What Happens at a Happy Funeral? 12 Joyous Rituals


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The idea of a happy funeral may sound a bit oxymoronic. Funerals are supposed to be sad events, right? After all, the person who was important to you is no longer around to share meals, celebrate holidays, or offer advice. You may feel as if a hole is in your heart, and celebrating may be the furthest thing from your mind.

We understand what it feels like to grieve the loss of someone you love. But perhaps as a society, we are letting our sadness overpower the thankfulness we should feel for having had that person in our lives. You may have seen the quote by Dr. Seuss posted on social media that explains this philosophy, “Don’t cry because it is over. Smile because it happened.”

Additionally, for those who believe in an afterlife, funerals should be a happy event. Shouldn’t we be celebrating when our loved ones get to go to heaven? 

Perhaps we should learn about death in different cultures as well as unique practices across our country and incorporate those ideas into modern funerals. Maybe a happy funeral might not be such an oxymoronic statement as we first thought. 

Here are some ideas on how to have a happy funeral.

Virtual funeral tip: A virtual funeral can be a happy and celebratory affair, too. A service like GatheringUs can help you incorporate some of the ideas below. 

1. Host a Celebration of Life Service

Celebration of life services have been gaining in popularity across the country. These events are less formal than a traditional funeral. In fact, they often take place outside of a religious building or funeral home. During a celebration of life, the family members and friends share stories about the one who died. There may be tears at these services, but hopefully, there would also be plenty of laughter. 

Families can choose to have a celebration of life in addition to a more formal funeral, or it could replace the traditional service.

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2. Plan a New Orleans Jazz Funeral

What most people do not realize is that a New Orleans Jazz Funeral isn’t all about people dancing through the streets with umbrellas while a jazz band blasts out uplifting tunes. In fact, most funerals in New Orleans look the same as others across the country. 

If the deceased was a Christian, the person leading the funeral service would read traditional funeral readings, the mourners would be dressed in black, and hymns would be sung. The difference between a typical funeral and a New Orleans Jazz Funeral can be seen when the mourners leave the cemetery. At that point, the band starts playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” and other jazz standards. Strangers may even join in the celebration.

3. Have Your Cremains Made into Fireworks

You read that statement correctly. After you die, you could have your cremated remains made into a firework.

In your end-of-life plans, you could ask your survivors to shoot off the firework during your (outdoor) funeral. You could literally “go out with a bang.”Would fireworks help you have a happy funeral? We think so.

4. Choose Happy Funeral Songs

When most people think of funeral songs, they think of dirges or slow hymns. They think of bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” or “Abide With Me.”

But there is no rule that you have to choose sad songs for your (or your loved one’s) funeral. There are plenty of spiritual and secular happy funeral songs from which to choose. Consider the gospel classic, “I’ll Fly Away.” If you are a fan of classic rock, you could play, “Spirit in the Sky.”

5. Give Out Trees to Those Attending the Funeral

If you live in an area where people have yards or access to green space, consider passing out tree seedlings or flower seeds to everyone who attends the funeral. This small gift will remind those in attendance about the “big picture” of life. All of us will be gone someday, but we will leave behind the glorious trees, some that were alive when our great-great-grandparents walked the Earth. 

While giving out trees won’t necessarily make for a happy funeral, it is a reminder of the circle of life. This allows us to put death in perspective and may make the funeral not as sad.

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6. Share Your Beliefs

If you believe in the afterlife, one way to have a happy funeral is to ask that the gospel message be shared with those who attend your services. You never know how an aptly timed message will change a person’s life. 

7. Have an Irish Wake

If you look back at the historical Irish wake, you may not think that they look too different from a regular, somber funeral.

But through the years, the term “Irish wake” took on new meaning. Most Americans think of Irish wakes occurring in a pub, with good friends, lots of beer, and a lot of laughter.

8. Use Your Funeral to Help Others

You may have recently seen photos of a teacher’s funeral on social media. As a part of her last requests, she asked that those who attended her funeral bring a backpack full of school supplies to donate to a children’s charity. The pews were lined with the packs. Even from the grave, this public servant was able to help children. 

While many families collect money for charities as a part of a memorial fund, you could take a more tangible approach to community service for your own funeral. Collect items for a local pet rescue. Ask mourners to bring canned food. Or hold the service at a public park and ask the mourners to pick up trash after the funeral is finished.

9. Release Butterflies at the Funeral

It’s amazing what you can buy online. Besides having your loved one’s cremains made into a glass figurine shaped like a unicorn, you can also purchase envelopes of live butterflies.

At the conclusion of your happy funeral, as mourners gather around the grave, pass out small pockets holding living butterflies. Instruct those in attendance to release the butterfly out of the envelope at a specific time. This results in a beautiful moment for all of those present.  

» MORE: You need more than a will. Start here.

10. Share a Meal

While many families share meals after a funeral, you could take extra care when choosing the menu and share a feast of the deceased’s favorite foods.

Some families have been known to open up jars of pickles that grandpa had made or bake the homemade pies that mom had left in the freezer. 

11. Encourage a Unique Dress Code

The beauty of pre-planning your funeral is that you can request anything that your heart desires. This includes asking that the people who attend your funeral follow a dress code of your choosing.

If you want to ensure that your funeral has a happy tone, you could ask that the mourners wear your favorite color, Hawaiian shirts, or anything but black. Read our guide on what to wear to a celebration of life for some more ideas.

12. Ask Others to Share Memories

The best way to ensure a happy funeral is to allow people to share stories about the deceased. There are several ways this can be achieved.

You could allow people to take turns sharing at the funeral. This can be risky, as you never know if the person who is talking will tell appropriate stories. You also don’t want the long-winded aunt to give a lengthy monologue that bores the rest of the attendees.

A safer way to have mourners share memories is to have them write them down on specifically designed cards. The memories can be shared attractively at the meal after the funeral. 

'Happy Funeral' Doesn’t Need to be an Oxymoron

There are many benefits to pre-planning your own funeral. First, it relieves some of the pressure on your family members. No one wants to make funeral plans immediately after losing someone they love. If the arrangements had already been made, your family could comfort each other and share stories instead of picking out a casket or cemetery plot.

Second, pre-planning for a funeral also alleviates the financial stress that is often associated with the industry. If you are choosing a casket ahead of time, you can shop for the best prices. Your choices won’t be as emotionally driven. 

Third, pre-planning your own funeral enables you to make sure that your final wishes are known. If you want an eco-friendly funeral, a full mass at your local parish, or a celebration of life at a local bar, you need to share that information with your family. Otherwise, your survivors may bicker when trying to figure out what you would have wanted.

Finally, pre-planning your funeral will allow you to make arrangements for a happy funeral. Your family members may not feel it would be appropriate to plan a service that doesn’t have a somber tone after you are gone. They would not want to be accused of being happy that you passed. If you make the arrangements before you go and share them with others, your family can tell those in attendance that having a happy funeral was what you wished.

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