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How to Plan a Celebration of Life | A Complete Guide

Experiencing death is often a challenging experience. It carries with it not only grief but many logistics that must be addressed in order to care for the deceased person and their memory. One thing that often comes with loss is the choice of how to honor the person who has died. A celebration of life service is a popular choice. Celebrating the life of someone who has died can provide comfort, healing, and a way towards closure for those involved.

This article will guide you through the ins and outs of planning a celebration of life. It will cover the basics of what you need to know in order to make a celebration of life that is meaningful, supportive, and honors your loved one. These simple steps will help you create a wonderful tribute.

What is a Celebration of Life?

A celebration of life is exactly what it sounds like. It is an event that honors the life lived instead of mourning the loss. It allows for family members and friends to pay their respects, share witty anecdotes or praise, and express their gratitude at knowing such a remarkable person. Unlike traditional funerals, celebrations like this can be tailored to reflect the person being honored or to accommodate those attending.

The location where the event takes place can also vary. Most funeral homes have a space dedicated to such celebrations but they can also be held at local parks, community centers, churches, or even your own home. The importance of the location comes down to what works best for your family and allows them to receive comfort. Grief is challenging and holding a celebration in a place that is relaxing or comfortable can help people through their grief/mourning journey.

Where Do We Start?

  • Step One:
    • Once you’ve determined that a celebration of life is the kind of service you’d like to hold, the best place to start is choosing who will be invited. Making the establishment of a guest list the first step allows you to take people’s schedules and needs into consideration. If you have people attending from out of state, it also gives them ample time to make travel arrangements. Many people use social media, email, text messages, and phone calls to send out invitations and receive RSVPs. There are even companies or software specifically designed to do just that and allow people to access even information. Traditional card invitations, or open attendance calls in obituaries, are also common.
  • Step Two:
    • The next step is choosing a venue. If you wish to hold the celebration at the funeral home, they will give you a run down on available dates/times and inform you of any rules/accommodations they have. Most funeral homes block off specific time frames for services in order to accommodate as many families as possible. If the funeral home’s celebration space is unavailable, seeking time at your local church, community/event center, park, or favorite restaurant is always an option. You will want to choose a space that will comfortably hold the number of people you expect and also work well for your chosen type of celebration.
    • Venues can also be used to reflect the one being honored. A music venue might be ideal for a lifelong guitarist. Event space at the local aquarium or botanical garden might be best for someone who enjoyed nature or science. Or if they were someone who enjoyed quiet evenings with those they loved, then perhaps an intimate candlelight vigil in the backyard might be best. There are nearly endless options if you put your mind to it. Don’t be afraid to go against the norm or to ask those around you for ideas.
  • Step Three:
    • An equally important step in planning a celebration of life is choosing a day and time. Ideally, the day and time will work for everyone, but do keep in mind that this is not always the case. When it comes to most funeral things, the majority rules. Try to be as flexible as possible but don’t let that compromise your ability to honor your loved one.
    • Taking into consideration anniversaries, holidays, important religious or cultural days, and other significant event dates will be helpful. Avoiding clashing with other events or important days will help more people be able to attend the celebration of life. Mid-morning or afternoon celebrations are good as they allow people enough time to reach the venue and gather their thoughts before things begin. Picking a date and sticking to it will help everyone involved, from the funeral staff, to caterers, to you and your family.

Making The Celebration of Life Personal

A celebration of life can be personalized to reflect the departed or to accommodate those attending. Photographs, artwork, or belongings that tell the story of their life can be displayed. Video tributes, specific music, and decorations can also be used to showcase your loved one. Personal touches help people reflect, connect, and inspire them to share their own memories or keepsakes with others.

The design of the service can also be personalized. Traditionally, many memorial type services will have readings (either religious or poetic), musical selections, speeches or pastoral messages, eulogies, and open times for reflection by family and friends. However, the celebration of life you design is not limited to these options. For example, if someone loved salsa dancing, having a demonstration dance be part of the celebration would be a great way to honor your loved one. Engaging attendees or inspiring them with things that your loved one was passionate about is an amazing way to pay tribute, praise, and remember them. The celebration can be anything you need or want it to be.

Creating a memory book, guest book, or something similar (like a memory mirror where people can inscribe words of comfort into the frame) allows you to know who attended the celebration as well as giving people an avenue to express their condolences. Sometimes, attending a service is extra difficult and people may not be comfortable (or able) to speak publicly. Keepsakes like the memory book give them the ability to express their sympathy, feelings, and support. It is also a lasting tribute to your loved one.

Providing refreshments or even a full catered meal, if your loved one was a foodie, can also be a way to personalize the celebration. For many people, food is very personal and a way to show caring, appreciation, and kindness to others. Sharing a meal with others who enjoyed your loved one can be very comforting right when you need it. Tabletop flowers, lanterns, and soothing music (the true food of love) can heighten the experience and create a moment of peace during an emotional storm.

Other important things to make note of are cultural or religious beliefs that your loved one may have held. You can incorporate such things into your celebration with a prayer, ritual, or whatever custom is meaningful to you or was to your loved one. Holding traditions close during times of sorry can add depth and comfort to your celebration.

Supporting those who are mourning is also important. While the celebration will give them time to honor your loved one, it is also a vulnerable moment for many. Letting your funeral home know that you may need a list of support groups or information on grief counseling can be helpful. Being able to help guide others through their grief journey as part of the celebration can also be very comforting and reassuring to you, the one who is planning it all.

You’ve Got This

Whatever you decide to do for a celebration of life service remember that the point is to honor your loved one and start healing. Saying goodbye, or saying “see you again”, can be very therapeutic. Bringing together your creativity, your loved ones uniqueness, and your family/friends is a wonderful way to find and give comfort. Whether the service is fairly traditional or includes karaoke, as long as it is honest and full of good intentions, it will be a success. Use this part of the grief journey to find solace, seek comfort, and remember someone special.

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