Losing a beloved family member is a difficult experience that all of us live through at one point or another, whether it is a sibling, a parent, an uncle, or even a close friend. These moments are very sensitive within a family or a friend group, as the stages of grief affect every individual in a unique way.
If you are reading this article, it is likely that you’ve experienced the recent death of a loved one. The Reunacy team created this guide to provide information and simple steps on how to plan a Celebration of Life.
What is a Celebration of Life?
A Celebration of Life is an event where family and friends gather together to share stories and celebrate the life of their loved one. While some families may choose funerals or a memorial service, a celebration of life typically takes more of a joyous approach through storytelling, music, and even laughter. The schedule of events at a celebration of life reflects whatever the family feels will truly honor the beautiful life of their loved one. Many times, the dress code at a celebration for life is far more casual and relaxed.
A celebration of life can be an essential and healing milestone for the survivors of the deceased to share stories, celebrate their loved one, and feel the support of others. However, it can be very overwhelming to actually plan a large event and invite multiple people after you’ve lost a loved one. That feeling is very normal. A celebration of life can take place many weeks, or even months, after the death which allows for more freedom and flexibility as you go through the process of grieving.
If a family has chosen cremation, a celebration of life may be more fitting. At a funeral service, the casket is typically present and there is the opportunity for visitation. As more Americans are choosing cremation, celebration of life ceremonies are becoming more popular. In fact, starting in 2015, cremation became the most popular choice over a traditional burial. Experts attribute this trend to the lower cost of cremation and the growing environmental concerns of caskets which are nonbiodegradable. Most often, a celebration of life does not include the casket.
How is a Celebration of Life different from a funeral?
A celebration of life ceremony is more heartwarming and casual in tone than the somber tone of a funeral, and allows for more creativity in the schedule of events. Your family can decide how to best honor your loved one, whether it’s through music, speeches and stories from friends, a moving dance performance, a unique location like a garden or a park, or incorporating spirituality into the event. Whatever activities your loved one valued most, the entire point of the event is to honor your loved one in a personal way.
For example, a celebration of life event was held at a golf course for a man who served his community as a golf teacher for many years. Overlooking the driving range where he taught golf for 35 years, many golfers, friends, and family members attended his celebration of life. One of the teacher’s students who is a professional golf player delivered a heartwarming and meaningful speech to honor the memory of his teacher, and how his golf lessons led to a US open win. While unique and different, this celebration of life was fitting and authentic as it honored the spirit of this beloved golf teacher and allowed his friends and family to share stories in remembrance of him.
As a celebration of life can be more flexible and creative in structure and tone, this example at a golf course was the perfect fit for that individual. His entire world was built around golf. As a golf teacher, golf was his profession, yet it was also his passion. Most of his friends and family were all golfers, or at least knew and understood how much golf meant to him.
A celebration of life empowers families to plan events that uniquely honor their loved ones who have passed away, and choose locations and activities that are authentic.
How to Select a Venue for a Celebration of Life
Picking the right location for a celebration of life is essential. Beyond the practical considerations of selecting an event venue, such as, making sure the location has enough room for the amount of people you wish to invite, the location you select will set the tone for the celebration of life.
The location you choose must create an environment where individuals can gather together to share memories, connect with each other, express emotions, and honor the memory of your loved one. The location can also have a significant impact on how the schedule is structured and the tone of the events.
As your loved one had a unique and meaningful contribution to the world throughout their life, with different hobbies, interests, and passions, choosing a location for their celebration of life is an opportunity to honor your loved one’s memory.
With a celebration of life, there is more flexibility and creativity when it comes to choosing the perfect venue. The example of a celebration of life at a golf course was fitting for that individual because of his profession as a golf teacher.
You can plan a celebration of life at a wide variety of locations based on your loved one’s passions and interests. Some ideas include forests, lakesides, private gardens, churches, auditoriums, parks, or any other event space. If a particular location is meaningful to the person who passed, that can add another layer of symbolism to the event and make it even more special.
Here are a few examples of locations where you can plan a celebration of life:
- Nature: Forests, lakesides, riverbanks
- Local garden or conservatory
- Local or national park
- A dedicated meditation mountain (example below, Meditation Mount in Ojai, California)
- Neighborhood tavern
- Brewery or winery
- Historical building or mansion
- Sports venue (baseball field, volleyball court)
- Theme Park
- Family home
- Friend’s home
- University or high school
- Golf course driving range
- Favorite restaurant
- Country club
- Community Hall
- Recreational facility
- Boat or Yacht
- Waterfront Venue
- Art Gallery
- Theater or performance venue
- Virtual spaces and online platforms
How do I plan the schedule for a celebration of life?
After you choose a location for the celebration of life, you will want to imagine a schedule of events. The first thing to determine is the tone of the event. Here are some questions for you to consider before you plan the schedule:
-Do you wish to create an environment of gathering and storytelling?
-Would your loved one want you to incorporate a unique activity, like a sports event or a group meditation, into the schedule to honor his or her favorite hobby?
-Does your family and your loved one have a spirituality or religion to incorporate into the schedule?
-How important was music to your loved one?
-Who are the individuals who can prepare written speeches and stories to honor your loved one?
After you’ve considered the tone of the events and any unique elements you want to incorporate into your schedule, you can plan a program which will be printed and distributed to all individuals attending.
Here are a few steps to planning the program for a celebration of life:
1- Welcome and opening
Each celebration of life should begin with either a welcome speech invoking the beginning of the events. It can be very short, sometimes even presented by a minister or a family member. In the opening, welcome the guests in attendance and state the purpose of the event, to honor your loved one.
2- Speeches, remembrances, or eulogies
Celebration of life events often plan for speeches, typically given by the loved one’s close friends or family. It is a good idea to reach out to friends and family ahead of time to ask them to plan their speeches. Some individuals will write out an entire speech and read it. Some speakers may choose to use notecards with bullet points and speak from the heart. Encourage your speakers to include a mix of heartfelt stories, funny anecdotes, and light-hearted memories.
One particularly meaningful celebration of life speech recounted the many memories the speaker had of going on bike riding trips with the individual who passed. The speaker was actually the best friend of the person who passed. As this best friend shared heartwarming stories of their biking adventures all across America over the last 50 years, the guests were able to learn unique stories about the loved one who had passed, and also get a sense of his true passions and interests. The speech ended with a beautiful tribute imagining the loved one who passed in his happiest place, in an “alternate universe,” on an endless bike ride on the Pacific Coast Highway in California, enjoying the sunshine and the ocean breeze, and stopping at a Malibu beach to enjoy a Coke Zero. The guests in attendance appreciated hearing the heartfelt stories and many felt a sense of catharsis as they heard about their loved one’s beautiful memories through his best friend.
As you plan a celebration of life, you can also add what is called “an open mic” section of the event, allowing for any guest in attendance to share a story or meaningful memory.
Music is a beautiful way to reflect on the memory of your loved one. Many times, families will choose the favorite songs of their loved one and play a few of those songs during the ceremony of events. One celebration of life played the song For Once In My Life by Stevie Wonder, as it was the favorite song of the person who passed.
Playing the favorite music of someone who has passed is a great way to invite a spirit of reflection and remembrance. As the song is playing, guests in attendance will be able to meditate on their memories with that person. Listening to music allows a chance for each person to feel and process emotions of the loss.
Another way to honor your loved one through music is to hire a band, a singer, or an individual musician to play or sing songs your loved one enjoyed. For example, one celebration of life invited a niece who was a skilled acapella opera singer. She sang classic Frank Sinatra songs, as well as Ave Maria, all in acapella. Music is a very special and creative way to honor your loved one.
4 – Readings, poems, or other creative activities
Sometimes a short poem or a selection from literature can best honor your loved one. If your loved one was religious, perhaps a passage from scripture or a religious writing is fitting.
If you need ideas of poems for your celebration of life, consider the below:
“Your Spirit” by Tram-Tiara T. Von Reichenbach
I know that no matter what
You will always be with me.
When life separates us
I’ll know it is only your soul
Saying goodbye to your body
But your spirit will be with me always.
When I see a bird chirping on a nearby branch
I will know it is you singing to me.
When a butterfly brushes gently by me so care freely
I will know it is you assuring me you are free from pain.
When the gentle fragrance of a flower catches my attention
I will know it is you reminding me
To appreciate the simple things in life.
When the sun shining through my window awakens me
I will feel the warmth of your love.
When I hear the rain pitter patter against my window sill
I will hear your words of wisdom
And will remember what you taught me so well
That without rain trees cannot grow
Without rain flowers cannot bloom
Without life’s challenges I cannot grow strong.
When I look out to the sea
I will think of your endless love for your family.
When I think of mountains, their majesty and magnificence
I will think of your courage for your country.
No matter where I am
Your spirit will be beside me
For I know that no matter what
You will always be with me.
“All Is Well” by Henry Scott Holland
Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way which you always used
Put no difference in your tone,
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was,
Let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It it the same as it ever was, there is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near,
Just around the corner.
All is well.
“She’s In the Sun, the Wind, the Rain” by Christy Ann Martine
She’s in the sun, the wind, the rain,
she’s in the air you breathe
with every breath you take.
She sings a song of hope and cheer,
there’s no more pain, no more fear.
You’ll see her in the clouds above,
hear her whisper words of love,
you’ll be together before long,
until then, listen for her song.
Other creative activities for a celebration of life event include planting a memory garden, watching a photo slideshow, sharing in the loved one’s favorite food and drinks, commissioning a memorial plaque on a park bench or a water fountain, naming a star after your loved one, hosting a sport event in your loved one’s honor, or even lighting fireworks.
5- Closing remarks
Conclude the celebration of life with closing remarks or a short speech. The closing remarks in a celebration of life often express gratitude for the guests who attended and make a final statement of remembrance of the loved one. Many celebrations of life will end the ceremony with another meaningful song after the closing remarks.
6- Reception or gathering
The reception or gathering part of the celebration of life is for friends and family to gather and talk about their loved one and share feelings in more intimate conversations. If your venue has a place where you can set up snacks, dinner, or drinks, you can stay at that location. Many churches will have social halls for this purpose.
Many times, families will plan reception back at the family home, or in a private room at a restaurant or a country club. If you choose a more creative location, you can plan to have a caterer set up tables or pass around snacks.
Some families choose to host guests for dinner, drinks, and dessert with their loved one’s favorite food. Depending on how much of a foodie your loved one was, choosing the food will also be another unique way to honor their memory.
The Guest List: Inviting Family and Friends to a Celebration of Life
When you’re planning a celebration of life, you will want to invite friends and family to honor your loved one’s memory. Everyone processes grief differently, but it can be cathartic and even healing, to share memories and stories with others who were also close to the person who passed away.
A guest list for a celebration of life can range from small, mid-size, to very large, depending on how many people want to attend to honor your loved one’s memory.
Clear communication of event details is essential to planning a successful celebration of life. You want all guests to be able to put the date of the celebration of life event into their calendars and schedule time to attend. Some friends and family may be traveling for the celebration of life, and they will need to make their travel arrangements.
How do I plan a celebration of life with Reunacy?
Celebration of life organizers turn to Reunacy to communicate all of the event details of the day to their guests, as well as maintain a directory for all the attendees. Planning a celebration of life with Reunacy assures data privacy and offers a simple, easy-to-use interface that allows all attendees to search through the directory of guests before the event itself.
To start the celebration of life planning process, first, you will create your own account. Go to reunacy.com and click “Start A Group.”
From there, you will fill out your own individual profile – and you will be the administrator of your group. Watch a 2 minute below on our Reunacy Youtube Channel to see all the steps to create a group within Reunacy:
After you have created an account, you will name your group. A suggested name would be “Celebration of Life for ________.” That way, all attendees will be very clear on the purpose of the group when they get an invite email in their inbox.
Before you invite your guest list to the celebration of life group, you will want to create an event so all the event details are in one place. You will do this by clicking the “Events” tab on your home page, and click “Create a new event.”
Watch this 2 minute video below for the instructions on how to create an event within the Reunacy platform:
The Celebration of Life Directory with Reunacy
One of the most desired features of Reunacy is our directory. As you invite guests to your Celebration of Life event through Reunacy, each guest will have the opportunity to fill out their personal information on their Reunacy profile. Guests can upload a profile photo, type a brief bio, share their social media profiles (Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter), their website, and their phone number.
As each attendee enters their information into Reunacy, your directory has been created! Guests can see the pictures and names of other guests before the celebration of life even starts. Many people use the Reunacy directory to put names to faces before, during, and after the event. During a time of grief, it can be helpful to have a guide on who is attending and how each person knew the deceased. The directory is also an effective way for guests to keep in touch after the celebration of life to share memories and continue to support each other.
Keep in mind, one of Reunacy’s core values is data privacy. In fact, Reunacy was created to be an alternative option to other event platforms like Facebook groups or Eventbrite. On alternate platforms, a user’s personal information can easily be sold to third parties, but with Reunacy, all personal information remains private. Reunacy does not form relationships with third-party advertisers. In fact, the founders of Reunacy created the platform intentionally to protect all user data. This can put your guests at ease that their information will only be accessible to individuals within the celebration of life group.
Losing a beloved friend or family member is always hard. Planning a celebration of life can honor your loved one’s memory, help friends and family to process grief and connect, and provide closure. The Reunacy team wishes you and your family as you go through this process.
If you want to try out Reunacy for a celebration of life you are planning, start a free group today.
The Reunacy team encourages you to reach out if you have any questions. We’re here for you during this tough time – please send us a message if you have any questions!