A New Way to Remember the Deceased
What is a celebration of life?
Want to celebrate a life with a ceremony?
How is celebrating the life of someone different from a funeral service?
Creating a celebration of life can be a special way to memorialize your loved one. Here’s how…
When we lose a special loved one, we want to keep their memory alive. We want to pay tribute for what they did for others while they were alive. And we want to honour their memory and what they meant to us. We want to tell their life story and share memories to all who will listen. Some of that can be accomplished in a traditional funeral, memorial service, committal service or shiva. However, many families want to go a step further to pay their respects and plan a meaningful life celebration.
What Is a Celebration of Life?
Many families today are opting to commemorate their loved one with a more special and unique experience. A celebration of life is the perfect way to do that, and it is also a great way to help preserve your loved one’s memory.
A celebration of life is a special moments in time, small or large, with family and friends to celebrate or commemorate a person’s life and memories, rather than to grieve their loss during a difficult time. It can be a time of celebration, as the name implies, rather than a time of grief and mourning. Depending on your state of mind and the grief of other family members and friends, you may be able to hold a life celebration right away or you may wish to wait until some time has passed.
If you want to honor your loved one’s memory in a unique and joyful way, you may want to consider planning a life celebration. The purpose of a celebration of life is twofold: to honor the life of the deceased and to uplift those who friends and family members in attendance. The atmosphere is more happy and joyful rather than sad or mournful. It’s a time to celebrate the deceased person’s accomplishments and the value they brought to the world.
A life celebration can be a simple get together where photos, videos, music, and other personal items or mementos are displayed or incorporated. Or a life service can also be a large, formal or elaborate event with speakers, movies/slide presentations, and more. There truly aren’t any rules, and how you plan your life celebration is up to your personal preferences and your budget.
And in fact, some people are opting to hold a celebration of life lived while their loved one is still alive. Why not? Think about how they would feel to be honored while they are still here… to see all the lengths you would go through to show how much you love them. So, you may not want to wait until your loved one is gone to show how much you appreciated them. You can celebrate their life now… while they are still here to celebrate with you.
Funerals, Memorial Services, and Celebrations of Life
So, what’s the difference between a traditional funeral and celebrating the life of our love one? Generally, at a funeral service, the body is present for burial after the funeral ceremony. However, with a memorial service, the body is not present.
Burial or cremation. It most certainly depends on the family, their beliefs and of course the preferences of the deceased. Traditions are evolving across the country. Some interesting statistics highlight a trend that people are starting to choose cremation over burial. This may be driven by cost but regardless, the tradition of our loved ones being interred in a final resting place might be changing.
Both a funeral service and memorial service often follow traditions by including a eulogy, a receiving line, music, and other ways to commemorate the life of a loved one. A traditional funeral service is typically held within a few days of a person’s death, or as is custom for the person’s religion or spiritual beliefs. A memorial service is often held within the same time frame, but can also be held later—even weeks, months or years later… perhaps on the deceased’s birthday or on the anniversary of their death.
A Celebration of Life can be also be held at any time: immediately after the funeral service or days, weeks, months or even years later.
How Do People React to a Life Celebration?
That’s a good question! Since it’s traditional to mourn the death and loss of a person, one might think that a celebration would be somewhat offensive to those who are grieving a loss.
However, in some cultures it is traditional to celebrate or hold a party after a loved one’s death. And even in the American culture, where it is traditional to mourn and grieve over someone’s death, many people find that they are relieved to laugh and smile and celebrate a person’s well lived life. All of that crying, sadness, and grief can be stressful for any individual. These emotions are all normal when you are missing someone who meant so much to you. So, happiness is also a normal part of the healing process. It comes as a welcome form of stress relief instead of an offensive or inappropriate emotion or behavior.
How to Plan a Celebration of Life Service
Planning a celebration of life service is not much different than planning for any other event. You’ll first want to determine how many people will be included and where you want the service held. Will it be a small gathering at your home? Or will it be a larger get-together at a church, restaurant or other public event space?
If you decide to hold your celebration of life at home, you may have some family members cook or you may want to have food catered. By hiring a professional caterer, you won’t have to worry about food preparation, set up, clean up, or anything else that might need attention during the event. Note that if your caterer is not arranging for equipment, you may want to rent extra chairs and tables for your guests. You may also want to arrange for maid service both before and after the event.
If you’d rather hold your life celebration at a public facility, your level of planning will depend on the facility. Many restaurants or event spaces can handle most of the planning for you. You will need to make some decisions regarding food served and whether or not you will serve alcohol. And you will also need to handle any necessary decorating.
No matter where you decide to hold your celebration of life services, you will still need to decide how you would like to celebrate your loved one’s life and honor their memory.
Here are 11 steps you may want to consider when planning a celebration of life.
- Set a budget:
- Determine how many people to invite and estimate how many people will attend.
- Choose a location, date, and time.
- Decide if you would like to use a planner, caterer or other professional help both before the day, on the day, and during and after the event.
- Determine who you would like to speak and how others can be involved.
- Choose activities you would like to include. See the ideas later in this article.
- Select the food and beverages you want to serve. Will it be finger food or a sit-down meal?
- Decide on how you will personalize the event. There aren’t any rules, so nearly anything goes.
- Set your order of events.
- Shop for decorations.
- Get the word out.
Things to Include in a Celebration of Life
Deciding what to include in your life celebration can be as personal and unique as the individual you are honoring. Many families choose to exhibit photos and/or videos, display mementos and items that their loved one made or tell a life reflection story written by one person or many people. In fact, the choices and ideas are nearly limitless.
Here are several celebration of life ideas that have been incorporated by others. 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 a cherished pastime.
Collect donation items for your loved one’s favorite charity.
Decorate the event space with beautiful flowers that were his/her favorite.
Have close family members and friends wear a piece of your loved one’s jewelry.
Ask attendees to bring a story, memorable time, message or memento of your loved one to share. You can set up a table to display a book of memories 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 meaningful music.
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 event. For many people, a tribute video 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 the traditional funeral 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 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?
Celebrating Your Loved One’s Life Online
More than an obituary, more than a eulogy, more than just a scrapbook… modern technology has afforded us the ability to commemorate our loved ones and their life stories in a more permanent way: online in the digital world. Websites such as Lastly.com offer a safe and secure place to upload photos, videos, pictures of mementos and other items to create a digital legacy. You can also accompany each photo or video with a personal account of the event—either in your loved one’s words or in the words of someone else who was there.
Recording your loved one’s cherished memories online helps to ensure that their memory lives on for future generations and far beyond those who knew him or her. Their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and other descendants will all have access to their ancestor’s life stories. And you can also grant access to all family and friends today. In addition, you won’t have to worry about precious photos and videos being lost due to fire, flood, theft or a natural disaster. And you won’t have to worry about stories being lost and forgotten as members of your family reach the end of their lives.
Ultimately, how you decide to celebrate your loved one’s life is personal—both to you and your loved one. Whether you are celebrating the lives of loved ones online or in person, you can make the life celebration unique to your family and to your loved one.