Celebration of Life

Updated on October 13, 2015
L.M. asks from Meriden, CT
12 answers

We are planning a Celebration of Life service for a family member who recently passed. My daughter said "He would want everyone to show up in tie-dyed t-shirt with beer in hand". So we're going with it. We're putting together a collage poster to be displayed at the entrance, and a personal memory table with several of his personal items. The room where the "party" will take place has a screen so we can do a slide show. We'll have a mic so people can come up and share their stories. At the end, we'll be serving food and beverages. Does anyone have any other ideas? Have you ever attended? What was the "program" like?

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So What Happened?

The celebration was lovely. We had a band playing some of his favorite songs as guests arrived for the first hour and served appetizers, then we invited people share their favorite members and we all did a shot of his favorite scotch, followed by dinner. His niece played the violin during dinner and after joined the band. I made a few collages, we had a table with some of his personal items, a memorial table with flowers, a candle, his ashes, and a photo.

More Answers


answers from Dallas on

I'm sorry for your loss.

I'm in the process planning this myself for my husband. He died suddenly on Saturday. We're not going with a theme, per say. My daughter has made a scrapbook to be on display along with special items of his and our family.

He wants no fanfare and my daughter is determined to honor her dad. His graveside service will be the focus because he's a Mason. A bagpiper will accompany him to the gravesite then walk away playing. Then the Graveside service will take place.

Afterwards, those who choose are invited to come celebrate at my home with food and drink.

Note... My daughter noticed a necklace while in the directors office. It is a small pendent which will have my husbands thumbprint in it. We both ordered one.

Good wishes to you with your planning. I know it's no easy job.

44 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

when my mom died 2 years ago - we had a celebration of life - there was no formal program - just a start time.

My mom made blue jean blankets for people - they brought them with them and shared the story of how they received the blanket. One guy, a Marine, who did not know my mom - but she made a blanket for him after he was injured in Iraq - showed up (he was a friend of my girlfriend's daughter) and with tears thanked us for her love - because of her love and blanket - he had the courage to get well. Not a dry eye in the house.

Baby blankets galore....T-Shirt blankets - and more...people shared their stories - just like you plan on doing.

We had a picture of my mom at her last birthday and post-it notes for people to share a memory or two - once the celebration was over? We took it to Michael's where they sealed it and framed it. The notes will not get tainted, etc. it's great to see the love!!!

I'm sorry for your loss! May their memory be eternal.

15 moms found this helpful


answers from Wichita Falls on

Be sure to record the stories. So much oral history is lost when loved ones pass on, a recording would be a lasting reminder. Also it would be great to send a copy to those cannot come for one reason or another.

12 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

yesterday was the anniversary of the death of both my father....just 6 years ago...& of my daughter....22 years ago.

For my daughter's funeral, we did a Memorial service. As I still say, "we held an Angel on Earth for 19 days". Her service was simplicity...no canned music. I could not stand the thought of hymns playing! We sang Amazing Grace a cappella during the service. We had just a few framed photos of her...with a focal point of a framed 8x10 surrounded by single pink roses at the altar, because we chose Gift of Body. The simplicity soothed me. Afterwards, we gathered at our home....& in/out procession of family & friends which lasted the entire day & overnight.

For my Dad's funeral, it was a full performance. We had a laptop slideshow looping, photo albums scattered, & a soundtrack of his music playing. We had a flask of Jack hidden in his casket....so his friends could share one last sip of Jack with him. (so wrong, I know...but that was Dad) I was surprised by how many guests brought casket offerings...little treasures they tucked away in his coffin. :) That was a 1st for me! As family, we had a few things to send with him...but for friends/family to do so was unexpected. Following burial, we all gathered at my uncle's home & held our traditional wake....it was a very full day, but uplifting because of the outpouring of love. :)

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I'm so sorry for your loss.

This is such a beautiful idea! I love, love, love it and think it's such a touching and wonderful way to remember a loved one. I'm sorry I don't have any useful ideas to contribute beyond what others have said. I just wanted to give you a "post of support".

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

We had a very warm, casual service for my dad. We didn't have a formal program, but his partner did a very brief welcome. Then a few family members had something prepared to say ( I knew I had to have mine written down. I had to focus on reading the words to get them out.). My favorite part was the music. My sister and I each picked one song. We hired a professional singer with an acoustic guitar. My dear friend from high school is also a semi-pro singer. They sang a lovely version of Amazing Grace (my sister's choice). My friend sang "For Good" a cappella, my choice. Then we told the pro that Dad loved classic country, Willie Nelson, etc. Turns out the guy knew my dad and he played You've got a Friend from himself. Then he just played off and on for several hours while people talked and ate and had some beer. My favorite moment was when all the grandkids and great nieces/nephews piled in the back of Dad's pickup for a bumpy ride around the field by the event space, totally unplanned. Go with your gut, plan a few points and let everything happen organically from there.
I'm so sorry for your loss.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

I'm sorry for your loss, but thankful that your loved one had a life worth celebrating.

One suggestion - go buy a few blank journals, or blank scrapbook pages (at a craft/hobby store). Scatter them around on tables, and supply plenty of pens, and place chairs near the tables. Place a sign near the books or pages that tells everyone that this is not a guest book, like where people simply sign their names, or a place to write condolences. Instead, it's a place to write favorite memories, favorite jokes the person used to tell, stories about that infamous road trip, how they first met the person being memorialized, etc. Give them some ideas to get them thinking (something like "what will you always remember about _____? What's the craziest thing he ever did? How did you meet him? When you think of him, what comes to mind first? Remind them to sign their names.) Make sure there are several books and/or lots of scrapbook pages. Afterwards, you can either scan the pages and make copies for close friends or family members, or put the scrapbook pages together in one scrapbook.

We did this at my dad's service and it was so lovely to see people gathered around, reading what others had written, talking, laughing, recalling the awful puns he loved. It was nice to read them later when things were quieter. Some stories I had heard a billion times, but some memories were ones I had never known about.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I'm sorry for your loss but happy you are collaborating to create a meaningful observance.

I've been to a number of things like this. I think it's nice that the deceased person let you feel free enough to do something celebratory instead of mournful, but do be sensitive to different people's needs in a time of grief. Don't over-schedule the event - let people talk to each other and have quiet time too. Have some seating areas away from the hubbub of activity for those who need some quiet time.

A friend of mine just lost her husband, and she had a chorus she performs with sing about 6-8 numbers. Some were love songs but others were just upbeat numbers - all were in their repertoire anyway, nothing specifically funeral/memorial-related. So there was a "program" but the rest was just open. They had a rotating slide show on a TV in one room, food in another, and some small conversation groupings of furniture on their porch. She had a guest book, but she also had a looseleaf notebook with colored paper in it, so that people could share their remembrances. That was cathartic for them, and gave her a memory book. The 3-ring binder allowed people to take a sheet of paper off to a table in another area, write their thoughts, and then return the completed sheet to the book. Otherwise, a line forms, some people don't write, and the one writing feels rushed. People could also take the sheet home and mail it in later if they are the sort of people who like to take more time with their thoughts. The different colors of paper made it look more celebratory than white paper would have. If you do this, have a bunch of pens and a few clipboards, plus an "instruction sheet" in one of those clear plastic frames. If people might take things home, provide addressed envelopes, but do encourage people to complete them there. It's also something you could consider offering to those who live too far away to attend.

I hope this gathering helps all to heal.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Wonderful idea. I agree with Diane B. that it's best not to schedule the event too much; decide what time someone who was close to the relative will get up at the mic and say, "If anyone would like to come up now and share a story about 'Bill,' please feel free to do that; we'd love to hear from anyone." Dont' leave it totally open-ended, though-- have in your heads a particular time by which someone gets up and says, "One more last story and then we'll eat," so that the mic time doesn't go on and on. Have some of your relative's favorite foods to eat and do mention that fact to the guests, by the way....

Some folks will not be comfortable getting up at a mic but will prefer mingling and talking in small groups. You could also, before the event, let it be known that anyone who wants to write out a brief remembrance or condolence or anecdote and e-mail it to you, or bring it on paper on the day, should do so. Put those into some kind of simple scrapbook and have it out on a table, or do that afterward for the immediate family.

My mom did not want any kind of funeral or memorial service and left no directions for anything at all, but we knew her friends would want to mark her life and her passing. So we did a simple open house at her home, had a caterer bring a small, simple buffet, and just greeted folks and went around talking with everyone. It was very, very low-key and nice. We didn't even do the open mic thing but several folks brought short, written remembrances to give to us, which was very, very special to my brother and me---hence my idea that you might ask that anyone who wants to do that feel free to do so.

One other thing: If your relative supported any particular cause or was involved in any particular group, activity, church, civic organizatin, whatever, consider providing a way for people to make donations in his name to that cause or organization. Many people feel they want to "do something" when someone dies, and sending flowers in a case like yours (and ours) doesn't really work well. Many folks do like the idea of contributing to a charity in the name of someone else, if they know that the person really did support that cause. We sent a printed invitation to our open house event, and on it we mentioned "If you would like to make a contribution in X's name to a cause she cared about, please consider these charities" and listed one health-related charity and one historic preservation group. I also have seen this done by other families -- for things like the local animal shelter for an animal lover, for instance. Just a thought, to give folks something concrete to do when sending flowers or bringing food just doesn't really fit the occasion.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Atlanta on

oh I'm sorry for your loss! TF Plano!! OH MY!! I'm sorry as well!!

When my father in lay died, he was a Korean and Vietnam veteran. So we had a military funeral for him. The Georgia National Cemetery is about 2 hours north of us.

Since we were so far from home, we rented a reception room at a nearby hotel and had food and drinks for people. We asked people to share their memories with us. We asked a dear friend to write the memories down. My mother in law has a "book" of his life through other people's eyes.

We did not have schedule or program. It was open to all who came. We made sure the food and drinks were stocked and everyone was comfortable in sharing.

Again, I'm sorry for your loss!! TF, I'm sorry for your loss as well.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dayton on

I'm so sorry for your loss. I love your daughter's idea of everyone coming the way he would have loved. I attended a funeral for a friend who had requested that everyone come in a Hawaii shirt. The request was even in his obituary. I have to say it was one of the nicest services I have ever attended. People were more relaxed, felt more free to remember him and laugh about the many things he had said & done over the years , than had we been dressed more formally.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I'm sorry for your loss.

Your plan sounds wonderful. I don't think you need to do any more. Is music appropriate? If he's a tie-dye t-shirt kind of guy, some Dead music or something similar might be nice during certain portions of the service.

2 moms found this helpful
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