While bringing a gift to a celebration of life service is not a requirement, you don’t want to arrive empty-handed if you know the family well. Before you go, check out some recommendations for celebration of life etiquette to know what to wear and expect.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- DIY Gifts to Bring to a Celebration of Life
- Appropriate Store-Bought Gifts to Bring to a Celebration of Life
- Last-Minute Gifts to Bring to a Celebration of Life
Often, a celebration of life will have the opposite feeling of a funeral. At celebrations of life, people can laugh, be loud, and share memories. But there are no set rules for what one is supposed to look or feel like.
Flowers won’t always suit the mood of the celebration of life ceremony, so try to keep the gift small. This way there aren't any awkward situations with fumbling hands or finding places to put things. Listed below are a few ideas suitable to bring in almost any situation.
Tip: Finding the perfect gift is just one task you might be facing after the death of someone in your life. If you need help with your other post-death tasks, check out our post-loss checklist.
DIY Gifts to Bring to a Celebration of Life
Gifts that you make come from the heart. They mean that you’ve spent both time and effort to come up with something meaningful for the grieving family and friends. Here are a few simple ways you can offer those feelings.
1. Photos of the deceased
Spend some time looking through your photo albums and scanning your phone for photos of the deceased. Make a few copies, and purchase a photo album and frame. Then find some pretty wrapping paper and tie a simple ribbon on it.
At the service, you can share photos and stories with all of the friends and family. Afterward, the family can choose the picture they like the best to put in the frame.
2. Confirmation of a charitable donation
Donating in someone's name is a beautiful way to honor someone and make a difference for a needy nonprofit.
Remember, it's tacky to share the value of the donation. However, a confirmation of the donation can be printed without the dollar amount included. Before you seal the envelope on the card you've purchased, tuck the printout inside.
3. A journal and pen
Look for a lovely journal to gift to the family of the deceased. Then, fill in the first few pages of the journal with a story or two.
Choose ones that are lighthearted or heart-warming. Bring a pen to the party, and then pass around the journal so guests can fill it. You'll have a spectacular gift to give to the surviving family members at the end of the event.
We love these felt-liner pens for creating beautiful journal entries and recording cherished memories.
4. Handwritten letter on stationery
Take some time to pen a sympathy message on beautiful stationery for the family. Write about your relationship, the times you've enjoyed together, the moments or words that were spoken, and especially, the value of their loss.
Pro-tip: Letters such as this shouldn't be a singular emotion. If you're able, walk the family through the ups and downs, but most importantly, finalize the note with a feeling of hope. The loss is significant enough; people need to enjoy faith and courage as well.
5. Old-fashioned cream cheese mints
The infamous cream cheese mint origin is hard to pin down, but they're found on tables all across the United States during family gatherings. If you've grabbed one of these pastel-colored leaves or roses, you know of their smooth, creamy goodness.
If you remember eating them as a child or later on, you're familiar with how they invoke family, comfort, and love.
You can make your own cream cheese mints using a flexible mold, like this one.
Appropriate Store-Bought Gifts to Bring to a Celebration of Life
Are you looking for some sympathy gift ideas that you don't have to make but are equally thoughtful? Check out the list below. You'll find ideas that contribute to their health and well-being.
5. An album of their favorite music
Vinyl albums speak of a gone-by era. Plus, the crackly hum of the needle requires some physical interaction with the music. But giving an album is like carrying a period of history or youth in one small gift. This kind of music offers people a chance to escape back into their thoughts for a moment in time.
Alternatively, record multiple vinyl albums onto an MP3 player if the family doesn’t own an actual record player.
6. Personalized bereavement candle
Candles offer people a moment of sojourn from the stresses of life. Lighting one can warm up a room instantly. And in times of great mourning, presenting an opportunity for remembrance is a gift they’ll carry on the coldest of days or darkest nights.
Pro-tip: Search through online vendors to find an option that fits the deceased’s personality. We like this "Light Remains" memorial candle, shown above.
7. Wreath with attached gift cards
Grief tends to make people solitary. Take a day to drive to some local mom-and-pop businesses around town for gift cards, and encourage the family to get out of the house from time to time.
Choose from bagel shops or eateries, hardware stores, pharmacies, grocery stores, and floral shops. Once home, attach them around a store-bought wreath that can be displayed on a front door.
Pro-tip: Choose a wreath for year-round use and without a seasonal or religious affiliation. You can also include some gift cards for national restaurants and shops, which you can find here.
8. Food tray
Likely, the event will already have the food department taken care of, so check to see if you might offend anyone by picking up a tray of strawberries or crudités. You might also consider a local confectionery to bring sweets.
9. Gift basket
Often, gift baskets filled with foods are given or sent to families during funeral services so that grieving families can spend their time in grief versus cooking. However, here's an option to create one with their well-being in mind. But what should you include?
Here are a few ideas to help them get back outside:
- Horseback riding
- Air balloon ride
- Winery tour
- Favorite restaurant
- Movie tickets
- Ski-lift tickets
Pro-tip: Avoid giving a gift certificate for a “party of one” to prevent reminding the family member of their loved one’s absence.
Last-Minute Gifts to Bring to a Celebration of Life
Last-minute gifts don't have to look like they are. So, if you think outside the box for a minute, you can develop some wonderful options. Take a look below.
Although these are not your typical last-minute gift ideas, you can also choose something that speaks to their pastimes or ancestry, such as golf balls, baseball cards, fishing lures, eagle feathers, or even cedar roses. Just pick something appropriate for the venue and the timing.
Pro-tip: Various cultures view celebrations of life differently. So, although this gift might be last-minute, choose wisely.
11. Garden stone
Here’s an instance where you need to know your audience well. If the deceased loved gardening or their backyard in general, stop by the local greenhouse on your way to the celebration and pick up an appropriate garden stone.
You might also find some planted succulents or flowers to include in the gift while you're there.
With the advent of online recipe sharing and cooking blogs, family recipes aren't as popular.
So, flip through your recipe box for the perfect one, then copy it onto a new card. But don't stop there. Go ahead and make the food so that the family can have a chance to sample this heirloom gift.
13. Beach finds
On the morning of the celebration, take a walk on the beach during low tide. Take with you a bottle or jar for some sand and then add a collection of your sojourn findings. You may end up collecting shells, small bits of driftwood, or even some fishing rope. To finish off the gift, attach some twine and a little handwritten card to the vessel's neck.
Pro-tip: If the receptacle has a wide mouth, nestle a tea light candle inside.
14. Summertime farm-fresh basket
If you live within an area with a farm stand or farmers’ markets, gather a few products to bring along. You might consider some dried lavender, homemade cider, organic fruits and vegetables, or even honey and dill pollen.
Pro-tip: Ask any vendors for some business cards (or recipes) in case the family really enjoys their gifts.
15. Whiskey and beer
The challenge of a celebration of life may include how much “celebrating” is expected. So, if you're on your way to hang out for a BBQ or grill out on someone's back patio, it might be acceptable to bring the booze.
Pro-tip: Be mindful of your venue. If the location is at a city park or funeral home, alcohol may not be legal or part of the venue’s permit with the city.
While some beaches don't allow fires near the dunes, they might let you make them more near the waves. So, when the group is sitting around the beach campfire with wine or smores, you can bring out the children's sparklers to keep them busy.
This will give the parents some time to tell stories and also reminisce while keeping the kids occupied.
17. Whiteboard and markers
Stop at the local box store on the way to the event to pick up some supplies. A whiteboard and markers will allow guests to write words of remembrance or just sign their names.
Pro-tip: After everyone has had a chance to write something down, take a photo and post it to social media.
Celebrating a Life Together
Celebration of life events bring people together to love, laugh, and cry among family and friends. Whether formal or informal, together, you can find ways to remember all of those good moments and days.
After attending, hopefully, you’ve gleaned some new stories that help you with your own grief, too.