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A Celebration of Life Service - What You Need to Know

If you are considering a celebration of life to honor a loved one, check out these ideas for services, and other helpful info about celebrations of life.

One of the most important parts of grieving a loved one is the closure we often find throughout the process. A celebration of life can offer a significant portion of that healing, and is a tradition that many come to find incredibly cathartic. 

Learn more about how a celebration of life service can help families and friends say their goodbyes and begin to heal. Whether you’re planning one or attending one, we’ll go through everything you need to know about this honored tradition that helps us complete the circle of life and say our goodbyes.

What is a Celebration of Life Service? 

A celebration of life service is a planned event that offers friends and family the chance to say goodbye to a loved one. They can be as grand or as private as you want, and they provide a unique opportunity to create something truly special as a way to honor someone who has passed away. 

What is the Difference Between a Celebration of Life and a Memorial Service?

The difference between a celebration of life and a memorial service can be easily explained by thinking: modern vs tradition. And while there really is no wrong way to say goodbye, there are some decisions you’ll need to make about how the service you plan to honor your loved one will look and feel. 

There is of course the more traditional route of a formal memorial service. Often, memorial services have a religious theme or undertone, and they’re generally (though not always) planned relatively soon after your loved one’s passing.

If a formal memorial service doesn’t feel like it would be a good fit, you could also choose to plan what’s commonly referred to as a “celebration of life.” This can be anything you want to make it. These celebrations tend to really focus on the joy a loved one brought to others. It can be religious as well, but it’s also common for a celebration of life to not have a religious aspect to it.

If you’re not sure what to plan to honor your loved one, you may want to read How To Know Which Funeral Type Is Best.

Why Choose a “Celebration of Life” Service? 

Many people decide on honoring a loved one with a celebration of life as a way to bring a joyful, unique feeling to the day. A lot of times, the deceased loved one’s personality influences the type of celebration or memorial we choose to have. Maybe you’re saying goodbye to someone who’ll be remembered for their love of life, who had an abundantly joyful spirit. Maybe he or she had expressed they didn’t want a depressing or sorrowful day in their honor.

Sometimes traditional funerals can feel very heavy and somber. If this doesn’t represent how your loved one lived their life, or if it seems to not be the best way to remember them, perhaps a celebration of life would be more representative. During the service, you can choose to focus on the joy your loved one brought to everyone else. You can make the day one that surrounds all the memories you’ll forever hold in your heart.

What to Say at a Celebration of Life Service

It can be hard to find the perfect words when we’re trying to say goodbye. Whether you’re hosting a celebration of life service, or you’re just hoping to speak or offer condolences, if you’re struggling to find the right thing to say, maybe one of these can offer a starting point.

If you’re hosting or planning a celebration of life, you can include remarks like:

  • You set eternity in my heart

  • You are loved more than you’ll ever know - Romans 5:8

  • There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind - C.S. Lewis

  • Hope is the only thing stronger than fear

Maybe you’re planning to speak at a celebration of life, or you’re looking for something meaningful to say to a family member or to write in a memory book or card. If you’re struggling to find the right words, you could use one of the following ideas.

Verbal Condolences:

  • I’m so grateful to be here today...s/he would have loved the celebration you put together

  • My favorite thing about him/her was […]

  • Life will never quite be the same without her/him

  • I’m here for you if you need anything

Written Condolence Messages In a Card or Book:

  • Your life is your message to the world, make sure it’s inspiring…Remembering someone who inspired me, today and always. 

  • Something beautiful is on the horizon

  • How you make others feel about themselves says a lot about you…we’ll always love how s/he made us feel

  • “Wherever you are, we are there.” - Jim Elliot … I’ll forever be grateful for this lesson s/he taught me

5 Memorable Celebration of Life Service Ideas

If you’ve decided you’re certain a celebration of life is the perfect way to honor a special loved one and bid them farewell, the next step is planning the ceremony. 

There’s no right or wrong way to do this, especially if you trust your heart along the way. If you’re looking for celebration of life ideas or need inspiration, we’ve come up with a few special and touching ways you can plan to celebrate a life lost.

1. Share meaningful memories together

Gatherings of any size, small or large, can be all the more meaningful when stories about the lost loved one can be shared. This can evoke a range of emotions, from laughter to tears, and promises to have a sense of healing and closure in the process.

Some great ways to spark conversation and get guests laughing and sharing stories can come from: 

  • Presenting a memory slideshows set to music

  • Leaving out scrapbooks and photo albums

  • Asking guests to write down a quick memory to be read aloud and shared with everyone

2. Plant a celebration of life garden

Your loved one didn’t need to be a gardener for this sweet idea to be something nobody forgets any time soon. The idea that life is circular, and that new growth and new life will continue to spring, even long after we’re gone, is a sentimental and symbolic way to celebrate your loved one.

Have guests bring their favorite seed or small seedling with them to the service. Once you all gather, plant everyone’s contributions into what will be a beautiful garden that memorializes a life well-lived. You can even ask each guest to share a special memory as they plant their seeds or small flower or plant. 

3. Hold a “paddle out” ceremony

Paddle out ceremonies can be spiritual and lovely, especially if you’re honoring someone who was an avid surfer or who loved the ocean or beach.

To hold this floating memorial service, guests paddle out on surfboards, usually carrying flowers or leis as they form a human circle. If your loved one was cremated, you could even scatter some or all of his or her ashes into the water during the ceremony.

4. Use music to celebrate

Music has a special way of taking hold of our hearts during difficult times. Your loved one doesn’t need to have been a musician for you to put an emphasis on the music you use during their celebration of life.

One sweet idea is to ask each guest to contribute a song that’s somehow special to their relationship with the departed. Put together a playlist to play at the service based on all the contributions. Take the idea one step further by asking each person to share their reason for the song they chose.

Looking for the perfect song to celebrate a special loved one? You may find something here: Top Funeral Songs & Memorial Service Music of 2020

5. Plan a balloon or lantern release 

Lantern releases have become especially popular in recent years, especially in Western culture. There’s something really magical about letting a paper lantern float away with thoughts and prayers of your loved one being at the center of the release. 

While balloons can have a similar impact, there are environmental concerns about releasing them as a memorial. Lanterns, however, are typically eco-friendly. 

A release is a beautiful and memorable way to give guests a sense of finality and peace as the celebration comes to an end. 

Planning a Celebration of Life Service

Planning a celebration of life service might seem like an overwhelming task. But a lot of people discover that even though it can be incredibly difficult, it can also be a cathartic, healing way to let go and start on a new chapter of life, one without your loved one. 

We all need to find ways to say goodbye, and a celebration of life might be the perfect way to honor someone in your life who’s gone, but not forgotten. And remember, it really is OK to ask for help.

Trust & Will understands how hard the process of saying goodbye can be. That’s why we’ve made it a priority to offer help and support at all stages of end-of-life and legacy planning.

Any time we’re dealing with a loss, it’s common to start thinking about our own future legacy. If you’d like to explore setting up an Estate Plan to protect your loved ones, we’re here to help.

Is there a question here we didn’t answer? Reach out to us today or Chat with a live member support representative!