Tips for Guests Attending a Life Celebration

If you've been invited to a celebration of life event and aren't sure what to expect, you're not alone. Not only might you not be familiar with what a celebration of life is, but each one is as unique as the honoree it reflects. For this reason it's difficult to know what to expect when you are attending such a celebration. If the host of the service has special requests such as wearing the honoree’s favorite color or to be prepared with a special toast, it will likely be communicated in the invitation, otherwise traditional funeral etiquette should be followed. We’ve assembled a few pointers below.


When entering the venue, look for a guestbook and sign it.

While the guest book is a nice memento for the family it also serves to help them gather important information to use later when writing funeral thank you notes.

Unless you know the family very well, introduce yourself.

Even on a good day it can be difficult to recall a name or face out of context, but with emotions intensified it can be even more difficult. Introduce yourself by saying, “I’m not sure if you remember me, but I’m Mary Peters and our children go to school together. I was so sorry to hear about your mother”. You can also introduce yourself to other family members by saying something like “Hi, I’m Mary Peters and my daughter is in school with Susan’s daughter. I was so sorry to hear about your mother. I’ve heard many stories about what a great sense of humor she had.”

Wear respectful clothing.

Unless the celebration of life invitation indicates a dress code for the event, it’s a good idea to be respectful in what to wear to a funeral or memorial service.

Express your sympathy.

It’s hard to know what to say to a grieving friend or how you can show you are thinking of them. However you choose to express your sympathy, understand nothing you can do or say will make them feel better. Expressing your sympathy is a way to let the family know you are thinking of them. Below are some suggestions on how to express your sympathy.

Make a charitable donation
Send funeral flowers to a grieving family
Deliver a meal to a grieving family
Send a sympathy gift
Write a handwritten sympathy message

If using technology, be considerate.

In today's digital age, social media, online funeral guest books and email can all be used when communicating with the grieving family, however there are a few things to keep in mind.

Online Memorial Guest Books

Wherever you leave a message for the family, make sure they know it’s there or created the guest book. Not all guest books are created by the family - some are automatically generated from newspaper obituaries or the social security index. They may be free at first, but later a fee is charged to access the messages in them.

Heart2Soul online memorial guest books are not automatically generated. A friend may create a community for a family member immediately after a death and then transferred to a family member to manage later. Friends and family can share photographs, sympathy messages and service details. It is completely free to use.

Emailing Condolences

While some may disagree about use of email to express sympathy, Peggy Post, director and spokesperson for The Emily Post Institute®, says an email is an immediate way to show you are thinking about the family, but follow an email with handwritten sympathy messages and try to attend the visitation.

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