Planning A Celebration of Life

Planning A Celebration of Life

Planning a celebration of life is a special experience. It’s an opportunity to bear witness to a life lived, but emotions can run high. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Most people have a tough time taking leave of a loved one, especially with the heavy atmospheres of traditional Western funerary rituals centered around the act of mourning. Although these types of funerals have been practiced for generations, A Celebration of Life provides a welcomed alternative to a notably somber tradition. 

Meant as an alternative funerary practice, the celebration of life is about commemorating a deceased friend or relative. Seen as a more positive take on the thought of mortality, it celebrates the life and achievements of loved ones instead of focussing on their absence.

What You Can Expect From Hosting and Planning A Celebration of Life Event

This type of event might be unfamiliar to many but is a beautiful way of seeing someone off. As with planning other events, there are certain aspects that have to be accounted for so that you can create the perfect environment for the Commemoration Event. 

Celebration of life events are more often than not held at the homes of relatives or close friends and can also be hosted at an event of the client’s choosing. Churches are not really used in these events, as the general atmosphere is more sociable and busy.

Something that makes this event different is that it can be hosted at any time, as there are no formal funerary processions. People can also host their events on the anniversary of someone’s passing as a means of remembrance. This event is often held a few days or weeks after the funeral service.

Because Celebration of Life Events are meant to be more casual, the dress code is not that important. Semi-formal attire is often requested instead of formal suits or dresses. 

Features of a Commemoration Event

After choosing a suitable venue and compiling a guest list, you can think about: 

  1. What type of catering you are going to use, and whether alcoholic drinks are appropriate;
  2. If there is a particular theme; 
  3. If you are going to use designated speakers and an MC or allow an open floor for guests.

Many venues offer restaurant service, but that could interfere with the atmosphere of the event somewhat. Alternatively, you could provide food and drink vendors or buffet carts as a means to separate the event from the amenities. Serving alcoholic drinks should be optional to the client, as many cultures use toasts to commemorate.

Themed Celebrations of Life usually make use of a theme that the deceased liked or admired. Leave that to the bereaved’s family, but use your event planning diplomacy skills to guide the more rambunctious guests toward tastefulness. Of course, some folks simply lean toward over-the-top, and that’s okay. 

Some celebrations of life have both designated speakers and MCs who guide the event. But it may be expected to include the opportunity for guests to share their thoughts and feelings regarding the loved one. Clarify this with the immediate family, and see how they feel about unfettered eulogizing. In most cases, it will be touching, but where family feuds are involved, included ex-partners, things can get fraught.  

Commemoration Event Activities

With a relaxed or open venue, you can include all the guests in the event activities. Participation in activities is entirely optional and usually selected by the host or client.

These activities can range from:

  • An informal podium or speaker stage can be set up, where guests can share their memories of the deceased. This allows those who did not have a chance to speak at the funeral or service.
  • You can purchase a journal or book, wherein guests can place a photo or write a message directed at the loved one.
  • When in the venue, you can allow guests to stand at their seats and share humorous stories that the other guest might not know. By using laughter, the general tone of the event is more lighthearted and joyous. You might want to ask for submissions beforehand to vet these stories, just in case. 
  • People often request a projector and sound system. The family can show a montage or video with photos. Guests can be included in the creation of the montage. Encouraged them to share any photographs or videos before the event.
  • Create a playlist of the deceased’s favorite music, and use this to fill the background. 
  • Ask your client if there is something they might want to include. Memories of a loved one are broad, and there’s a wide range of possibilities unique to each life being celebrated.

Managing Tasks At A Celebration of Life

While nowhere near as complex or as long as a wedding, you’ll still need to coordinate with several other event professionals. You’ll need to coordinate a team of:

  • Stationers for invitations
  • Caterers
  • Florists
  • Printers (for large photographs of the deceased)
  • Venue
  • Bartenders
  • Audio 
  • Videographers
  • Photographers

There’s still scope for creativity, beauty, and design – a celebration of life isn’t a collection of eulogies. It’s a gathering of friends and family to celebrate someone special. So planning and managing tasks and coordinating roles still matters.

Thoughts on a Planning a Celebration of Life or Commemoration Event

Even though it might be your first time attempting to plan and host an event like this, you should remember that it is a celebration. The idea of the event is to evoke emotion in the guests and accommodate the process of positive mourning

Although these events are usually semi-formal to informal, you must not lose track of your responsibilities as an event planner. Your job is to create a memorable event attended by guests who are experiencing a mix of emotions. While it’s part of your role to keep the event moving forward according to the event timeline, a celebration of life requires a different type of adaptability.

While weddings can be regimented without fostering much resentment, a celebration of life offers guests their final opportunity to say farewell. So please be mindful of giving space to all who wish to share their goodbyes. 

If you are in constant communication with the client and guests, you will never be caught off guard with requests to speak and share.

The Last Goodbye

The biggest goal of planning a celebration of life is to ensure that the guests have a pleasant final memory of their loved one. Your focus should be on how you can elevate the celebration of the memory of a deceased individual and accommodate your clients and their guests while they say their farewells.