Alternative memorial ceremonies

6 min read

Final farewell ideas

  • If your loved one had a love for the outdoors, the ocean, or the mountains, you might consider an outdoor ceremony like a sea burial.

  • Life celebrations, memorial galas, and fundraising events can be thrown for those who may not have wanted a somber end to their life.

  • You can always start a new tradition in your family or your community for what can happen when someone passes away.

Not everyone lives their life the same way. And so it is natural that not everyone wants to say goodbye the same way. While traditional wakes and funerals are the standard for many people, they are far from the only ways to celebrate a life and memorialize someone you love. If your loved one lived a less-than-conventional life, you may feel that only an unconventional parting from this world will do.

In some cases, a person will leave behind instructions for how they want their memorial to be carried out and what they expect, and you should always do your best to fulfill these requests. If there were no instructions, but you know that your loved one would not be satisfied with a traditional funeral, then there are many kinds of alternative ceremonies worth exploring. 

Some may find that an unconventional memorial service helps in their grieving process, in part because these tend to be less somber. While the loss of someone you love is always difficult, there can be relief in taking a different route. Especially if you know your loved one would have wanted more of a celebration rather than a gathering full of sadness and mourning.

Returning to the earth

For those who had a deep love of the outdoors, the ocean, or the mountains, there are a few alternative options that you might choose for their final farewell. 

Funeral pyre

At the moment, Colorado is the only state that legally allows funeral pyres. But while that may be the case now, that doesn’t mean more states won’t one day open up to this ancient way of saying goodbye. In a pyre funeral, the person is wrapped in linen and placed on a wooden platform, surrounded by logs. Then the body is cremated, surrounded by friends and family. Practiced in Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh customs in India and Southeast Asia, a pyre can be an option for anyone whose faith allows cremation. There are more ashes than with other types of cremation, and the process takes several hours.

Afterward, just as with any other cremation, the ashes can be scattered in an important place, taken home in an urn, or left on the pyre so they can return to the earth.

Sea burial

For those who love the ocean, there may be no greater sendoff. Although a sea burial can simply consist of the scattering of ashes in the ocean, it is possible to have your entire body buried at sea instead, as long as the burial complies with Environmental Protection Agency regulations. These state that the burial must take place at least three nautical miles from land and at a depth of at least 600 feet. The body must descend to at least 600 feet, so a shrouded body should be weighted down. Caskets have strict additional rules.

Although a sea burial itself costs around $1,750, the cost of chartering a boat to take the body out to sea can add on an average of $8,000-$10,000.

Celebrations, galas, and fundraising events

Not everyone wants a somber end to their life. For some people, a party or gala is a more fitting tribute to the life they led, the people they loved, and the legacy they left behind.

Life celebrations

As opposed to a wake or a funeral, a life celebration is basically a party, not unlike any other celebration that one might have while they’re living. There are even life celebration event planners who will put together the entire extravaganza, from the catering to the decorations, and even a theme if that’s what your family or your loved one wanted.

A life celebration is personalized to reflect who the person was in life. Most are held at venues other than funeral homes, so as to help keep attendees focused on the person’s life instead of their death. Many families choose to include the releasing of butterflies or doves. As with any party, these celebrations can vary in price, depending on how elaborate and over-the-top you want your loved one’s to be.  

Memorial galas

A memorial gala is much like a life celebration, but it is generally a more glamorous occasion, usually involving a dress code, catered food, and even entertainment. If your loved one attended galas in life (or maybe wished that they had), then a memorial gala may be the ideal option to celebrate them in the most glamorous way possible. Some people prefer the idea of those they left behind dressing to the nines in black-tie attire and celebrating together over champagne while performers take to the stage. 

Charitable fund events

Whether your loved one was a patron of the arts or an advocate for an issue important to them, setting up a fund in their name so people can donate and continue the cause they left behind can be both a beautiful tribute and way to keep their memory alive. Funds can easily be set up through online funding platforms, or you can outsource and have a professional set up memorial funds that will collect the money and distribute it accordingly, based on the wishes of your loved one and your family. These can be tied to a fundraising event, so the celebration of your loved one’s life can be part gala and part fundraiser for the cause that mattered most to them.

Create a new tradition

You might instead want to start a new tradition in your family or your community for what can happen when someone passes away. Maybe you want to set up a shrine, as other cultures do when a loved one has passed away, or plant a tree in the person’s memory and have people gather there, as opposed to going to a funeral service. You could request that everyone get together and gather around a campfire to share stories and memories. It can really be anything that you feel is respectful and fitting for your loved one, so don’t be afraid to be creative. 

Sometimes people come up with something extraordinary for their own funeral. For example, when writer Hunter S. Thompson passed away, he requested that his ashes be fired out of a cannon with fireworks to follow, set to a soundtrack he had pre-chosen. While you may not find anything this surprising in your loved one’s final wishes, it’s a good illustration of the range of things that are possible.

There is no wrong way to say goodbye to someone you love. As long as you honor their memory and let their goodbye be a fitting complement to the life they led, you will have done it right. And it will help your grief, knowing you gave them the kind of sendoff they would have wanted.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.