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Planning a celebration of life


A celebration of life is an increasingly popular, alternative way of saying goodbye to a loved one after their passing. Separating a celebration of life from the funeral ceremony itself provides many possibilities for a more personal goodbye.


What is a celebration of life?

A celebration of life is a ceremony that is held after a traditional funeral service, or instead of a funeral service as a stand-alone event. Those families that hold a celebration of life as a stand-alone event, normally choose to arrange a direct cremation for their loved one beforehand.

A celebration of life can be as unique as you like and is not usually a sombre affair. Instead of focusing on grieving and the sadness of saying goodbye, a celebration of life tends to focus on the deceased’s personality, the happiness they brought to others and the life they lived.


What's the difference between a celebration of life and a funeral service?

A celebration of life is often more upbeat and less formal than a traditional funeral, with the focus on celebration rather than mourning. Unlike a funeral service, the body is not present at a celebration of life.

Whilst some families will hold both a funeral service and a celebration of life in honour of their loved one, a growing number of people are now choosing to forgo a traditional funeral altogether. Instead of a traditional funeral, these families opt for a direct cremation. A direct cremation takes place without a service or procession beforehand and without any mourner’s present. A direct cremation allows you to celebrate your loved one’s life at a time and place that suits you – many choose to have their loved one’s ashes present in commemoration.

Unlike a funeral service, a celebration of life is also not usually held at a crematorium or in a church. A celebration of life can be held at any time, in the days, weeks or even months after your loved one dies. Many families prefer the freedom that a celebration of life can offer them, in comparison to a traditional funeral service.


What happens at a celebration of life

A celebration of life does not necessarily include formal arrangements or traditional procedures, because the events are tailored to the deceased. The major difference that sets a celebration apart from a funeral is the atmosphere.

It is entirely up to you what happens at your loved one’s celebration of life, although it will likely be a joyful event that resembles more of a party than commemorating the person’s death. For many, it is difficult to understand how people can be happy in times of grief, but a celebration of life is often held as it was a request from the deceased before he or she died.


How to plan a celebration of life

Despite the lack of tradition and structure often associated with a celebration of life, as with planning any event, there are a few things you should consider to ensure the celebration runs smoothly.


Choose the type of service

Each celebration of life will be unique depending on your loved one’s personality. You could pick a theme that reflects their life, such as something that incorporates their favourite hobbies or interests.

Like a traditional funeral, you may want to include music, funeral poems and speeches about your loved one. You could play your loved one’s favourite music, for people to dance or even sing to.

Celebration of life services are either intimate with close family and friends or larger including extended family members and a larger group of friends. The size will depend on budget as well as the personality and lifestyle of your loved one.


Choose a location

A celebration of life is often held at a separate location away from the church or crematorium where the burial or cremation took place.

You could hold the celebration of life at your home, at the local community centre or even the local pub. Just like any social gathering, if there is enough space for the number of people you invite, a celebration of life can be held almost anywhere.

A celebration of life often takes place after the person has been cremated, which allows you the opportunity to scatter their ashes as part of the ceremony. If this is the case, you should carefully consider where you would like to scatter your loved one’s ashes.


Choose a time and date

Due to the short time frame between death and a funeral taking place (in the UK this is typically 2-3 weeks) and an increased number of families living considerable distances apart, many people unfortunately find it difficult to make arrangements to travel to a funeral at short notice. This often means that some friends and family members are unable to attend the funeral and say goodbye.

Unlike a traditional funeral, a celebration of life can take place at any time after the death, whether that be weeks, months or even years. It may be touching to hold the celebration of life on the deceased’s birthday or another date that is special to you and your family.

When you have chosen the date and time, you should let people know as soon as possible so they will have ample time to make travel arrangements.


Decide who you would like to lead the service

Despite the relaxed structure of a celebration of life, it is a good idea to ask someone to lead the service. It is common for a friend or family member to lead a celebration of life. Not everyone will feel comfortable doing so, so be sure to ask someone who is confident speaking in front of others.

If you would like something a little more formal, you could contact a civil celebrant or humanist celebrant. Celebrants are experienced in leading these types of events. If you would like to include elements of faith, you may ask a religious leader to lead the celebration of life. If a family member or friend is leading the service, you could always incorporate religious elements with hymns and prayers instead. 


Decide who you would like to speak

Just like a funeral, many families include speeches as part of a celebration of life. Choosing a more informal venue for the service would mean there are fewer time limits, allowing more time for everyone to share the things they would like to say.

Some people choose to have an ‘open mic’ for any guests who wish to stand up and share a memory they shared with the person who has died.


Ideas to personalise a celebration of life

- Ask people to dress casually, maybe in bright colours or your loved one’s favourite colour. If your loved one was a football fan, you could even guests to don a football shirt for the occasion.

- Make a memory board or photo display by asking guests to bring along photos of your loved one to the celebration. As people will have known them at different stages of their life, you will hopefully have an array of different photos.

- Ask people to jot down a memory they shared with the deceased and collect them all in a memory jar. The memories can be read aloud at the celebration or you can take the memory jar home and read them in private.

- Instead of asking a specific number of people to prepare a speech or reading, you could open up the microphone for everyone to share a few words, a poem or even a song about your loved one.

- Make a playlist of your loved one’s favourite songs to play at the celebration. It can be background music as people arrive, or you can make it a focal point of the celebration in some way.

- If you are holding the celebration of life in an outdoor location, or at your own home you could plan a memorial tree or plant. A memorial tree provides a physical location for family and friends to visit in years to come.


We hope you have found this article helpful. As you can see, a celebration of life can be as unique and personal as you want. For more funeral planning advice, see our other guidance and advice articles or for help planning a direct cremation for your loved one, contact us today.

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