How to Plan a Cruelty-Free Memorial Butterfly Release Ceremony: Step-By-Step

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Memorial events are a perfect way to remember someone’s life, mourn a loss, and help in the healing process. They provide closure to many and expression to all. It’s important, however, to find memorial release opportunities that both benefit our hearts and the planet.

Butterfly releases have been a popular option for many who want to celebrate the passage from one life to the next and there are many places to purchase butterflies for release. However, there are some concerns with a memorial butterfly release ceremony and it might be a better option to choose another method. 

Jump ahead to these sections:

Post-loss tip: Planning a memorial or funeral service might be just one of the challenges you're facing for the first time after losing a loved one—especially if you're the executor of the person's estate. Our post-loss checklist can help you sort through the process. 

Is It OK to Release Butterflies?

Butterfly releases, though popular, are extremely damaging to native butterfly populations. Like many parts of our ecosystem, butterfly populations are delicate. When captive-bred monarch butterflies are released, they can spread diseases among native monarch colonies. The spread of disease alone has contributed to a devastating decline in native monarch populations.

Shipped butterflies are often ill-suited for survival in the places where they are shipped. Many arrive dead due to tight packaging that is too confined and exposure to extreme temperatures during the shipping process. Needless to say, butterfly releases aren’t just bad for the environment, they’re bad for captive-bred butterflies as well.

What can you do instead? Lots of things! You can choose plenty of eco-friendly options that provide for a fitting celebration of your loved one’s life.

Bubble ceremony

If you want a release ceremony that allows the item released to float up to the sky, consider a bubble ceremony. Each person in attendance can blow bubbles at a set time, or during an open time of reflection.

You can give out small bottles to serve as a reminder and memory of the person celebrated.

Floating flowers

For memorials taking place by a lake or stream, a flower release can be especially meaningful.

Purchase local flowers and give them to each guest in attendance. At a designated time, each person can place their flower in the lake or stream and watch them float away. 

Floating notes

For this ceremony, provide pieces of rice paper to each person attending. Guests can write notes to your loved one on the pieces of rice paper.

At the appropriate time, place the notes in a stream or a lake. They will float away and eventually dissolve entirely.

Planting notes

This ceremony is especially meaningful on behalf of loved ones who had a particular affinity for gardening.

For this ceremony, you’ll provide each guest with a piece of seed paper. Guests can write a note to the person who passed away. You can choose to have guests plant the pieces of paper in designated areas at the location of your memorial ceremony if allowed or choose to let the guests plant them when they return home.

Each of these ideas can work well as similar funeral reception ideas.

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What You’ll Need Before You Plan the Release

If you’re planning a funeral for someone else or you’re planning a memorial gathering, keep several things in mind when planning any type of memorial release. The first and most important thing to ensure is that the funeral home, park, or hosting site allows for releases.

Some national parks are designated as protected wilderness areas and will not allow the release of anything foreign into the environment. Funeral homes may not have the area necessary for a planting ceremony and might have restrictions. 

Determine all rules and regulations prior to planning your release and go from there. If you are unable to do a release at your preferred location, you’ll need to either choose another location or opt to host the release in a separate location from the funeral or memorial.

Steps for Planning a Memorial Release

Though not as complex as a funeral, you may want to take numerous steps to plan a memorial release. Familiarize yourself with each step before you begin so you can make the process as smooth as possible.

Group size

It’s essential to know how large of a gathering you’re planning on. Depending on what you’re going to release, the number of people gathering will determine how many items for the release you need.

You also want to determine whether you’re planning to give one item to each person for the release ceremony or one item per couple. Don’t forget to factor in children! Always overestimate the size of the group in order to have enough items for the release ceremony. 

Practical example: You’re hosting 50 people for a bubble release ceremony. If you plan on one bubble jar and wand per couple, you need a minimum of 25. If you’re going to give one to each person, you need a minimum of 50.

Adjust for allergies

Allergies might not be something you immediately think of when hosting a group for a release ceremony. However, this could be a make-or-break part of the event if someone close to your loved one has an allergy to daisies.

If you’re planning to host a flower release ceremony, you want to make sure your guests can participate without having an allergic reaction that makes it impossible to appreciate the moment.

Rules and regulations

Contact the site where you’re planning to host the release. If it’s a funeral home, the funeral director can help you plan for this part of the ceremony.

If you’re planning to have a release at a city or national park, you should call either the city parks and recreation department or the national park visitor center.

Type of release

Decide on the type of release you want to host. Keep in mind the rules and regulations you must abide by, the size of your group, and any potential allergies or issues with various types of release ideas.

The area you’re planning to host the release in is also important in terms of size and ability to release items. Once you have a release concept that works for all members of your group, you can start planning the ceremony itself. 

Decide ceremony elements

A release ceremony can be as long or as short as you desire. The main focus of your ceremony is to memorialize your loved one and give friends and family the opportunity to reflect on your loved one’s memory.

There are no right or wrong ways to host a release ceremony and you have complete freedom to choose elements that you think your guests would most appreciate.

Choose speakers

If you’re planning to have one or two people speak, figure out who those people should be well in advance of the ceremony. The people you choose should be asked whether they’re willing to speak and, if so, given time to plan out a short speech.

Speaking at a memorial release is an important occasion and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Just like speaking at a funeral, sharing a few words at a memorial release is an honor and should be given to those members of the family or close friends who knew your loved one the best.

Time of sharing

After the speakers have shared, you can choose to open the mic up to the rest of those in attendance. If you have many people coming who would love the opportunity to share a word or two in honor of your loved one, a time of sharing could be beneficial for all.

Keep in mind that when planning an open time of sharing, a time limit might need to be enforced. Delegate someone to be the timekeeper who can signal those speaking if time runs short.

Share a poem

Reciting or reading a funeral poem is an especially meaningful part of the release ceremony. Consider sharing the poem prior to the release.

One person can read it or you might have the poem printed and handed out so all in attendance can read it together.

Play a song

If able, you might want to play a funeral song during the time of release. Choose a song that is particularly meaningful when thinking about your loved one.

Music will provide an extra layer of reflection as notes are written, flowers are placed in the water, or bubbles float up into the sky.

Coordinate the release

Coordinate the release so you give guests time for reflection in an orderly manner. Have the host instruct guests to pull out their bubble bottle and wand and spend several moments thinking about the person who passed away while blowing bubbles.

Consider instructing guests to go to the water by rows so there is time and room enough for each guest to pause in reflection before adding their flower to the water and returning to their seats. 

Say a prayer

For religious families, consider saying a prayer after the release ceremony. A final prayer can help provide a sense of closure for those in attendance and help mourners process through grief and loss of their loved one. 

Share a quote

If you want something inspirational to conclude the memorial ceremony but your family isn’t particularly religious, consider sharing a quote, instead.

There are many beautiful funeral quotes that can inspire guests such as this one from Abraham Lincoln: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” 

Remember Your Loved One

Release ceremonies provide a meaningful opportunity for you and your guests to remember your loved one. No matter what you decide to include in the ceremony, focus on making it a time for everyone to reflect on your loved one’s life, love, and legacy.

If you're looking for more memorial ideas, read our guides on pet memorial plaques and miscarriage memorials.


Sources

  1. Kretzer, Michael. “Butterfly Releases at Weddings and Other Events Are Bad for Animals.” PETA, PETA. 29 June 2018. peta.org/blog/butterfly-release-wedding.
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