How to Plan an Eco-Friendly Grief Release Ceremony


Losing a loved one is a painful part of life. Grief release ceremonies can be a beautiful way to say goodbye, and they can start the grieving and healing process. As you release something into the world, you can release a bit of your grief along with it. Watching something float away and flicker in the wind can help you feel closer to the person you lost. 

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Some types of releases—like balloon and lantern releases—can be harmful to the environment. Here are some options and a step-by-step guide to help you pull off an eco-friendly grief release.

What Are Some Options for an Eco-Friendly Grief Release Ceremony?

There is something magical and healing about releasing a balloon or lantern into the sky to say goodbye to a loved one. However, doing so can be harmful to the environment and dangerous for animals. Fortunately, there are several eco-friendly alternatives that can provide a similar visual and symbolic effect.

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Steps for Planning a Grief Release Ceremony

Once you decide the type of ceremony you want to plan, take the following steps to make it a special event.

1. Make a guest list 

Think through who you want to be a part of the ceremony. Consider whether you want it to be a small, intimate ceremony with just immediate family. If so, chat with your family about who you want to invite.

Perhaps you want this to take the place of a traditional funeral. Then you may want to invite people from all corners of the person’s life. Think family, current friends, career acquaintances, old school buddies, childhood friends, and more. 

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2. Send out invites

There are several different methods you could use to invite people to your grief release ceremony. 

  • Old-fashioned paper invites and snail-mail is a great option for a large event. 
  • If you don’t have everyone’s addresses, an e-invite works perfectly! You can shoot out a simple email or find a template online.
  • Most everyone’s on Facebook or has a relative who is, and Facebook events make planning easy. Create an event, invite your guest list, post updates, and Facebook will even send out reminders for you.
  • Word-of-mouth will do the trick for an intimate ceremony with just your closest people. 

Pro-tip: Match the invitation to your theme, so folks can start to get the feel of your ceremony. 

3. Plan the ceremony

Regardless of which type of release you chose, you’ll want to consider what you want the ceremony to look like. Close your eyes and imagine the ceremony. Answer the following questions for yourself: Where are you? What’s the setup? Who’s speaking? What’s the feel?

  • Location: Give thought to the location of the ceremony and if you’ll need a permit. 
  • Before the release: How will you welcome guests? What type of seating will you need, if any? Perhaps you want to share a poem, psalm, or reading before the release.
  • Memorial table: One way to set up the release is to create a memorial table with supplies you’ll need for a release. You can include pictures and other symbolic memories of the deceased. You may also want to place a guestbook here. If funeral cards, pins, or T-shirts are a cultural tradition of yours, a memorial table is a great place to put these for guests to grab on their way in or out. 
  • The ceremony: Consider if you want to lead the ceremony yourself or if you want to reach out to a friend or hire a religious or spiritual leader. Think about who you want to participate and where you want people to stand or sit. 
  • Wrap-up: After the release, think through how you want to tie it all together. A reading, sharing memories (informally or a eulogy), and thanking guests are always nice ways to wrap up a memorial. 

As you're planning, take some time to do a bit of research on some other grief and loss activities you may want to include in your ceremony. 

» MORE: A will is only the first step. Get all of the documents you need.

4. Gather supplies

Make sure you get everything you need before the ceremony. Whether it’s bubbles, flowers, kites, or candles, make sure you can get everything you need in time. Wait to send out invitations and share details until you know. 

Also think through seating, tables, and any food you want to serve. If you plan to play music or a video, make sure you have the right technical equipment. Test it out beforehand! Nothing will spoil a special moment like frustrating technical difficulties. 

Pro-tip: Get extra items for the release. Sometimes people mess up or get a dud. You may also have a surprise guest or two. Leftover items can always be released in bulk or donated to a local organization. 

5. Clean up

Part of ensuring your event is truly eco-friendly is to make sure you take all supplies and materials with you. The only exception to this rule is anything that is truly biodegradable (biodegradable balloons don’t count—they’re still bad for the environment). If you’re floating flowers on the water, it’s OK to leave them. Just make sure the flowers are purely natural—no wax or dyes!

Note: If you are planning anything that requires smoke, fire, or sparks, make sure to check local ordinances and consider the location carefully. The last thing you want to do is start a devastating forest fire. 

Send Thank You Cards

We didn’t include this above because it’s not absolutely necessary to take this extra step when you’re grieving. But if etiquette is important to you, or you really want to thank someone for going above and beyond, a thank you card is a nice idea.

If anyone helped you plan, execute, or clean up, you may want to thank them with a card. Another reason to send thanks would be if anyone brought memorial gifts or made a donation in honor of your loved one. 

Consider choosing a thank you card that matches your invitations to tie it all together. If you’re having some trouble figuring out what to write, here are some ideas to get you started.

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