24 Non-Traditional Celebration of Life Readings & Poem Ideas


Celebration of life readings and poems offer comfort to mourners in times of loss, but there's no set definition of what they ought to be. They can be as traditional or nontraditional as you like. 

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Often when people choose a reading, they're looking for something that helps survivors cope with loss. Scroll below for some old-fashioned or contemporary ideas suitable for your loved one.

Sad or Sorrowful Celebration of Life Poem or Reading Ideas

Choose from songs, poems, and excerpts from famous books, or even one from a comic strip to suit the nontraditional sorrowful reading

» MORE: Grief can be lonely. Create space for your community to share memories and tributes with a free online memorial from Cake.

1. “Nothing Compares 2 U” by Prince

Spoken lyrics to songs work as celebrations of life readings. Consider "Nothing Compares 2 U," originally written by Prince but later made famous by Sinead O'Connor. 

If your loved one had another favorite song, one that'll speak to the audience, read and share it with them. 

2. “I’ll Never Forget a Dog Named Beau” by James Stewart

James Stewart first read his original poem live on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. In it, Stuart weaves the beautiful tale of a well-loved, trouble-making dog that embedded himself into the deepest corners of Stewart's life and heart—and a few delivery men.

3. Excerpts from Pooh Corner, Chapter 10 by A. A. Milne

A. A. Milne's touching narrations spoke clearly to both children and parents, but none more so than in the House on Pooh Corner'sfinal chapter. It begins, 

"Christopher Robin was going away. Nobody knew why he was going, nobody knew where he was going; Nobody even knew why he knew that Christopher Robin was going away. But somehow or other everybody in the Forest felt that it was happening at last."

4. “Alternate Ending to Calvin and Hobbes” by Redditor samuraitiger19

The ending of Calvin and Hobbes is already sad, but Redditor samuraitiger19 created an alternate ending that's beautiful. 

The plot is that Calvin is an older man who gifts an old stuffed tiger to a new generation—his grandson. But it’s the writing that’ll make you weep.

5. “Funeral Blues” by W.H. Auden

Movie culture made W.H. Auden's poem one of the most famous funeral readings via Four Weddings and a Funeral.

But Auden's poem is so much more than a movie prop. It's about futility because nothing matters when the sun in your morning and the moon of your night has gone. 

6. “Supermarket Flowers” by Ed Sheeran

"Supermarket Flowers" will work as a reading for your grandmother. It's a deeply personal account of dealing with a grandmother's death, whereby many can relate. 

7. “But Never Like This Before” by Amy Hutchins

"But Never Like This Before," tells the story of a WW2 hero named Henry Allingham. It chronicles parts of his 103-year-old life: witnessing Victoria's death, joining the great World Wars, and the painful losses he suffered in losing his wife and children.

The poem will work for those who persevered through many trials and feats with strength and courage. 

8. Excerpt from The Notebook by Nicolas Sparks

Many parts of The Notebook are quotable, but some are more memorable, like the one that begins, "I am no one special, just a common man with common thoughts…" This same idea ends with loving just one person and doing it so well that it sates a soul for a lifetime.

Uplifting Celebration of Life Poem or Reading Ideas

Scroll down for a few poetry options, one 80s song, and a surprising option from a speech by the infamous Dr. Ruth.

9. “I am Standing Upon the Seashore” by Henry Van Dyke

Van Dyke’s poem works as an uplifting celebration of life program because it comes in like a zephyr. The context is death, and the loss of a loved one is wretchedly painful, but somehow the poem makes you see that the end of life is a beautiful continuance to one's story—not an abrupt ending.

10. “There is No Light Without Dawning” by Helen Steiner Rice

If you appreciated the last suggestion, Helen Steiner Rice's poem will speak to you as well. Both poems aren't just about saying goodbye. They're also about being remembered.

11. “Afterglow” by INXS

If you're a fan of 80s music, then you're already familiar with this song. If not, you might be surprised at the lead singer's ambrosial voice should you choose to listen to it. 

12. Excerpts from “Trinity School Commencement Speech, 2004” by Dr. Ruth Westheimer

What's more surprising than finding an idea from a commencement speech is realizing Dr. Ruth wrote it. Her words resonate with a kind of acceptance of reality, but also that you're not stuck—and that one must choose to be malleable to life to find joy and fulfillment.

Pluck out the applicable parts and it'll work for the person who always saw the next horizon.

13. Quote from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams 

The most famous, well-loved quote from The Velveteen Rabbit begins, "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept."

It'll work for an uplifting reading because it's about finding your growth and self-worth, but only focusing on the opinion of those that matter.

14. “The Dash Poem” by Linda Ellis

Some poems can be lessons in living, where the survivors can take inventory of their lives.  

In Linda Ellis’s poem, she focuses on the dash between one's birth date and date of death. That one tiny dash, she writes, is remarkable for all of its worth.

15. “Ode to a Nightingale” by John Keats

Keats' poem flutters in and out of lucidity but never strays from beauty. Each of the poem’s carefully crafted 80 lines builds upon the beauty of the last. 

You may listen to it a thousand times throughout life, and the person you are at every phase will rest on something new each time.

16. “From Endymion” by John Keats

Themes of eternal beauty, peace, and nature accompany the seasons of life brilliantly penned in metaphor at the end of the poem. It reads:

“O may no wintry season, bare and hoary, 
See it half finish'd: but let Autumn bold, 
With universal tinge of sober gold, 
Be all about me when I make an end.” 

Religious or Spiritual Celebration of Life Poem or Reading Ideas

In space, on earth, or among friends and family, the readings below embody faith and spirituality.

17. “The Frontier is Everywhere” by Carl Sagan

You can view this speech as a YouTube video or read the excerpt online. The theme speaks to our connection with each other as humans with a common heritage and our innate drive forward to exploration. Sagan says that we are capable of greatness despite our failings.

18. “The Final Countdown” by Europe

Now that you can have your loved one's ashes shot into space on Elon Musk's SpaceX rocket, Europe's song can fit into their celebration of life ceremony. 

Read the song alone or invite audience participation using "The Final Countdown" as a refrain.

19. Walden quote from Henry David Thoreau

Nature is a spiritual advisor for some, and it was for Thoreau when he visited Walden pond. There, he discovered much about himself and the values of living with intent and thoughtfulness.

His quote begins, "I went to the woods to live deliberately…

20. The Death and Rebirth of Self by The Daily Om

If there's beauty to all parts of life, then there must be beauty in letting go, even when it's utterly heartbreaking. The author begins, "Sometimes a part of us must die before another part can come to life." 

If you follow the perspective closely and acknowledge that the afterlife exists, you'll note that separation from your loved one is only temporary.

21. “If you wrestle an angel” by Stephen Jenkinson

Stephen Jenkinson, aka the Grief Walker, brings a halcyon of words wrapped in light to those dying. Though his faith is strong, his ideas are universal. 

Find the quote in his book How it All Could Be, which seeks to make death and dying part of today's language—to embrace it as part of life's beauty.

22. Excerpt from The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks constructs his characters using his Catholic faith, but it's by no means a bullhorn. Instead, his writing creates personal relationships many can appreciate. 

Look for the quote that begins, "Dusk, I realized, is just an illusion, because the sun is either above the horizon or below it.

23. “Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying.” by Michael Landon Jr.

After the opening statement, Michael Landon Jr.'s remarks offer a message to help others live life to its fullest with these words:

"Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day. Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.”

24. “Advice on Dying” by Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama offers another version of living one's life to their fullest. His perspective embraces the long-goal. One, where Buddha's mindfulness and values are present.

Writer's block is normal when emotions are high. Look to the writings of the masters for assistance when you're stuck and don’t know what to say at a celebration of life.

Celebration of Life Ceremonies

Your loved one’s celebration of life ceremony can be as traditional or nontraditional as you like, whether that means you’re reciting an 80s rock band, Carl Sagan, or well-known poetry. Make this event about their life and story—and as unique as they were.

  1. Author Unknown. “I Thought of You Today.” The Lily Mae Foundation, The Lily Mae Foundation, 28 March 2017, www.lilymaefoundation.org/2017/03/28/i-thought-today/ 
  2. “Dash poem: Live your dash: Poem about life: Funeral poem.” The Dash, The Dash Poem, 1 September 2020, www.thedashpoem.com 
  3. Juma, Norbert. “60 The Notebook Quotes for the Hopeless Romantic.” Everyday Power, Everyday Power, 2 December 2020, www.everydaypower.com/the-notebook-quotes/ 
  4. Lama, The Dalai. “Advice on Dying.” The Daily Om, The Daily Om, n.d., www.dailyom.com/cgi-bin/display/librarydisplay.cgi?lid=269
  5. Ma, Julie. “25 Powerful Commencement Speeches by Women.” The Cut, The Cut, 26 June 2015, www.thecut.com/2015/06/25-powerful-commencement-speeches-by-women.html 
  6. Milne, A.A. The House at Pooh Corner. London: Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1928.
  7. Nakaya, Rion. “The Sagan series: The frontier is everywhere.” The Kids Should See This, The Kids Should See This, 7 November 2016, www.thekidshouldseethis.com/post/9675532031 
  8. Rice, Helen Steiner. “Uniquely Personal Memorial Cards.” Remember Me, Remember Me, n.d., www.remembermerip.ie/poems-for-memorial-cards 
  9. Steward, Jimmy. “Jimmy Stewart Reads a Touching Poem About His Dog Beau on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show.” YouTube. YouTube. 6 February 2011, www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwGnCIdHQH0 
  10. Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1854.
  11. Williams, Margery. The Velveteen Rabbit. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. 1922.

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