How to plan a celebration of life service

5 min read

Celebration of life: Ideas to help you plan a service

  • A celebration of life service allows you to plan a remembrance that is as personalized as you’d like.

  • Religious traditions can be a part of the service if you choose to include them, but the format can be anything you want it to be.

  • A powerful way to imbue meaning into the service is by choosing a location that was close to your loved one’s heart.

  • You can also pay tribute to their individuality and what made them special by displaying photos, playing music they loved, asking guests to share memories of them, and more.

If there is one thing that rings true for everyone who has lost a loved one, it’s that there is no one way to say goodbye. Each person is unique, so why should we honor them all the same way? 

A celebration of life is an opportunity to pay tribute to your loved one’s individuality. It is a space for a joyful gathering and is usually less formal and solemn than a funeral service.

Some families choose to have a celebration of life instead of a funeral, and some do it in addition to a funeral or memorial service. Unlike the funeral, there are no conventions to follow for a celebration of life—it can take any form that feels right. 

A celebration of life is essentially a party, and it can be as simple or extravagant as you desire. There are even event planners for life celebrations who can put together a personalized tribute that honors your loved one’s joy of living. 

Choose a meaningful setting for the service

Location is a good place to start when thinking about planning a life celebration. Perhaps there is a special place that your loved one was fond of—a favorite park, restaurant, garden, beach, or another venue that held a special significance for them.

Considering your budget, you could rent out their favorite restaurant or café for a private party, or hold a gathering in their favorite park or outdoor area. When considering a location, keep in mind the number of guests you plan on inviting, and your budget for catering, decorations, and the like. 

If your loved one was a foodie, you can hold an extravagant dinner at a restaurant and design a special menu in their honor for your guests. 

If they loved the outdoors, you can have a release of butterflies or lanterns. Friends and family can write personal messages or letters to your loved one and attach them to the kite or lantern, then watch them lift off into the sky. 

Maybe your loved one passed away far from their home, and you want to have a destination life celebration party in their hometown to honor their heritage. 

If you prefer a simpler celebration, a party at a friend or family member’s home is a great option. The location will set the tone of the event, and allow you to begin making further arrangements. 

Evoke their memory in creative ways

While it’s not a requirement, many celebrations of life have a section dedicated to the sharing of stories, tributes, eulogies, quotes, and poems. Some families choose to have an image slideshow or live music.

If you want to have a dedicated time during the event for collective listening or viewing, you may want to think about appointing someone as the emcee. That way, that person can take on the role of guiding everyone through the event. 

You can provide a prompt, like: describe a moment of joy you shared together, or tell a story that makes you laugh. 

The sharing of words can take on any form—it can happen spontaneously, without preparation, or you can organize it in advance and dedicate time for people to read things they’d like to share.

Keep in mind that the mood of a celebration of life is meant to be positive and focus on your loved one’s life rather than their death. When asking people to prepare a eulogy or tribute, you can provide a prompt, like: describe a moment of joy you shared together, or: tell a story that makes you laugh. 

Incorporate their favorite music

Whether you plan to host a dinner, an outdoor event, or an all-out extravaganza, music is an important part of any celebration of life.

Playing music that your loved one enjoyed and felt connected to is a great way to honor their personality. If your loved one enjoyed live music, you might think about hiring a band for the celebration.

If you’re working with an event planner, they will be able to organize this for you. If your loved one collected records or CDs, you might play a selection of those. 

Allow guests to contribute to the experience  

People often have some sort of activity for guests to partake in. For example, some people leave out a scrapbook and encourage guests to write something about or to their loved one in it, or have guests decorate kites or lanterns to send off into the sky. 

The type of activity you might want to include depends on the kind of event you are having. If it’s taking place in a garden, you might ask guests to bring their favorite flower seeds or plant seedlings so you can plant a beautiful memorial garden together.

If your loved one made pottery, you can host a pottery workshop and guests can make planters or vases to hold flowers. If they were a cook, you can lead an informal cooking class in which guests learn to make your special person’s favorite food.

Not only will these activities result in a lovely keepsake that serves as a tribute to a life well-lived, but it also can feel very healing to work with the hands and make something physical. 

A celebration of life event allows for much more creativity than a traditional funeral or memorial service, and the possibilities are nearly endless.

You have free rein to design a celebration in honor of what made your loved one enjoy life. And since celebrations of life are usually held after the burial (though not always), you usually will have much more time to plan the perfect event.

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.