• Debbie Donnelly Funeral Celebrant

Celebration of life service- how to plan and ideas on what to include

As COVID rules are relaxed those who were only able to have a small ceremony or chose a direct cremation may be thinking about a memorial or Celebration of life service. This blog has been created to help you think about what you might want to include.

Just as there are many different ways to live a life there are many different ways to celebrate, remember or mourn the death of a loved one. The term ‘Celebration of Life’ has become more common over the past decade.

A Celebration of life is a popular choice to acknowledge a life well lived and can be an opportunity to remember, celebrate and share memories. Unlike a traditional funeral service which follows established practices, a celebration of life can be anything that you think is appropriate and right for the person you are remembering. Venues can range from outdoors to a favourite bar, can be a village hall or a posh hotel, the choice is yours. Rather than mourning, people can celebrate who the person was and what they did in a way that feels right.

People may not know what to expect so being clear in your invitation will help people better understand what to expect and what is expected of them.

‘Jill never wanted a traditional funeral so being able to invite you to this Celebration of her Life at one of her favourite places means a lot to us as a family. We are asking people to bring a photograph or memory of their time with her and hope that you will stay for afternoon tea and share some of your memories with friends and family. The ceremony will include some of her favourite music, a formal tribute from a celebrant and readings from family and friends. As Jill always enjoyed a ‘bit of a do’ and a reason to have her hair done we would ask you to dress in your brightest and best’

Are there any rules? Other than respecting the written or spoken instruction of the deceased it is up to the family or friends to decide what would be fitting and right.

The following list of considerations may help decide whether a Celebration of life is the right choice.

Venue: Do you want a service in a traditional chapel or crematorium or in a less formal setting

Timing: Will the service be held shortly after the death or at a later date after the cremation, or on an anniversary, will it be during the daytime or evening.

Formal/informal: Who will lead the ceremony, how will it be structured.

Secular/ Religious/ Spiritual: What would they want- maybe a mix, how do these fit together.

Music: Will music be used to remember, celebrate or to mourn.

If you decide to have a Celebration of Life service it is useful to remember that each person attending the event will have had a different relationship with the deceased and may not know their whole story. Having a eulogy or tribute can allow people to know and appreciate their whole life and will give structure to the ceremony. There is no formula for a successful event but the following are worth considering.

Speeches and tributes that are short, pre-written and heartfelt are often received better than ad hoc, lengthy deliveries, no matter how genuine. Music can lift the mood and set the scene so the choice of any opening or closing music will have more impact if it is chosen for the person rather than the occasion. A Celebration of Life can be a space for humour and laughter especially if it is a trait that people will associate with the deceased.

Finding ways to involve people by the lighting of candles, writing something for a memory tree or asking people to bring photographs for a memory board or book will allow people to participate and feel included.

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