The funeral people said they had recently had discussions with the British Legion who were offering to provide an honour guard for funerals of veterans. There was some discussion about this but those who had to make the decision eventually concluded that Lee would have liked it. I was not a decision maker but did not agree. In the event, they provided the guard, accompanying the coffin to the burial site from the chapel, with a bugler playing “Last Post”. In spite of my original views, I thought it all quite moving. A couple of guys from the Legion came to the wake - free booze for them all afternoon was an obvious incentive.


My condolences.

Where I live, most memorials offer a lunch buffet, with small sandwiches (egg salad, tuna salad, roast beef, etc), cheese trays and pickles.

When our neighbour passed away last Dec, the family held a wake at their house. There were meatballs and some other hot appetizers in chafing dishes, cheese trays, cheese balls and crudités. There were trays with various cookies, including shortbread, and buttertart squares.

With Greek memorials, a fish lunch is traditionally served at a restaurant or church hall, as well as homemade cookies (often a biscotti type paximadi or koulourakia twist, both the hard type of cookie that can be dunked in coffee, or in this case, brandy) , served with Metaxa brandy.

I’ve been to some memorials out west where they serve home-made perogies.

My thanks to all for your thoughts. I appreciate them and those that may be yet to come more than I can say.

All a little easier here. Carl was very proud of his naval service and his civilian service for US DoD at the Pentagon after he left the Navy. He and I talked about options while he could still communicate.

At the risk of sharing sausage being made, we’re juggling three options for the chapel, all Navy, based on schedules, parking, and security access (I don’t want attendees stuck at a visitors gate waiting for escorts). Space for wake/reception is a consideration but we can go somewhere else. Carl’s home is too small and Catherine is not in a state to do anything there.

The process for interment at Arlington National Cemetery is long - months. Carl’s ashes will go home with Catherine until he is scheduled. At that point there is a Navy honor guard and 21 gun salute. That will be a small affair with just a few of us.

All your perspectives are helpful. I have a lot of paperwork flying around at the moment. Caterers are a task for tomorrow and menu probably for Wednesday so there is time for more thoughts and ideas which are greatly appreciated. There are many communities of interest and most of us are part of far more than one. I thank the Hungry Onion community for their support here.

Non sibi sed patriae


First of all, my sincere condolences to you and yours for your loss. Lots of good advice posted so far too.

One thing to consider, is if it will be a sit down meal; if not, then definitely finger foods or things that can easily be managed with a fork only. Good coffee and quality accoutrements will go over well, also.

IMO, these are not typically occasions to blaze new culinary trails either (well, unless it was a chef, really). Good comfort food is usually in order.

As far as Greek funeral celebrations go, as @Phoenikia mentioned, fish is always served (plaki) among many other delectables. When my Greek SIL passed, upon entrance to the special event wing of the church, there was a shot of Metaxa brandy for everyone, prior to making your way into the larger event room. My relatives from the inter- mountain west would have been shocked and scandalized!

When my mom passed, my ex colonel father said absolutely no alcohol! But it was my mother’s wishes to have more of a wake type celebration. Sooo, since I was the one planning everything, I had a few cases of contraband in the laundry room for anyone who wanted a drink.

Please let us know what you decide upon, and again sorry for this sad time in your life.


Please accept my condolences, Dave. I think that the suggestions so far show you that there is no right or wrong concept or menu. The one thing that pops to mind as I review the last memorial we attended is the necessity to provide enough peripheral seating for the older set. Not tables but enough seating so they can play musical chairs when necessary.

The most important part of these events is the opportunity for the disparate people from the deceased’s life have an opportunity to get together. These “parties” seemed to be the one time all of my generation from my family took the pains to be in the same place and time.


I strongly agree with you. I have already met so many distant family members that really didn’t cross my radar before, some I believe will be friends for the rest of our lives. The opportunity to meet people where family, friends, and coworkers cross paths.

For purposes of comment (I have until late tomorrow or early Wednesday) I’m leaning towards coffee, tea, lemonaid, water, wine, and beer with crudite and cheese plates. All finger food. Maybe finger sandwiches. This isn’t a decision and as asked I will report back with the decision and also how it works out. Definitely not sit down. The point on chairs is well taken and on my check list.


My family tradition (sister, dad, aunts, uncles, in-laws) is a sit-down medium range restaurant with the usual three choices: chicken, fish, pasta. Cash bar.

My in-laws go sit-down lower range with an open bar. Again, chicken, fish or pasta.

Last funeral was for the husband of a cousin of modest means who lives in a 55+ hightower. The reception was in the building’s community room. We catered in sandwiches, salads, chips, desserts, coffee, lemonade, water.

I had to wrack my brain for these details as the only thing I really remember from each is the warm feeling of friends and family. Why do we only gather for weddings and funerals? Is the food & drink really that important?


Here are my thoughts. You cannot go wrong with a good quality chicken salad sandwich. Italian sausage and peppers. A good caterer can point you in the right direction.

A couple people sent those edible fruit arrangements at the last go round. Guests were like oh wow, but they just plucked a few pieces here and there. A waste of money if you ask me.

What always amazes me at these type of affairs (whether it’s funeral or wedding) are the people of all walks of life who keep going back for more. Like a steady stream. I just always hang back and wait because food is the last thing on my mind.


Some people feel very awkward and fiddling with a small plate of food gives them a chance to get their thoughts–or emotions–in order.

On the other hand some people just can’t give up free food. From my constituency:


Dave, I am so sorry for your loss. Peace to you and your loved ones. From what I know of you here, you’ll carry out this responsibility in a way that will console and honor.

I have had this duty myself, and recent years have been marked by more than one significant loss in the families. So here is what I’m able to offer:

Any menu that suits the nature of those gathered and the location will do, honestly. Though I have observed that foods served buffet-style or trays with a selection of sandwiches do encourage people to circulate and converse more than full sit-down meals with servers do.

Having hot coffee and one cold beverage readily available is a must.

It may be meaningful to include a favorite food of the person who has passed on. At my mother’s memorial gathering, I knew I had to serve trays of cookies in her honor. Everyone remembered how she loved a good cookie. However, when we were honoring another dear one, his favorite dessert of pie was not served because that would have brought tears.

If the gathering will be held in a church where this is the custom, there may be organized volunteers who assist families with post-memorial meals or snacks. Expertly. Not the case in my community but can be wonderful where available.


Denise, thank you for your kind words and thoughts. I agree with you that part of the point is for people to circulate and talk. Carl had so many interests, we expect that people from each of those communities will attend and–not to be judgemental–breaking up the interest groups and getting people to interact will make the occasion more memorable and, I hope, bring closure to Carl’s wife and other immediate family.

Catherine and I spent a few hours together this morning getting caught up on what we have each done in the last few days and your point of favorite foods came up. There will be dates stuffed with cream cheese. grin There are a few other things. The stuffed dates are something we all associate with Carl. One of his favorites.

Hugs to everyone for their support.

I’m pulling bid sheets together tomorrow and sending them out to candidate caterers. While I am firm of opinion caterers will be asked for their own ideas, just as y’all have been, because good ideas can come from anywhere.

As the hours of 2019 draw to a close please consider that all of us only have so many hours on Earth and they may be more limited than we think. Based on the paperwork associated with slipping from this mortal coil, I have suggested to my wife that she gather friends together on my passing and dig a big hole in the back yard and roll me into it. “Dave who?”


On the contrary Dave, I think she should dig a big hole and pit cook a whole pig or lamb in there, and have one hell of goodbye -send off party. That is, only if you like that type of thing tho…


I wrote my wishes down a couple of years back when I first got the cancer diagnosis. Style and content of service, suggested possible burial places - that sort of thing. I updated it last year and plan to look at it annually just to see if I’ve changed my mind on anything. The cancer seems to have been cured by the radiotherapy and I’ve no plans for anyone needing to open the envelope any time soon. But it’s there when it’s needed.


Or, not to be morbid, a deed to a cemetery plot, a headstone with sis’s and dad’s name carved with room for four more. And a living will mandating there will be Jameson’s. laughs, hugs . . . food will be deli or sit-down–whatever the living would most love.

Dave–I hope you and Catherine a new year of peace, love and healing.