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Planning a Non-Traditional Funeral or Celebration of Life

September 22, 2022
Lanterns glowing

After the death of a loved one, having a funeral, memorial service or some type of commemorative event can be an important step in the grieving process for family and friends. Depending on your culture, religious beliefs or family traditions, a ‘celebration of life’ that isn’t rooted in religion is becoming a popular way to honour a person who has passed. In many cases, people are actually requesting a funeral party in lieu of a traditional service when making their own end-of-life arrangements.

A non-traditional commemoration can be simple or elaborate, but it is usually a less somber event focused on the life, passions and personality of a loved one. It’s really about the joy of having known someone, rather than the sadness of losing them. Every celebration of life is unique and there are no rules or guidelines to follow, but here are some general ideas to help you with your planning.

Set the Guestlist

While funeral services are often open to the public, celebrations of life are usually limited to close friends and family. Start by making a list of the guests you hope will attend. This will help you with other event decisions like venue and food options. As these types of celebrations do not typically coincide with burials, you don’t have to make those kind of difficult decisions immediately after your loss and timing can be more flexible, depending on your preferences. It can be helpful to ask family and close friends about their availability for possible dates or to choose a convenient weekend if you expect out-of-town guests. Some people select a significant date in the life of their loved one like a birthday, anniversary or favourite time of year.

Choose a Location

Traditional funerals are typically held at a funeral home or another place of worship, but a celebration of life can occur anywhere. Depending on your needs and budget, you may choose a place that was significant to your loved one such as a golf course, local theatre, art gallery, beach, restaurant or someone’s home. A commemorative event like a group trip to the university football game, a concert or outdoor movie screening can also be a fun way to share stories and memories—particularly if a certain activity holds special meaning. Talk to any potential locations about rules, cost and expectations before making a final decision. If your ceremony will be on public property and includes the scattering of ashes, make sure that you have the proper permit to do this.

Add Personalized Touches

Honour your loved one throughout your event by including things that they enjoyed. Serve a signature drink, have their favourite restaurant cater the event, choose a dress code that would make your loved one laugh or create a custom playlist of all their favourite songs. You may consider replacing prayers or traditional readings with an open mic to allow guests to share memories, stories or even quotes from your loved one’s favourite book or movie. Incorporating all the things that made the person you love unique is what will make it a true celebration of their life.

Scale It Back

There are also lots of simple, inexpensive and healing ways to honour a person who has passed with only your immediate family or closest friends. Some ideas include planting a memorial tree or garden, releasing eco-friendly lanterns into the sky, going on a road trip with significant stops along the way or volunteering together at your loved one’s favourite charity.

After a loss, planning a memorial, funeral or celebration of life can be an extremely overwhelming process. Know that there isn’t a wrong way to celebrate what made your loved one special, honour their memory and begin your own healing. Take care of yourself during this time and reach out for support if you feel overwhelmed.

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