More interested in a joy-filled send-off than a traditional somber funeral? Celebrations of life are becoming more and more popular. You can also consider having a celebration of life in conjunction with a funeral — or you can have it in place of one.
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Jump ahead to these sections:
- Ideas for a Party Before Death
- Ideas for Dad or Grandpa
- Ideas for Mom or Grandma
- Ideas for a Son or Daughter
- Ideas for a Spouse or Partner
- Affordable Celebration of Life Party Ideas
Here are some tips for hosting or having a non-traditional end-of-life gathering.
Tip: For more funeral planning tips and a complete list of tasks that need to be taken care of after a death, review our post-loss checklist.
First, Gather Your Supplies
No matter what celebration of life party you choose to plan, if you go the DIY-route and gather some supplies yourself, you might save a little cash and make the celebration of life extra special.
Here's what we recommend picking up before or during your planning process:
- Invitations: You can bulk order customized invitations with the event details or you can go the e-invite route, too.
- Decorations: Feel free to decorate this occasion like a normal party! That means streamers, fun table cloths, balloons, and matching plates and silverware.
- Memory board or photo collage: You can either pick up some nice poster board and paste printed photos of the deceased or you can make a memorial video or slideshow with their favorite music.
- Something for a remembrance ceremony: Plan a few minutes to do a group activity in memory of the deceased. This means you might want to order some reusable votive candles, lanterns for a lantern launch, or even some bubbles for the kids to blow into the sky.
- Party favors: Have your guests leave with something special. You can print out photos of the deceased and put them in small frames, like these inexpensive small frames, give out flower seeds or tree saplings so guests can plant a tree in honor of the deceased, or even hand out small succulents with instructions for the guests to plant or set them in a special place.
Ideas for a Party Before Death
A growing trend in modern end-of-life planning is to have a living funeral. The subject of Tuesdays with Morrie, Professor Morrie Schwart, was one of the first people to attend his own funeral. A living celebration of life gives a dying person the opportunity to say goodbye to loved ones and savor wonderful memories before he dies.
If hosting a living celebration of life sparks your interest, here are some tips to help you plan this event.
Keep it intimate
Invite your close loved ones and friends for a low-key gathering to celebrate your life (and death). Make sure you express your intentions for the event and ask your family or close friends to pitch in. You might consider hosting at a cozy venue or at your home. Have it catered or go potluck style.
In addition, you might want to make a small speech to let your friends and family know how much you love them. Then open up the floor for honest, heartfelt sharing. Play some uplifting tunes and enjoy this meaningful time with the people you love.
You’re the guest of honor and this is your time to shine. Buy the dress or suit you have always wanted, book the gorgeous venue, and send out the invites. Host a formal end-of-life celebration to party one last time with family and friends.
Decorate the space with the colors and flowers you love. Prepare a small speech and talk about the things that brought you joy in life. Invite people to stand up and express their feelings. Instead of firing up a slideshow of pictures, create new ones with a photo booth. Cherish the memories and have the time of your life.
Do something you love
Think of your favorite thing to do with a group and consider making that your send-off. It might be a trip to your favorite park, a beach vacation, or an evening of laughter and games.
You could theme the gathering or have everyone wear your favorite color. Include things that bring you joy and make you smile, even if they don't go together — like bubbles and tacos. This is your time to do things that make you happy with the people you love. This type of party will send your guests away with a lifetime of memories.
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Ideas for Dad or Grandpa
Planning a celebration of life for your dad or grandpa can be a lot of work. It's important to focus on the things your dad or grandpa loved and plan from there. Here are some ideas to help you get started.
Rent a picnic table in a park and invite your family and friends. Let’s say your dad or grandpa loved the outdoors — this is a great way to celebrate. Order your dad or grandpa’s favorite food and serve his favorite beverages.
You can set up a memorial table with note cards for guests to write down memories. Dad or grandpa may have loved playing a certain sport or yard game. Provide that game for people to play. You may want to share a few words on your grandpa or father's behalf and invite people to share memories.
Host a BBQ
For generations, people have gathered around the BBQ pit. Cue up the meat and follow your dad or grandpa's favorite recipe. You can host the event indoors or outdoors, depending on the weather.
Ask family and friends to bring a side dish. Say a memorial prayer or a few words before you eat to remind your guests why you’re celebrating. Consider placing pictures around the house and have a memory book for people to sign. You can even plant a tree in dad or grandpa’s honor.
Golf or sports tournament
Did your grandpa or dad love sports? A golf tournament might be the best way to celebrate. You can reserve a golf course for an afternoon and have a small ceremony in the clubhouse.
This nontraditional celebration can even become a memorial event in his honor. Consider placing a photo or memory of him at each tee box.
Ideas for Mom or Grandma
Moms and grandmas are usually the planners in the family, so it’s normal if you find yourself unsure of what to do for your mom or grandma’s celebration of life. Here are some ideas to help you create a beautiful celebration.
Host a tea party
Tea is often served to honor or celebrate a person or occasion in many traditions and cultures. Hosting a high tea at a local community center or tea house is an elegant sendoff.
Invite friends and family and make this as formal or informal as you want. Bring a eulogy for grandma or elegy to read and invite everyone to say a couple of sentences in mom or grandma’s honor. A guest book and photo collage would also be a meaningful touch. If your mom or grandma has a favorite flower, you might add those to each table.
Celebrate in a garden
Gardens are tranquil places to spend time in quiet reflection or prayer. You might host a celebration of life at a local nature reserve or community garden. Bring chairs and plan a small celebration ceremony.
This can include reading mom or grandma’s favorite quotes or sharing memories. You might choose to play some soft tunes and observe a few moments of silence together. Pass out plantable memorial cards instead of traditional memory cards.
Plan a luncheon
Many community centers and churches offer memorial luncheon services. You may choose to host a luncheon or rent a banquet room in a restaurant.
Place a photo of mom or grandma and add flowers as a centerpiece. Set up a memorial table for cards and memories and create an elegant touch.
Ideas for a Son or Daughter
It can be difficult to say your final goodbyes to your children — a celebration of life is often a popular choice for younger generations. Here are some ideas for planning a celebration of life for your son or daughter.
A remembrance ceremony is a nice way to honor and celebrate the memories of your child. You can host this at a local community center, banquet hall, butterfly house, or local park.
Plan a small agenda to include poems and readings by family members and friends. Light a special memorial candle and observe a few moments of silence. You can host this event immediately after the death of your child or wait to celebrate a month or so later. You might also set up a table with a small art project that people can work on and take with them in memory of your child.
Memorial walk or run
Consider planning a walk or run in your child’s memory if your child suffered from an illness or disease. This can be made public or kept intimate with close family and friends. Choose a park or local business for your gathering.
You can provide coffee and donuts and then plan a route to walk together. You might consider having memorial shirts or buttons made. Invite your family and friends for a meal and a small celebration ceremony once the walk ends.
Have a picnic
Host a picnic in honor of your child — this type of event is an informal gathering to celebrate your child and the things and people he or she loved. Incorporate the outdoor activities he or she loved and serve his or her favorite snacks and drinks.
Buy balloons in his or her favorite color and have a balloon release during the event. Decorate a large jar and invite people to share their favorite memories of your child. This will serve as a memory jar and anytime you feel sad, you can reach into the jar and pull out a memory.
Ideas for a Spouse or Partner
Saying goodbye to your spouse/partner is a heartbreaking experience. It's hard to imagine life without your special partner. Planning a celebration of life may even be the first thing you plan without your partner by your side. Here are some suggestions for planning a heartfelt celebration of life:
Throw a fancy party
This is a good choice if your spouse or partner appreciated the elegance of life and loved a good party. You might choose a banquet hall, ballroom, or local gymnasium. No matter how big or small, fill the space with beautiful things. Play music, share some meaningful words, and dress your best.
Plan a trip
Take that cruise or vacation your spouse or partner always wanted to go on. If there's a city or country they loved to visit, consider going there. You can keep the group small or have an open invite.
Find a place to meet as a group to offer some words of gratitude and love in honor of your spouse/partner. Remember that you are living life for two now and it's important to seize each moment.
Hire a planner
Sometimes a loss can feel too big to bear and you might not feel like planning a party. (That's okay.) Hire a planner to help with the details that go into planning a celebration of life party. Planners do this for a living and will guide you through the process. Keep in mind that you can give as little or as much input.
Affordable Celebration of Life Party Ideas
A celebration of life doesn't have to break the bank. If you are on a limited budget, consider one of these low-cost ways to honor your loved one’s life.
Host a lunch
Local community centers and churches often offer low-cost luncheon services. They will do the setting up, serving, and cleaning up. This is a nice way to gather in memory of your loved one.
Have a potluck
For centuries, people have brought food as a way to show their respect to the family of the deceased. If you are on a budget, consider hosting a potluck and invite your family and friends to each bring a dish. A potluck takes the burden of having to cook or call a caterer. It could take place in a home or park.
Keep the celebration small
It's a common misconception that to celebrate someone, you must spend a lot of money. A small gathering of family and friends in your home or backyard is a meaningful way to celebrate a life. It's not about the fancy flowers or food, it's about the memories that each person holds in their heart.
There’s No Wrong Way to Celebrate
There are so many ways to celebrate a person's life. By incorporating things your loved one finds valuable, you do our best to create a meaningful send-off.
If you're looking for more planning advice, read our guide on the best celebration of life party favors .