Party Ideas

How to Plan a Special Celebration of Life

By Sonia Guzman

Losing a loved one is of the most difficult things a person can go through. Planning a memorial service should provide comfort, not add stress to an already trying situation. Use these celebration of life ideas to help you plan a special memorial to honor your loved one. 

Funeral vs. Celebration of Life

Typically, a death is followed by a funeral service and wake to remember the departed. However, memorial services or celebrations of life have become more commonplace. A celebration of life is generally less formal, more personalized, and isn’t usually associated with a church service. You can choose to do one or the other, or both.

Plan the perfect celebration

If you’re planning a celebration of life, it should be just that – a celebration! It can be a cheerful event that celebrates the life of your loved one rather than mourning their passing. Make it personal by adding unique touches that you know will make people smile and shed happier tears. The service should capture their personality and evoke your favorite memories of them.

Choose a venue

While a traditional funeral is usually held in a church or a funeral home, a celebration of life can be held at whatever venue you’d like. It can be hosted at your home, a local event space, or a place that was special to your loved one.

Perhaps they had a favorite park or pub, or maybe they loved going to the lake or visiting the bowling alley. Choose whatever venue will help you feel closer to the one you lost and allow you to create a new memory you can treasure.

Create your menu

There are several different options when it comes to providing food and drinks to your guests. You can take some of the pressure off of hosting and hire a caterer or order food from your loved one’s favorite restaurant. You could also make it a potluck and have your guests each bring their own comfort dish. 

If you’ll be handling the menu yourself, we recommend keeping it simple. Fruit and veggie trays, dips, and finger foods are the way to go. Small dishes like cucumber sandwiches and chicken salad bites are quick to make and easy to eat while everyone mingles. 

The drinks for your celebration of life don’t need to be complicated. Was your loved one known for always having a glass of sweet tea in their hand? Or maybe they enjoyed a cold beer when they were out fishing. Serve their favorites as-is, or add a fun twist with specialty drinks or cocktails.

🍸 Bring in a pro! If you want to keep things extra simple, hire a bartender to pour the drinks.

Add a personal touch

Create a story table using your loved one’s personal belongings, photos, and favorite items to tell their life story. Include things like their favorite books, souvenirs from family vacations, hand-written notes, and items from their favorite hobbies. The point is to share as much about the person as possible, so choose whatever you feel represents them and their personality best. 

Story table for memorial service
Story table example from US Urns

Hang a memory quilt or blanket where friends and family can write messages or add meaningful artwork. You can purchase a quilt or you can consider having one made from the departed’s clothing. Not only does it give grieving family members another outlet to share memories, but it is something you can treasure forever and help you feel closer to the one you lost. 

Memory quilt
Find step-by-step instructions for creating your own memory quilt at Heather’s Handmade Life

Displaying a memorial or blessing tree is a beautiful and creative way to include a guest book and give guests the opportunity to write a blessing or note of encouragement to the family. It’s also an opportunity to express love or grief directly to the departed loved one. Provide tags or cards for guests to write their messages on and then hold on to the tree as a keepsake. 

Memory tree for a celebration of life
Order a memory tree on Etsy

Bring in live music

Music has always been a beautiful way to honor those we’ve lost. Rather than piping music into a sound system or asking a relative to perform a song or two, consider booking a professional performer to create the perfect musical tribute.

Cover them with love

Did your loved one have a favorite musician or group? Consider hiring a tribute artist or singing guitarist to cover their favorite songs. Maybe they liked to play Hank Williams while fixing their car on the weekends. Hire a country singer to create the perfect ambiance.

Country singer
Hire country singers like Isaac Kenneth on GigSalad

Keep it classical

For a more low-key affair, you can’t go wrong with classical music. You can hire a violinist to play traditional songs like Canon in D and Ave Maria. Or they can do a classical version of popular songs from other genres. For a fuller sound, consider a string trio or string quartet.

Honor their roots

Pay tribute to their heritage with some world music. For those with Irish or Scottish backgrounds, hire a bagpiper to play a few songs to honor your loved one. If you want something a bit more lively, mariachi bands are popular for those with Mexican roots. Jazz funerals are also a cultural tradition many people love, so a brass band would be perfect.

Book live musicians for your celebration of life on GigSalad

Get your guests involved

Traditions exist for a reason. There’s meaning behind them and they provide a level of comfort. But sometimes it can be good to find new ways to incorporate old traditions to make your celebration of life more personal and memorable.

Ditch the black

While black is the traditional color of mourning, a celebration of life is meant to help guests find joy in their memories of their loved one. Instead of black, find creative ways to celebrate their personality through your guests’ attire. We have a few ideas to get you started!

💛 Favorite color: If your loved one had a wardrobe known for skewing toward one or two specific colors, ask guests to wear that color or add it on top of their traditional black clothing.

🌺 Vacationer: Was your loved one always jet-setting to a tropical locale? Honor their love of travel with pops of bright colors, Hawaiian shirts, or flowers in hair or jacket pockets.

🏈 Sports & hobbies: Whether they loved playing games or cheering on their favorite sports team, incorporate your loved one’s passion with themed colors and accessories.

Send home keepsakes

People often leave memorial services with just a simple paper program in hand. For a more special experience, send your guests home with a unique keepsake they can remember your loved one by.

Once again, consider their interests when choosing your keepsake. Gifting a memorial seedling is a great way to honor a plant lover and ensure their memory lives on. If they were an avid reader, a remembrance bookmark is a lovely memento for your guests. A sweet pocket charm is another tender gift your friends and family will love.

It’s never easy to plan any sort of funeral or memorial service, but we hope these ideas can help ease some of the stress involved. The most important part is to stay true to your loved one and your family and plan a celebration of life that provides comfort and joy to you and your guests. 💙

Make your celebration of life extra special. Find musicians, performers, and services on GigSalad!

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