What is a Celebration of Life?

A celebration of life is an event focused on sharing stories of the deceased and commemorating the joys he or she brought into the lives of others. As the name implies, it’s meant to celebrate the life of your loved one, opposed to grieving the loss. While there are often tears, these events tend to be creative, and focus on happiness and laughter. A celebration of life can take place immediately, or weeks or months after death and the body is typically not present.

The tone is peaceful rather than mournful, celebratory instead of sombre. Wearing black is commonly discouraged. You’re more likely to hear Monty Python’s Always Look On The Bright Side of Life – according to a 2014 survey,

A survey of 2,000 people suggested that 54% wanted their funeral to be a “celebration of life”. Some 48% said they wanted it to incorporate their favourite “hobby, colour, football team or music”..

By looking back rather than forward, and focusing on happy memories rather than the immediate sense of loss,

Celebration of Life Service Planning & Outline

The most memorable events are highly meaningful, and capture the unique life and personality of the deceased. The following questions can help define the essence of your loved one.

What were the individual’s religious or spiritual beliefs?
What were their distinctive qualities?
What were they passionate about?
What do people think of when they think of the individual?

1. Timing
A memorial service or celebration of life can be held any time after death. You may choose to make arrangements immediately, though it is also acceptable to wait several weeks or even months.

It can be difficult to make decisions immediately after a major loss; planning the event several months into the future allows you to enlist help from others, or even hire a professional planner. Waiting also allows people to make travel arrangements, making it easier for friends and family to attend. You also will find more options available (location, venue, other services) if you’re not dependent on having the event in the next 7 days.


2. Type of Service
Decide the type of service and where you would like to hold it.

On the Beach , On a Boat to Scatter, VFW hall, Church Hall, In Your Home, At a Local Park, There are many places you can be creative with.

Cremation and memorial service.

3. People to Invite
After you’ve determined the type of service and timing of the event, it’s a good idea to make a list of everyone you’d like to invite. Immediate family is a good place to start, then consider more distant relatives. Next make a list of friends, and not just current friends—include friends from different chapters of the person’s life: friends from childhood, school, different jobs, and different locations. Don’t forget to include your support network as well.

If people will be traveling in for the service, consider the accommodations they’ll need. Will they be able to stay with you or other family? Are local hotels or accommodations by owners available? This may impact the timing you choose.


4. Location
Things to consider when choosing a location are:

Will any portion be held at a religious location?
How large of a venue is needed, based on the number of people expected.
Does it have adequate parking?
Is it handicap accessible?
Can it accommodate all parts of the event—service, socializing, etc.
When is it available?

5. Celebrant or Host
Who will lead the service/event? If the individual was religious or spiritual, the officiant or celebrant likely has a standard service that can be personalized. If a host will be leading the event, you can still choose meaningful customized elements, such as readings and music.


6. Readings / Readers
You may want to choose religious prayers, readings, poems, quotes, personal writings, or song lyrics that were significant to your loved one. Next, choose the reader or readers who will present them.

Also, it can be touching to have people share personal anecdotes or memories about the individual.


7. Eulogist / Speakers
If you choose to have a eulogy, choose who will write and deliver it. Rarely are eulogists experienced, so you may share these guidelines for preparing and delivering a eulogy:

Be Brief. Be sure to check with the clergy or service director about timing. If none is provided five to ten minutes is a good guideline.
Be Focused. You can’t distill a lifetime into five to ten minutes, so don’t try. Start with a brief history of the deceased’s life, including significant relationships and professional history; interests; and achievements.
Be Personal. Focus on one or two notable qualities, passions, or characteristics of the person, and share a personal story or favorite memory related to it. A saying, quote, song, or religious text that was significant to the individual is a good way to close.
Be Positive. Now is the time to affirm the positive aspects of the individual’s life.
Write it Down. A written eulogy is another way for family and friends to hold the memory of a loved one. While practice is recommended, committing the eulogy to memory is not required. During this highly emotionally time, it may be nice to have a written copy to reference in the event thoughts become scattered.
For additional details on how to write a eulogy, see the Hazeltine blog post, Writing a Eulogy for a Celebration of Life of Memorial Service.


8. Music
Select songs, hymns, and other pieces of music that were enjoyed by the deceased, or that hold special significance. Determine who will provide the music? Professional musicians, DJs, family/friends, or a playlist on an audio system are all options. You may choose a combination of live music for parts of the program, followed by a playlist of significant songs as background music as guests socialize.


9. Food & Beverage
Options for food and beverage include DIY (with help from friends and family), hiring a caterer, or full-service food and beverage provided by the venue you select.

You may choose to provide foods that were particularly liked by the deceased. Another option is a particular ethnic cuisine. Depending on the time of day, you may choose to provide light snacks, like appetizers and desserts, or a full meal. Be advised that many guests may have dietary restrictions, so inquire with your caterer/venue about options.

Many events, especially a celebration of life, choose to include a bar, which adds to the celebratory feel of the service.


10. Photographer / Videographer
You may choose to capture the event with photos or video, to keep the memories for years to come. This job can be undertaken by a family member or friend, or you can hire a professional.

In some cases, some families choose to webcast the event, which allows people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend to participate in the service.


11. Flowers & Memorials
Traditionally, people send sympathy flowers to express their condolences. However, it is commonplace for families to request memorial donation instead of flowers. In the obituary, social media and event invitations, you can indicate whether flowers or memorials are preferred, or whether both are acceptable.

The typical way to indicate memorials are preferred over flowers is “in lieu of flowers…” but there are other ways to suggest survivors show their support. For example, “those wishing to make a memorial donation, may contribute to [specific charity name] or the charity of their choosing.”


12. Personalizing the Event
Personalizing the event can range from simple to elaborate, and can be done by a few people or by everyone attending.

Some traditional ways to remember a loved one are with a memory board of photos, a display of photo albums, a video or slide show, or through displaying personal memorabilia.

To involve guests, you may ask that people bring a few words about the departed to share or post for others to see. It could be a favorite memory, a sentence or two on how they knew each other; or ask them to send a photo or song to be included in the slideshow or playlist.