Celebration of Life Ideas & Service Options
Many families have heard about the concept of a celebration of life service and are looking ideas on planning a unique service for their loved one. We have compiled a list of ideas and options to introduce you some ways that you could plan a celebration of life, however, this is by no means an exhaustive list. Celebration of Life services are not constrained or limited by the social expectations that traditional funeral services tend to have, so let your imagination run wild to plan the perfect service that is as unique as the life of your loved one.
We always enjoy working together with families in planning a service for their loved one. While it can be a challenge to put together an event that both pays tribute to and celebrates the life and spirit of a complex individual; it's also one of the most rewarding things any one of us can do for someone we've loved and lost.
Unique Celebration of Life Ideas
Just as each person is unique, each celebration of life service is personal and unique. As you explore ideas for a service, consider what the deceased would enjoy, but also what the attendees will enjoy and what will meet their emotional and spiritual needs.
We have provided a few ideas, but this list is by no means completed. Use these ideas as a starting point to plan the perfect service to suit your unique needs.
Ask attendees to bring along a story or memory of your loved one to share. Guests comfort levels will vary – you may want to provide time for those who would like to publicly share their memory, but also note cards for those who prefer to write down their memory to privately be shared with the family.
Enjoy songs, bands or the genre of music that were favourites. Music is an integral part of life for many people, and a celebration of life service is the perfect event in which to showcase the meaningful music of your loved one's life.
If planning for snacks or refreshments, plan to enjoy your loved one’s favourite dishes or treats.
Display a photo memory board, a memorial table or a memorial DVD of images of your loved one doing what they enjoyed most. Photos, which capture a moment, often spark conversation and bring up forgotten memories.
A balloon release is often a feature of a celebration of life ceremony, and a beautiful gesture. But don’t be afraid to think outside the box to find something to suit your loved one’s personality. Some alternatives that have the same sentiment as a balloon release are to toss wildflower seeds into a field, blow bubbles or light luminaries.
Funerals vs. Celebrations of Life
It's interesting; funerals and celebration of life services have much in common, yet they often appear very different. Each is a ceremony; a gathering of people who share a common loss. It's just that one is more rooted in tradition, while the other is the result of recent changes in social values. But both serve to do three things:
1. Help the bereaved family, and their community, publically acknowledge the death of one of their own.
2. Support the grieving family by surrounding them with caring friends, co-workers, and neighbors.
3. Move the deceased from one social status to another.
Yet they achieve those things in very different ways. First, let's take a closer look at what most of us commonly see as very traditional funerals.
It's not surprising funerals have been around for a very long time. Composed of three activities, the visitation, the funeral service, and the committal service, performed at the graveside; this funeral is the one we'd easily recognize from contemporary literature and film.
The Visitation: Held prior to the funeral, often the night before but sometimes on the same day, the visitation (or viewing) is a time when people come to support the family and, more importantly, pay their respects to the deceased. This often involves stepping up to the casket to view the body; either in the company of a member of the surviving family or on your own.
The Funeral Service: Commonly held in the funeral home or church, the traditional funeral service is led by an officiant of one kind or another; most commonly a pastor or the funeral director. This individual follows a very predictable funeral order of service which includes the singing of hymns; and invocations, Bible recitations, Scripture readings, and prayers led by the officiant.
The Committal Service: This takes place at the cemetery, after a slow and respectful automobile procession from the place where the funeral was held. The committal service ends when the casketed remains are lowered into the ground, and final prayers are said.
If you'd like to know more about the history of funerals in the United States, you may like to visit the website of the National Museum of Funeral History. But for now, it's enough to know that a funeral service traditionally has these three distinct components. Now let's look at a celebration of life service.
Celebrations of Life
Author Barbara Kingsolver, in her book The Poisonwood Bible, wrote “To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know.” We think this reflection is at the heart of a celebration of life. While a funeral, as we've described it above, has more to do with the orderly and often spiritually-defined; a celebration of life is more concerned with telling the story of the deceased. Celebrations of life are just that: a time people come together more to celebrate the unique personality and achievements of the deceased than to merely witness or mark the change in their social status.
Celebrations of life are similar to memorial services, which can be described as a hybrid event; combining the flexibility of a celebration of life with many of the activities of a traditional funeral order-of-service.
There's more room for creativity in a celebration of life than a funeral. Since celebrations of life are commonly held after the individual's physical remains have been cared for through burial or cremation; there is much more time available to plan the event. And without doubt, this allows you to make better decisions about how you'd like to celebrate the life of someone you dearly loved.
Celebration of Life Planning Checklist
It's really a process of asking–and answering–questions. Sit down with other family members, at least once, but maybe even more than once; to explore the celebration of life ideas which arise from answering these questions:
1. Who will be invited? The number of guests define the where, when, and how of your celebration of life. Write down the names of everyone you think would want to be there and then set it aside. You can add new names to the list as you go along.
2. Where, and when, should the event take place? Here's where your imagination is tempered by any scheduling or travel-related issues facing those who will be invited. Be sure to check in with out-of-town relatives and friends about their situation before settling on these critical details.
3. Who will orchestrate or conduct the event? If your loved one was religious, you may opt to have their pastor or church minister perform these tasks. However, many families today hire a non-denominational celebrant to oversee the celebration of life.
4. Who wishes to speak at the event? Many times family members or friends will be very direct about their desire to make a short presentation at the celebration of life; other times you need to come out and ask folks if they would be willing to publicly share their thoughts and feelings. Either way, you'll want to select those people who have shared a close relationship with the deceased and have something meaningful to contribute.
5. What group activities would be appropriate? We've heard some exciting celebration of life ideas over the years. This question involves thinking about what your loved one liked most about their life and gives everyone a remarkable space to share memories, laugh, and even cry together.
6. What food or beverages should be served? What you serve may depend on the theme of your celebration of life, or may be based on your loved one's favorite dishes. It's entirely up to you; we've even seen "pot luck" celebrations of life where guests actually sign up to bring select foods and beverages.
7. What readings and music should you include? Music is an integral part of life for many people, and a celebration of life is the perfect event in which to showcase the meaningful music of your loved one's life. But, if your loved one didn't appreciate music (and lots of folks don’t), it may be more appropriate to read chosen spiritual selections, or excerpts from literature.
8. What details of your loved one's life do you want to share with guests? Not every biographical detail needs to be highlighted; rather you're trying to capture their essence by telling revealing anecdotes or stories. Sometimes you can reveal their character by detailing one short moment in their life experience.
9. What decorations will you have? Many families create a tribute video and use it as the centerpiece of the event. Others choose to use a memory table of photographs and other memorabilia instead.
We Offer Affordable Celebration of Life Services
While celebrations of life are not burdened by social expectations—they can be pretty much anything you want them to be—it's important to realize that the event you're planning should meet the emotional needs of the guests. So, think about exactly who will be there, and what they're likely to want or need. Then, bring in those unique lifestyle and personality characteristics of the deceased; perhaps add live music or refreshments, and you've got the beginnings of a remarkable celebration of life.
Many families are choosing to have a celebration of life service instead of a traditional funeral service because it allows them to customize the service and honor the life of their loved one in a way that is unique and meaningful to them.
If you have any questions about having a celebration of life, or are looking for help on ideas for how to personalize a service for your loved one, please feel free to give us a call at 828-680-9963. You also have the option to email us through our online contact form or come by in person to speak to a funeral director.
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible