Celebrating the Life of a Deceased Loved One

A celebration of life is an event that focuses on the individual relationships, memories and connections shared with a deceased loved one. Unlike funerals and memorials, a celebration of life isn’t underpinned by religious customs, but the personality of the deceased.

In the UK and USA, a celebration of life can be held in conjunction with a funeral or a memorial service and as a separate ceremony any time after the death of a loved one.

For this piece, we explore the ideas and essentials of a typical celebration of life event

A Celebration of Life vs. a Memorial Service

Whereas both ceremonies are meant to honor the dead, a celebration of life takes a less somber note, and focuses on celebrating the deceased, their life and achievements.

The attire and mood in a celebration of life are frequently casual and the ceremony is held as a party instead of a religious or cultural affair as is the case with a memorial service.

Memorial services are usually held at funeral homes or chapels and other religious institutions, whereas a celebration of life can be organized at any possible location. Memorial services also tend to be more structured and programmed to the last minute.

Both the celebration of life and memorial service are held in the absence of the deceased's physical remains.

How to Plan a Celebration of Life Event

A celebration of life event should focus on exchanging stories about the deceased and reflecting on how much they impacted the lives of those around them. To plan a life celebration event, focus on the following aspects;

Decide on a guest list and send out the invites in time

  • Focus On the Departed
    When planning a celebration of life ceremony, it’s easy to get carried away dwelling on your personal memories of the deceased. However, proper life celebration etiquette dictates that the focus should remain entirely on the life of the departed.

    Create a theme or a memory table that showcases all the things that the deceased was most proud of or eulogize their interests, hobbies or favorite places.

  • Ask for Ideas from the Deceased’s Inner Circle
    Reports have shown that close friends are psychological kin, and in some cases share a deeper connection with the deceased. With the prime focus of any celebration of life events being the deceased, it is essential to ask their inner circle or closest friends for ideas on how best to celebrate them.

  • Decide on a Meaningful Venue
    Consider organizing the celebration of life event at a location that has an emotional significance to the deceased, for example their favorite restaurant or café. To plan a celebration of life event, it is also essential to consider the availability of the venue, the proximity of the venue, its capacity, and the theme of the event.

    Since a celebration of life is usually casual and secular in the UK and USA, you can also decide to do a picnic, camping trip or garden party.

  • Create a Guest List
    Compiling a guest list will undoubtedly provide you with insights on how to plan a life celebration; including immediate family and friends is an excellent place to start. Guest lists are not restricted to the friends of the deceased, which means that you can also invite your network. After all, the goal is to celebrate life.

  • Decide on Who Will Officiate
    Beyond the guests, the main officiant (i.e., the celebrant) also sets the mood for the celebration of life party and creates a sense of organization. If the official celebrant is a religious leader, customize their eulogy to accommodate the theme of the event, or opt for a friend or relative with excellent oratory skills.

  • Select a Meaningful Reading
    You may choose quotes, poems, religious prayers, or personal writings that eulogize the deceased. Alternatively, organize to have every attendee share their most fond memories of the deceased and any other personal anecdotes.

  • Create a Program for the Day
    As opposed to memorials, celebration of life events usually have no structure and can therefore be stressful to manage. To plan a life celebration event efficiently, draft a program for the day and attach a time schedule to each activity.

Unique Ideas for a Celebration of Life Event

Celebration of life events can range from a simple backyard ceremony to something as elaborate as a bucket list trip. The most important thing is to customize the event to the personality of your deceased loved one.
Here are our top picks for a celebration of life event:

  • Plan a Trip
    You could plan a life celebration trip or cruise to places or landmarks that the departed used to frequent or wished to visit. It could be within the UK, the USA and any other places abroad. In this case, employ the services of a reputable travel agency or tour agent for proper organization, before issuing an open invite to friends and family.

    Plan a trip to a location that is meaningful to the deceased

  • Host a Charity Event in Honor of the Deceased
    The most common celebration of life events include the bereaved hosting a charity fundraiser and then donating the proceeds to a cause that was meaningful to the deceased for example breast cancer awareness, if the deceased succumbed to cancer.

  • Decorate a Memorial Tree
    You may decorate a tree in your backyard or at a funeral home to honor your deceased loved one. This is a culture prevalent in both the UK and USA. You could design your loved ones' name on a plaque and hang it on the tree, paint the name on the tree's bark or hang a half-filled mason jar containing your loved one's favorite flower floating.

  • Set Up a Memory Board
    Create a board where you can pin pictures of the departed – it could also be pictures with their favorite quotes, poems and other personal mementos. According to life celebration etiquette, consider inviting family members and friends to contribute to this project and pitch in where necessary.

  • Create or Personalize a Memorial Bench
    Creating a bench in memory of a deceased loved one often doubles as a way of giving back to the community. Memorial benches are very common in both the UK and USA, as they provide a place for the bereaved to reflect and commemorate deceased loved ones.

    A customized memorial bench can be placed in a private garden, porch, a public park, or a place that holds high sentimental value to the deceased. However, placing a memorial bench on private property and other public spaces is bound by local rules and regulations.

  • Scatter Ashes at a Meaningful Location
    If the deceased was cremated, consider scattering their ashes in a location that holds sentimental value. This includes scattering the ashes at sea, sporting venues, and hilltops or even private property. The ashes can also be sent to space or used in a fireworks display.
    It is also possible to have the ashes converted into a unique memorial diamond.

    A memorial diamond from ashes

  • Create a Memory/ Time Capsule
    You can create a time capsule or memory capsule by placing things that remind you of the deceased in an airtight container and burying the container in the ground. In future, you can all get together to dig it up in a memorial ceremony on the anniversary of the deceased's death.

  • Create a Tribute Video
    Creating a tribute video has no limits. You could create a mash-up of all great moments with the departed, string pictures together, and have family and friends share their memories and add any other relevant input. Share a copy to all necessary parties as a treasured keepsake.

Guest Etiquette at Celebration of Life Parties

Life celebration etiquette for guests or attendees of a celebration of life party includes:

  • Look for a guestbook if available and sign it
  • Introduce yourself if not an intimate family member
  • Dress respectfully or according to dress code requirements stated in the invite
  • Express sympathy and support

A celebration of life is a unique way of honoring the life of a deceased loved one in the UK and the USA. Due to the fact that they require a personal touch, there is a lot of planning that goes into it. Therefore, endeavor to involve family and friends so that nobody feels left out.