A celebration of life event can help bereaved family members and friends cope with the loss of a loved one and support one another as they grieve. We’ll explain what a celebration of life is, when and how to plan one, along with event ideas to inspire your planning.
What is a Celebration of Life?
A celebration of life is a memorial-type event that honors the passing of a loved one by commemorating their unique life and legacy. Celebrations can take many forms, but all pay tribute to a life well-lived and focus on the individual’s contributions to the world.
These events, also known as life celebrations, tend to have a more joyful feel than services like funerals and wakes. A life celebration should keep the spirit of the loved one alive by focusing on happier times and favorite memories.
When to Plan a Celebration of Life?
You can plan a celebration of life in conjunction with traditional end-of-life services or instead of them. Some people plan life celebrations right away, while others plan their events weeks or months later. The decision is up to you and your family.
In recent years, it has become increasingly popular to hold celebrations after a loved one’s physical remains have been buried or cremated as a way to commemorate their unique spirit.
Celebration of Life Event Ideas
Celebration of life events are as unique as the lives they commemorate. There are no formal rules on how to plan one or what to include, except that it should honor the deceased.
Below are some ideas to help you plan. Remember that you can mix and match different elements throughout the list to create a celebration that uniquely honors your loved one.
Host an eternal birthday party
Your loved one’s birthday will always remind you of them. After they pass, taking time to mark the occasion with an Eternal Birthday Party can help you and your family positively reflect on their life and what they meant to you.
Host the birthday party they always wanted or the one they remembered as their best. Serve their favorite food, drinks and cake and play the games they most enjoyed. Instead of presents, you can ask your guests to bring an object that reminds them of the deceased, or a photo or memory of them. Be sure to schedule time for guests to share their stories during the party.
Plan an activity-based celebration
Was your loved one a devoted hobbyist? Consider a celebration of life centered around the activities they enjoyed the most.
If they loved music, you could hire a cover band of their favorite artist or host a themed karaoke event where friends and family can perform a loved one’s favorite songs. If they enjoyed crafts, you could host a painting night. Maybe it’s a golf outing or a dance party—it all depends on the life they lived and what brought them the most joy.
You can incorporate multiple activities into one event or break them into smaller events over time, which can help during the healing journey.
Participate in a memorial walk or run
If you lost a loved one to a specific illness, participating in a walk or run for that cause can honor their legacy and raise awareness about the disease.
Across the nation, there are walks and runs for Alzheimer’s, cancer, multiple sclerosis and other causes. Many events allow you to form teams or fundraise in a loved one’s memory. Before or after the event, you can gather with friends and family to celebrate your loved one’s life. Events like these usually take place annually and can be a way to keep one’s memory alive.
Plan a community service outing
Was there a particular cause that was important to the deceased? Did they volunteer at a local nonprofit? If so, organizing a community service outing in their honor can celebrate their contributions and continue their legacy.
You might consider organizing a day of service at a local food bank, lending a hand at an animal shelter or cleaning up your loved one’s favorite park. Not only is it a beautiful tribute, but it will positively impact your community and inspire ongoing service in their name.
Gather around a meal
Great food and great memories go hand-in-hand, whether at home or in a favorite restaurant. Think about your loved one and what they would have most enjoyed.
Were they a foodie? Build a celebration of life around it. Rent space at a venue or a local park and hire some of their favorite food trucks to show up. Or make it a potluck where friends and family bring your loved one’s favorite meals. If they had a favorite local spot for brunch or dinner, make a reservation for a small gathering or rent the venue for a larger one.
Make a toast to the life they lived during the event and invite your guests to share their most cherished memories.
Planning a Celebration of Life
Since a celebration of life can take so many forms, it isn’t always easy to know what kind of event to plan. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, think about what made your loved one happy: What brought them joy? When were they always smiling and laughing? Try to incorporate these things into your event. When you do, you can commemorate and celebrate their life with unique, thoughtful details.
At The Love Always Project, we know how difficult it can be to say goodbye to a loved one. If you or someone you know recently lost someone, our grief, loss and bereavement resources can help. We believe that healing can begin when we’re ready to acknowledge the complex emotions we’re feeling. Learn more about our mission to help others cope with loss and discuss end-of-life issues: Join the movement.