Our Thoughts

celebration of life

Making a Memorial Service a Celebration of Life

When a loved one passes away, the family or a close relative will likely organize an event that honors and pays tribute to their memory and life. Unlike a traditional funeral, which occurs within a week or two of the beloved’s passing, a memorial service is held without a casket or a body present. It can be held for weeks or even months afterward. 

While it is not uncommon to have the loved one’s ashes present in an urn, a memorial service will have similar elements to that of a funeral in that you can expect there to be a eulogy read, there may be songs or prayers given, and there may be time for reflection, visitation, and reception.  While a memorial service is still considered a formal event by many, it also allows for a great deal of flexibility and personalization.  Instead of being held at a traditional church, it may be held on a beach, in the family’s home, or a garden. Due to how flexible memorial services can be, they are relatively easy to turn into a celebration of life events, which we will cover below in today’s article. 

What A Celebration of Life Is and How It Differs from Other Services 

A celebration of life allows friends and family members to pay tribute to and honor their loved ones in a personal and informal manner. Instead of the somber mourning typical of funerals, a celebration of life events will be more about embracing and celebrating the individual’s passions, personality, accomplishments, and intellectual pursuits. 

The atmosphere will be more relaxed and may or may not include elements from traditional memorial & funeral services that are personalized and uplifting rather than structured, serious, and formal. For instance, instead of prayers being said, storytelling may occur, and uplifting songs may be played as people mingle, share, and talk about how the individual brought laughter and joy into their lives. 

The focus is not on the person’s death but their life’s story. This event is typically held instead of a memorial service after the body has been cremated or buried. Still, it can also be held in a place of a traditional funeral. 

Why You May Want to Have a Celebration of Life Service 

There are several reasons why families may opt to have a non-traditional celebration of life service to honor their loved ones. 

The individual is non-religious. 

A memorial service that typically follows a similar structure to that of traditional funerals may not adhere to individuals who are not a part of any religion. So, having a vicar, priest, or other religious leader takes hold of the memorial service and deliver it to family and friends may feel odd or out of place. This is due to the religious leader having no personal relationship with the bereaved or the beloved and is, therefore, more of a stranger than someone sharing their own grief for the deceased. 

Having a non-traditional memorial service where a eulogy is presented by a mother, father, sister, brother, or close relative is more apt. You may also consider replacing prayers and religious music with your favorite stories of the individual and their favorite musical album. 

Plus, a non-traditional memorial service does not have to be done in a church, as it can be held at the deceased’s favorite garden, park, entertainment venue, or home. 

You can personalize the individual’s interests. 

When we think about and share stories of our loved ones, we often consider what defines them as human beings. They were caring, charitable, generous, and volunteers or donators. They were sports lovers and played on competitive or recreational teams for most of their life, or they loved to go camping and hiking every few months as avid backpackers. They thirsted for travel and became worldly in their knowledge and experiences. 

A non-traditional memorial service allows you to take your loved one’s interests and hobbies and make them central to the ceremony. This allows you to feel connected to them while you mingle and share your memories with those in attendance. 

To figure out how to work these interests or hobbies into a memorial service, write down all of the significant aspects that shaped your loved one’s life, whether it be nature, sports, books, volunteer work, or science, and take some time to truly understand what these meant to them and why these hobbies and interests inspired them. 

The passing of a loved one was traumatic. 

When a loved one passes away suddenly or due to a condition or illness that is debilitating and painful, it can be very difficult for family members and friends to decide on a funeral home, pick out a casket, or even have the financial capacity to provide traditional service. For many, having a non-traditional memorial service in the family home can help the grieving process, provide healing, and be therapeutic in a way that a traditional venue cannot provide. 

You can make the event uplifting instead of solemn. 

If the deceased individual lived a very full, cheerful, and joyous life, having a traditional service may not be fitting for them or attest to their personality.  An individual who has brought so many smiles, laughter, and happiness into the world will want to be remembered in that way and those mourning are more likely to find closure in remembering them in this way. 

A non-traditional memorial service can be festive, be filled with decorations, and even have a live band to lift the mood up and away from the muted atmosphere we have come to expect with traditional services.  Having a proper party or celebration for a vibrant individual is a fantastic way to honor them and their achievements. 

They may want to say goodbye beforehand. 

Those who are terminally ill or those who know that their end days are near may want to hold a living funeral or memorial service to say goodbye to their loved ones while still alive. While memorial services tend to honor one after passing (and without a body), living memorial services are becoming more popular. 

It gives the family and friends of the loved one time to discuss the final chapter, enjoy one another’s company, and say what needs to be said. Plus, those who are ill or dying do not necessarily want to wait until the time is too close to say goodbye and instead would instead gather everyone into one uplifting and final event. 

The deceased specifically requested no funeral or memorial service. 

While there can be a few reasons for this, such as the family being unable to travel far distances or the family being unable to agree with one another (or are on the outs), you must still honor your loved one’s memory while understanding their wishes. You may feel angry, bitter, or worried that you may not find closure in the absence of a traditional service, but that does not mean you cannot honor your loved one in an alternative way. 

The deceased was cremated. 

While you do not have to have a non-traditional memorial service if the individual has requested to be cremated, it does allow loved ones to consider a non-traditional memorial service that suits the deceased. 

The ashes can be stored in a memorial urn and placed in a unique location in which the service centers, or the ashes can be converted into a unique memorial vessel such as a diamond, hourglass, or tree.  

A non-traditional service allows you to adopt rituals that heal. 

A lot of memorial services in cultural traditions have the service repeated more than once. Some may choose to remember their loved one annually, others may choose to remember their loved one on a monthly or weekly basis. Adopting a non-traditional memorial service allows you to choose when and where you want to remember your loved one and do so at any time that is convenient for you. 

For instance, some people have mixed feelings about visiting their loved one’s gravesite, while others find solace and comfort in visiting. Having a non-traditional memorial service at their place of rest allows you to engage in meaningful rituals such as inviting others to share stories, bringing flowers or trinkets, or simply saying goodbye to others in silence. 

While the gravesite is one idea, it can be anything from creating an annual dinner for the family, walking along their favorite trails, or participating in their favorite activities. 

Whether you choose to have an alternative memorial service, a traditional one, or a celebration of life event, as long as you acknowledge the existence of your loved one, you are allowing them to live on and are thereby paying tribute to the significance of their life.