How to Plan a Celebration of Life

How to Plan a Celebration of Life
7 minute read

Daniela Fortino

How to plan a celebration of life

After the death of a loved one, you may want to plan a celebration of life event to memorialize them among friends and family. There are many options and ways to remember them, from a religious ceremony (if appropriate), to a family and friends gathering, to even more unusual memorial ideas like launching some of their ashes into space.

Below is a guide to help you and your family plan an event with some creative ideas on evolving beyond just a basic gathering. For good measure, we have also included a section on holding a virtual celebration of life event or a hybrid event for those who cannot attend an in-person memorial.

What is a celebration of life?

Like more traditional funeral options, a celebration of life event is a ceremony and/or party where family and friends get together to memorialize the life of a loved one who has died. A celebration of life is usually upbeat, but it can have more solemn moments (like lighting of candles or reading of poems or verses). Often it is a mixture of both. The most important thing to keep in mind is it is an opportunity to remember someone who has died and celebrate their life through activities, music, food, decorations, and more.

Planning celebration of life event

As in any gathering, there are many elements that go into a celebration of life party. Below are some of the things to consider when planning the celebration.

Who should plan a celebration of life?

When planning a celebration of life event, start with who will plan it. Usually this is a friend or family member of the deceased. However, it can be created by an ad hoc committee, especially if it is to be attended by a larger group of people and if there are virtual options for those that cannot attend in person.

Friends and family can also turn to funeral providers for help when planning this kind of event. A common choice would be to engage a funeral celebrant, who is a trained professional that works alongside family and friends to help plan memorials, making them more personal and less about religious rites and activities.

When should a celebration of life event be held?

The timing of celebration of life ceremonies are flexible. An event can be arranged weeks or even months after the deceased has been cremated or buried. However, it can also be held before these events as well.

There is a bit of a time crunch with planning if a family wants to hold an event before burial or cremation. Additionally, the date may depend on venue availability. Nonetheless, the decision is at the discretion of the loved ones of the deceased.

When picking a date, it is good to consult friends and family who would like to attend and provide as much notice as possible. It is also a good idea to have a virtual element to the celebration, such as a recording, or live streaming for those unable to attend in person.

Celebration of life guest list

A celebration of life event can be as small or as big as you would like. It can include just immediate family, only friends, or include both friends and family. Alternatively, you could even hold more than one party for different groups. Some workplaces might organize a celebration of life for a workmate who has passed. But it is equally acceptable to blend family celebrations with work colleagues and friends, if desired.

Again, it is good to let the guestlist know and send out invitations as soon as possible. However, it is also important to outline what is expected of the guests in those invitations. This would include things such as dress code and who they can bring to the event.

Choosing a venue

The venue for a celebration of life party is also very flexible. It can be held anywhere -- from someone's backyard to a recreation centre or a family home. However, there are a few things to consider when picking a venue.

Ensure you have the space to accommodate the guest list and there is availability for the date chosen. Additionally, the venue must accommodate the celebration activities, such as fitting enough chairs and tables, catering facilities, a dance floor, arranging Wi-Fi, decorations, and so on. To help ensure venues can accommodate your needs, it is best to contact the location you want as soon as possible.

What decorations are appropriate?

There are also many decorative options you can choose for a celebration of life. Some common elements include pictures and mementos related to the deceased displayed across the venue.

However, you can take it a step further and go with a theme. For example, if the deceased loved baseball, the celebration of life party could have a baseball theme. It could even be held at a baseball field. Guests could wear baseball caps. The decoration accents might be the colours of the deceased's favourite team, etc.

Another decoration option could be to go with a particular colour scheme. All decorations can be in the deceased's favourite colours, and guests can be asked to wear something with those colors. Again, there are many options  and it is up to the friends and family to decide what they think will best memorialize the deceased.

Memorial music

Music at the event is another great opportunity to memorialize the person being celebrated. A fun option for some could be to hold a karaoke night, where loved ones can gather to sing some of the deceased's favourite songs. If the deceased loved to dance, it might be a good idea to get a venue with a dance floor and hire a DJ, band, or musician. If you would like to minimize costs, you can also make a collaborative music playlist with guests and have the music playing in the background during the festivities.

Food and drinks

Given the event is designed to celebrate a loved one, food selection is another good way to customize the celebration. You could serve some of the deceased's favourite foods and drinks or order food from their favourite place to eat.

However, it is important to know how many people will be attending. Be sure to consider any food restrictions people might have to ensure there is food for everyone. A good way to help with this planning is to have this disclosed in the invitations or give people food options to choose from when they RSVP.

Celebration activities

When it comes to activities at the event, think about what the guests could engage in to further honour the deceased. Here are a few ideas:

  • Open mic night where family and friends can take turns on stage sharing memories of their time with the person being celebrated.
  • Recruit a tech savvy friend or family member to create a video or slideshow for the event.
  • Rent karaoke equipment and have guests sing some of the deceased's favourite songs or tunes that evoke reminders of moments in their life.
  • Hold an animal adoption party if the deceased is an animal lover.
  • Participate in a favourite pastime or hobbies. For example, go fishing, hiking, stargazing, or play golf, etc.
  • Create a group ash scattering.
  • Attend the launch of ashes into space or arrange a memorial firework display in which cremation ashes are incorporated into the fireworks that are launched.
  • Group lantern or balloon release. (Consider using biodegradable balloons if choosing this option).

How to plan a virtual celebration of life

No matter how collaborative a celebration of life party is, it is almost impossible for everyone to attend an in-person ceremony, due to location, weather, health and venue restrictions.

A virtual celebration of life event was the only option for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic due to travel restrictions and lockdowns.

Luckily, many of the aspects of an in-person celebration of life can be adapted to a virtual event.

Hybrid celebration of life events
In many cases, the celebration does not have to be completely virtual. Instead, you can create a hybrid event mixing virtual elements with an in-person event. For example, in-person celebrations can be streamed on many platforms such as Facebook, Vimeo, Youtube, and more. This option gives those unable to physically attend an opportunity to participate virtually.

If you would like to make it completely virtual, you will need a video or conference call platform such as Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and more.

With this option, everyone can virtually participate in activities that help remember or honour the deceased. Many of the events mentioned above can be done virtually. For example, guests can get on a video call and each light a candle for the deceased simultaneously with the in-person event.

Like in-person events, it is important to pick a time that would work well for many and communicate the plans thoroughly beforehand. It may be a bit more difficult to navigate certain activities, such as an open mic night virtually, so it may be helpful to assign roles and moderators to help with the flow of events. Additionally, practicing with the technology beforehand can ensure everything is up and running the day of the event. Be sure to arrange someone that can assist virtual attendees that may not be comfortable handling the technology component from their end.

Social media memorial
Another great way to hold a virtual celebration is to incorporate social media. Planners can choose a day, week, or month, where friends and family of the deceased can post pictures, videos, and stories related to the deceased with a specific hashtag. This way, many can participate, they can do so at any time, all the memories can be found in one place and viewed in the present or future.

Other virtual memorial options can include a memorial website, collaborative music playlist, video game event, virtual memory book, and more.

Celebration of life event considerations

What’s important when it comes to celebration of life events, is that the event honours your loved one in a way that they might have wanted to be remembered. Some people may have specific requests in their end-of-life file or documentation so be sure to review that where possible. It is also helpful to consider what your guests' experience of the event will be. It should be a wonderful and loving celebration of a person’s life. If everyone that attends leaves with fond memories of the person who is being memorialized then the event organizers will have achieved their goal.