Looking for unique ways of celebrating someone’s life?
Want to know how to record and share the details of your life with others?
Are you hoping to share your memories of someone?
What Is a Celebration of Life?
A celebration of life focuses on the positive aspects of a person’s life with the purpose of lifting everyone’s spirits. After someone dies, the people left behind are tasked with carrying on with their own lives. Dealing with grief can be difficult for some, and the grief process differs from one person to the next. So, the passing of a friend or family member can be a devastating time for those still living.
Traditionally, a death can be followed by a wake or viewing and then a funeral or memorial service. These are typically very somber events and rituals. However, the events following a person’s death don’t all have to be sad. More people today are trying something different: planning to celebrate the life of a love one.
Planning a celebration of life can bring a whole new perspective to the concept of death to those in attendance. In fact, one New Jersey funeral home’s tag line is “We put the fun in funeral.” Now that’s a real turnaround!
Take a moment to think about how you want your loved ones to remember you after you are gone. Do you want them to remain in a deep sadness? Do you want them to become depressed? Or would you rather see them continuing to live their lives and be happy while they still have a life to live? Chances are, you probably want your family and friends to live a happy life after you are gone.
That’s what planning a life celebration is all about.
How Can Life Be Celebrated?
Are you in the midst of planning a celebration of life ceremony? Or thinking you may want to do something other than a traditional funeral?
Planning a celebration of life event can be very similar to planning any other party or celebratory milestone. You’ll want to reserve a venue, create a guest list, decide on a menu, gather decorations, arrange for photos and other items to represent your loved one, and think of ways to engage attendees and get them involved in the celebration. You’ll also need to enlist help for preparation, setup, serving, and cleanup.
When celebrating someone’s life, think about your loved one’s personality and the things they enjoyed in life. For example, rather than wearing black, everyone could dress in the person’s favorite color. Rather than playing sad music, you could fill the air with the person’s favorite songs or invite the performance of their favorite local band. Instead of crying, find ways to bring joy, help people laugh and tell stories about the love they shared for a family member or friend.
Funerals and Memorial Services vs. Celebrations of Life
Funerals and celebrations of life can have many things in common, yet they can also seem quite different. Both events serve three basic purposes.
- Help the grieving family and friends officially recognize the death of their loved one.
- Provide friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors to support the bereaved family.
- Pay respects to the deceased.
Most people have attended a funeral or memorial service in their lifetime. Often, a funeral is preceded by a wake or visitation, where the body appears in either an open or closed casket for all to pay their respects. A traditional funeral usually takes place at a church or other faith establishment. There may be religious readings, a eulogy, and an address by the faith leader in attendance. A funeral service may also be followed by a committal or graveside service that is usually held at a cemetery and attended by just close family members or all who wish to be present.
Some families will hold a memorial service instead of a funeral service. This approach is popular for a deceased relative who may not have had a religious affiliation. Some families may also plan a memorial service in addition to the funeral. A memorial service can have some elements of a funeral, such as a eulogy and a meaningful procession of the close family members. A memorial service can also be a small gathering after the formal funeral or graveside service. It can be a time for family members to relax, comfort one another, and continue sharing stories about the deceased.
Funerals and memorial services can both be wonderful ways to remember a life. But a true celebration of life takes things a step further. Celebrating someone’s life takes on a more lighthearted and happy approach. It’s a time to laugh, joke, and even carry on the traditions of the deceased.
Cultures That Don’t Mourn Death
Traditions surrounding death are deeply ingrained in many cultures. Most people mourn the loss of a loved one, but there are many cultures that don’t. With a different outlook toward handling death, people tend to adjust to the loss of a loved one much better and consider it part of the normal cycle of life.
In parts of South Africa, a new ritual called an "after tears" party has begun. This event resembles an Irish wake because it takes place after the funeral. The party involves plenty of drinking and joking, and the focus is to comfort surviving family members and remember the deceased person with fondness.
In New Orleans, Louisiana, the jazz funeral procession combines West African, French, and African-American traditions. Funeral mourners are led by an elaborate marching band or a brass band. The procession begins at the home of the deceased, then moves to the funeral home or church, and then to the cemetery. The band will usually start with somber music, but the music slowly changes to joyous tunes as the procession continues. Then after the deceased family member is buried, everyone will dance.
In Ghana, the dead are buried in fantasy coffins that are built and decorated in the shape of cars or planes or other items of interest to the deceased.
Planning a Celebration of Life Event
Just like with funeral service planning or any other event, you’ll want to think about a beginning, a middle, and an end. As guests arrive, how can you get them involved? Should everyone bring an item that the deceased gave them? Or can they bring something that reminds them of the person? These items can be great conversation pieces that help attendees connect with one another.
During the middle of the event, you may want to plan for a special presentation or other activity. Perhaps a slideshow of photographs, a performance or skits might be both fun and entertaining.
You’ll also want to plan a closing activity so that guests know that the event is coming to a close. You or another designated person may want to give a speech and thank those in attendance for coming to celebrate the person’s life. Decide what you want attendees to do as they exit. They could plant flowers or a tree on their way out, write a wish on a piece of paper or participate in a final group activity. You may also want to consider sending guests home with a memento from the celebration.
When to Hold a Celebration of Life Event
Like any funeral or memorial service, a celebration of life event is typically held after a person has passed away. But who’s to define what tradition should and should not be? If your loved one is sick or perhaps in a nursing home or an assisted living community and you know they may not be around much longer, you may want to hold a celebration of life event while they are still here. That way, they can enjoy in the activities and both know and feel how much they are loved, valued, and respected. What a gift that one event would be in the person’s life!
In the end, happiness is found when you stop comparing yourself to other people. So, there don’t have to be any rules regarding when or how you hold a celebration of life event. You can hold it either before or after a person dies. And you can plan most anything you want when celebrating someone’s life. Think about your loved one’s personality and what they were like in life. The possibilities are endless, and they are as unique as the person themselves.
Some Celebration of Life Ideas
The ways in which you choose to celebrate your loved one’s life are limitless. Keep their personality, wishes, and desires in mind as you plan the event and the activities or entertainment during the event. Would the deceased person feel pleased and honored if they were in attendance themselves?
Think about the key aspects of the person’s life as well as their family history. How did they contribute to the world around them? How did they make others feel? What did your loved one mean to you?
Here are several ideas that have been used in other celebration of life events. You can borrow from these ideas or use them to inspire your own.
Decide on a theme for the celebration of life. For example, if your loved one was a fan of a particular sports team, everyone can arrive dressed in that team’s gear. The same could be done if they had a favorite color or if they had cherished pastime.
Collect donation items for your loved one’s favorite charity.
Decorate the event space with his/her favorite flowers.
Have relatives and friends wear a piece of your loved one’s jewelry.
Ask attendees to bring a story, memory, message or memento of your loved one to share. You can set up a table to display the mementos or a message board for people to post their messages. Create a timeline of photos and mementos that circles around the event space. Some people may prefer to keep their message or item private, and that’s OK too.
Did your loved one have any collections? Consider having their collection on display during the event.
Create displays or a visual presentation of the person’s favorite song lyrics, poems, inspirational sayings, biblical passages, etc.
If your loved one enjoyed Christmas or gift giving, guests could bring wrapped gifts to be given to residents at a nursing home or to children and families in need.
Hire their favorite local band or singer to perform a few songs during the event, or play a selection of songs for a life celebration.
When serving food or drink, think of your loved one’s favorite dishes or treats. For example, if they loved ice cream, you could plan for everyone to make their own ice cream sundaes. If they loved macaroni and cheese, think of all the ways you could use that food item in your dishes: baked macaroni and cheese casserole, fried macaroni and cheese, macaroni and cheese pizza, and more.
Create a memorial quilt of the person’s favorite t-shirts or sweaters.
Gather images of your loved one to display on a photo memory board or table. Try to collect photos from all parts of the person’s life: birth through adulthood. You may also want to create a DVD that will continuously scroll through the photos during the course of the event. For many people, these photos can spark a conversation or help them to remember long-forgotten memories.
Did your loved one enjoy cooking? Create a cookbook of their favorite recipes for all to enjoy. Or you could bake cookies or make jam (or another food) from their personal recipe to give out to everyone, along with a recipe card.
If your loved one was an animal lover, you could hold a pet adoption fair at the life celebration event.
Request that guests make a financial donation to a scholarship fund or other charity in lieu of flowers or other gifts. Then announce during the event how much was raised.
Balloon releases have been done in the past; however, they have come under scrutiny for not being environmentally safe. So, think outside the box. What else can you release? Birdseed or wildflower seeds into a field? Butterflies or ladybugs? You can also light sparklers, blow bubbles or light luminaries. Use your imagination!
Plant a tree or flowers at the event site or at another site. You could also send guests home with tree seedlings or other plants that they can take home and plant in honor of the deceased. If your loved one had a green thumb, you could create cuttings of his/her plants that could be given out to guests as well.
Did your loved one enjoy the water or water sports? You may want to hold the event near their favorite spot. If possible, you can float lanterns on the water. Guests can say something in honor of the deceased for each lantern that is released.
Maybe your loved one wanted to go out with a bang. How about some fireworks to celebrate the end of their wonderful life?
Memorialize Your Loved One Online
With the birth and mass popularization of the internet, a new world has been opened up to the possibility of memorializing a loved one’s life and keeping it available in a more permanent way. Many funeral homes and some newspapers have a website that allows family members to post an obituary for all to access. In addition, you can create a website or an inspiring blog page that serves as a permanent memorial to your loved one. You can plan to add to the online memorial on each anniversary of your loved one’s death. Once updated, you can invite others to view the online memorial and take the time to remember the person once again.
Lastly.com is another great resource to help memorialize your loved one in a special and permanent way. We make the process easy and enjoyable. Through Lastly.com, you can upload photos and/or videos of your loved one. You can create a beautiful timeline of their life and mark the places on a map where they have both lived and traveled. In addition, you can invite other family members to contribute to your loved one’s story. And we’ll keep your loved one’s story active for as long as you like.
Your Life Is your Message to the World
Celebrations of life are not just for other people. And they are not just for the dead. You may want to plan a special celebration for someone who is still alive. If you are planning your own celebration of life event, think about how you want your loved ones to remember you. Is there something about your own personality that you want to shine through during the celebration of life event. Are there any mementos or collections that you would like displayed? How can you make the day fun and enjoyable for all so that they leave happy and laughing with wonderful memories of your life and what you meant to them?