What is a Celebration of Life?

Funeral. Memorial. Shiva. These end-of-life services are timeless traditions when it comes to honoring the dead. Our culture, family traditions, religious beliefs and personal accomplishments are as unique as a life lived and can also play a role in how we honor a life – incorporating these details can transform an end-of-life service into a Celebration-of-life.


In recent years, more and more requests are being made to incorporate these unique details into traditional funerals and memorials to ensure the uniqueness of the life lived is represented. People are foregoing the traditional funeral rituals and choosing to celebrate the life of the person who died in a personal, meaningful and memorable way.

Here are some important notes to consider if you and your family would like to plan a celebration-of-life.

The celebration-of-life is only one part of funeral (or memorial) decisions.

When someone dies there are many decisions to be made and usually, there’s not a lot of time to make them. Of all the life events we acknowledge, funerals and memorials are typically not well researched in advance – and in many cases not even discussed among family members. We are often left making hasty decisions out of necessity and lump all of our plans into one big basket called a “funeral”. I like to tell people to try to mentally organize what’s happening into 4 separate areas:

Feelings of grief and sadness are natural emotions to experience.

Grief and mourning are natural expressions of emotions experienced with loss and death. When we love someone and they are no longer present in our lives, we miss them. It’s natural to feel grief – it’s sad and emotional, and as a result, making important (and timely) decisions can be difficult, so it's important to lean on others to help.

Decisions regarding the physical body will have to be made.

Cremation or burial? Whether it’s a cultural belief or personal preference, decisions about what to do with the physical body need to be made.

Administrative matters can be given to others looking to help.

Organizing the meals, making arrangements for out of town guests, notifying others, cleaning out an estate, getting copies of the death certificate - these administrative tasks can be given to others looking for ways to help.

Remembering, grieving and celebrating a life is important.

Liz Aleshire, author of 101 Ways You Can Help, says in her book that a person needs to talk about their grief 100 times in order to move through the grieving process. Whether this happens in a traditional setting such as a funeral home, an intimate setting such as a backyard or at a large venue, the idea of having people come together to support the living and honor the life of the person who has died is important to the grieving process.

A celebration-of-life is not an event – it’s a way of thinking.

A celebration-of-life honors the life of the person who died and uplifts the spirits of those who attend. This personalized celebration can be as subtle as displaying photographs and personal mementos, playing a meaningful song or displaying other favorite items at a traditional venue like a funeral home, or by hosting an elaborate and well-planned party in honor of the person who has died.

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