How to Have Celebration of Life Event Instead of a Funeral

How to Have Celebration of Life Event Instead of a Funeral

A friend or relative has passed away and you have been asked to plan a memorial service. Perhaps your loved one doesn’t belong to a church or the family want a celebration rather than a sad funeral. Or perhaps the person was what is now termed as “spiritual, not religious”. That usually means they believed in God in some form, but didn’t adhere to the religious dictates of any one religion or church.Here are some useful tips and techniques to get started.

There are many ways to honor this life you esteem that are not held in a church per se and are not administered by a church person. The key is the reverence and compassion that goes into the planning, the personal details that are attended to and the respect and love that is present at the celebration. Here are some things to help you think through what you want at a Celebration of Life event. Gather select family members and close friends and think through some of the following.

1. Decide how many people will come

If your loved one had tons of friends and business contacts, then plan on 100 or more. Ask one of his/her business associates what to expect from that aspect of the person’s life. How many relatives will come? If this is a person under age 18 count on many more. If the person is in public life try to estimate how many members of the public may attend. Getting a rough number will help determine the size of the location you will need.

2. Select a place that is warm and inviting

Some ideas for a Celebration of Life event are the same as selecting a place for a wedding. Ideas for outside celebrations include gardens, parks, ocean beaches, national and state parks, and wineries. Inside ideas are large houses, places where dances are held, club houses, bed and breakfast inns, even hotel meeting rooms can be warmed up! Of course that all comes at a cost, but it is convenient. Try to select a space that is not going to packed in, but also not so large that the celebration gets lost in the space.

3. Decide on the date and time.

Selecting a weekend date allows people to come from out-of-town. If the person has asked to be cremated the celebration can be as long as a month or more away. This allows time for preparation, thoughtful reflection, preparation of slide shows, old pictures, etc. All of these take time and add a loving touch. The time of day depends on whether or not you are going to have a sit down or cafeteria-style meal or just hors d’oeuvres and drinks.

4. Get the word out

One way to do this is to go through the person’s email list and send notices. Placing an “ad” in the appropriate newspapers, although it is not inexpensive, is a good way. Lots of people read the obituaries every day. (Call your newspaper to check on their rates.) Set up a phone tree by calling 10 to 20 people from the person’s life (work, relatives, friends, social clubs, neighbors) and ask them to call the people they believe will want to attend.

5. Plan the food

The easiest and least time consuming way to do this is to have a caterer take care of the food. Whether it is hors d’oeuvres or a full meal, the caterer will bring the food, the dishes, the silverware the linens, even the tables, everything needed. At the end of the day, they whisk it all away. However many people find it comforting to have a do-it yourself cooking gathering the day before the celebration and pitch in together to do the preparations. Potlucks are also perfectly appropriate. For generations friends and neighbors have provided the family of the deceased with food. Often we like doing it. It makes us feel we have helped in some way. So don’t hesitate to announce that it is a potluck.

6. Make a Decision About Flowers and Donations

Many people ask attendees, not to bring flowers and to make a donation to a favorite charity of their choosing or one that was a favorite of the deceased. Since a decent bouquet costs over $50 this can be a real boon to the charity.

7. Select Decorations or a Theme

This isn’t always necessary, but since you will want to provide a program of some sort, flower arrangements baskets and note cards for leaving the family condolences or placing cards, you may wish to create a color scheme so that the room looks pulled together. Cream and one other color is often a safe and tasteful choice.

8. Decide On The Contents of The Program

Select someone who is good with computer graphics to do your program. Besides listing who will be speaking or performing, you may wish to include a favorite poem or saying, a prayer or a meaningful graphic or other things appropriate to your person. Think of the person’s nationality, culture, interests for clues on this. A simple cream-colored 81/2 by 11 paper folded over is easy. Depending on your time and resources you may wish to make it more elaborate.

9. Decide Who Will Do What

The day of the celebration you will need the following duties filled by people you can trust to be responsible.


oMaster or Mistress of Ceremony:

oFour to Six honors or Remembrances:

oOne Person to Circulate So The Attendees Can Speak:

oClean Up Crew:

There are many thoughtful ways to personalize a Celebration Of Life event. One family of an inveterate and voracious reader put all her books out and asked the participants to go through them and take as many as they wished. Those attending found it touching to have such an appropriate remembrance and selected those that had been dog-eared and underlined as well as those that didn’t seem to have been read yet. The family designed a bookmark that matched their programs and had a quote about books on it.

Did your person have a passionate interest, a favorite hobby, or love a certain kind of music or dance? Did he/she have a collection of something that no one in the family wants, but having one piece would be a nice remembrance for the people who helped out? One friend loved scarves and had over thirty scarves and wraps, so they put those out for people.

Many churches go along with the family on informal celebrations and have only a couple prayers, so you don’t have to rule them out. If your loved one was not a regular attendee of the church you will probably be asked to pay rent of some type. But many churches are lovely and give comfort to those who are religious among the family. One more thought. You may not wish to have your Celebration in a church, but you can still ask a minister, spiritual leader or friend to say a prayer.