Estate Planning

How To Plan A Celebration Of Life (10 Steps With Examples)

Larry Li


Losing a loved one is a traumatic emotional experience, but the funeral doesn’t need to be a gloomy event. Instead, you can hold a celebration of life that acts as a positive final send-off for your cherished loved one.

But how do you plan a celebration of life?

While people can plan their own celebration of life, most leave it up to their loved ones. Planning a celebration of life is the same as planning for a party. You need invitations, a venue, food, and activities. However, the celebration of life should be geared and themed toward remembering your loved one.

One important detail to remember when planning a celebration of life is that it should reflect your loved one’s passions. A celebration of life is unique to the individual. This guide teaches you how to plan the best celebration of life possible, so you and the surviving family and friends can fully cherish and remember your loved one.

Here’s what you’ll learn today:

  • What is a celebration of life

  • Celebration of life vs. funeral

  • How to plan a celebration of life

  • Celebration of life ideas and examples

  • How to plan ahead with Trustworthy

What Is a Celebration of Life?

A celebration of life is an event that allows the surviving family and friends to say goodbye and give them closure so they can begin the healing process. It’s an end-of-life ceremony held to honor someone’s life rather than remember their death. 

Although it’s a celebration, it may still have traditional funeral elements, such as readings of a religious text or a formal dress code. However, it might have neither of these things too. 

The celebration of life will vary significantly based on the wishes of your loved one or their personality and hobbies. This is because a celebration of life tends to have planned activities. For example, if your loved one was an avid chess player, the celebration of life can include a fun chess tournament to honor their favorite activity. 

However, it’s also important that the celebration of life should meet the emotional needs of the guests. So, you must think about who will be there and what they likely need or want. Then, you can bring in those unique personality characteristics and lifestyle of your fallen loved one. 

Celebration of Life vs Funeral

A funeral service is typically a somber and sorrowful occasion focusing on the fact that the loved one is no longer with us. The body tends to be present at a funeral. On the other hand, a celebration of life offers a different tone. There’s less focus on formalities and more focus on a life well-lived.

At a celebration of life, guests often tell lively stories about their loved one and enjoy a relaxed dress code. You may also choose to plan a themed event around something the deceased person loved. In essence, the idea of a celebration of life is to give loved ones time to cherish the character and beautiful quality of the person. 

Nonetheless, celebrations of life and funerals have a lot in common, even if they appear very differently. Both events are ceremonies and gatherings of people who share a common loss. It’s just that funerals are more rooted in tradition, while celebrations of life result from recent changes in social values.

However, both serve to do three things:

  • Support the bereaved family and their community

  • Publicly acknowledge the death of the loved one

  • Support the grieving family by surrounding them with caring friends, neighbors, and co-workers

How To Plan a Celebration Of Life

Now that you understand what a celebration of life is and how they differ from funerals, let’s discuss how to plan a celebration of life.

Remember, a celebration of life is a remembrance of a person’s relationships, achievements, and the good things they brought into the world. 

Here are the 10 steps you should follow when planning a celebration of life:

Step 1: Focus on the Mourners

A celebration of life is meant to celebrate the life and memories of your loved one. But just like funerals, a celebration of life also helps family and friends say goodbye to start the healing process. Therefore, it’s important to focus on what the mourners want and what type of activities will help them remember your loved one the best. 

Step 2: Invite Ideas From the Inner Circle

Those closest to your loved one can find comfort and closure by participating in the celebration of life planning process. You should discuss details of the event with your loved one’s inner circle and welcome their suggestions. Just like you, they are grieving too and want to help out in any way they can.

Step 3: Set a Budget

The next step is to set a budget for the event. This way, you can properly plan out the rest of the steps and activities for the celebration of life. Usually, the surviving family handles the financial aspect of the celebration of life, while friends are also welcome to donate and contribute.

Step 4: Decide Venue, Invitations, and Date

Once you decide on a budget, the next step is to choose your venue, invitations, and date. In terms of the venue, it depends on what type of activities you plan on having during the celebration of life. 

You can hold the celebration in a private residence, place of worship, catering hall, or community space. Remember to consider accessibility, parking, audio-visual needs, and food preparation.

In addition, you must decide on who will be invited and when it will take place. Although most funeral services are open to the public, celebrations of life may be limited to close friends, colleagues, and family. 

Here’s what the typical guest list for a celebration of life looks like:

  • Immediate family

  • Distant relatives

  • Close friends from different chapters of your loved one’s life

As far as the date goes, consider asking the family for a few convenient dates before settling on arrangements. While you can hold the celebration of life immediately thereafter your loss, it’s acceptable to wait several weeks or even months. This way, out-of-state family members can plan travel arrangements accordingly. You’ll also find more available options for the venue. 

Step 5: Pick Food and Beverage

While a celebration of life doesn’t need to include a multi-course meal, you should plan for some food and beverages. A good idea is to hold a potluck, where each attendee brings a dish for a buffet-style meal. 

If the budget allows, you can hire a catering company to prepare food. In this case, you should choose your loved one’s favorite food. Furthermore, some celebrations of life take place in a restaurant, making it easy for each person to order exactly what they want. 

Step 6: Music, Readings, and Speakers

A celebration of life is a meaningful event for everyone in attendance. Therefore, you may want to include music, readings, and speakers to set the right tone for the event. We recommend choosing music that your loved one enjoyed. If there is a family member or friend who is a musician, you can ask them if they’d like to sing or perform.

In addition, a celebration of life can include readings, prayers, or poems. However, it may be better for guests to share funny stories or touching memories of the fallen loved one. In any scenario, we recommend assigning someone to be the emcee for the event. This ensures everyone is given an opportunity to speak. 

Step 7: Photos and Videos of Remembrance

Photos of your loved one should be on display during the entire celebration of life. Find the most memorable pictures of your loved one and some showcasing them doing their favorite activities. 

Step 8: Determine Activities

The next step is to determine what group activities are appropriate for the celebration of life. This step involves thinking about what your loved one was most passionate about so you can give everyone a remarkable way to share memories, laugh, or even cry together. 

Step 9: Choose Venue Decorations

To set the right environment, the next step is to choose the venue decorations. The best way to choose venue decorations is by selecting a theme first. While you can choose an extensive theme based on your loved one’s passions, it can be as simple as their favorite color or hobby. From there, the only limit is your imagination. 

You should also consider hiring a photographer or videographer event. This way, you can keep the memories for decades to come. If this isn’t within your budget, this job can be undertaken by a friend or family member. 

Step 10: Set Order of Events

The last step on how to plan a celebration of life is to set the order of events. Since you will most likely be renting the venue for a fixed period of time, setting the order of events ensures you’ll complete every planned activity. It will also help your caterers know when to prepare and bring the food.

Celebration of Life Ideas and Examples

A celebration of life can be as extravagant or basic as you’d like. There are no strict guidelines on how you should plan the celebration of life. 

For example, it’s perfectly suitable to hold a straightforward celebration of life, including a:

  • Backyard BBQ with food and drinks

  • Tea party

  • Garden celebration 

  • Memorial brunch

  • Picnic

  • Lantern of balloon release

However, let’s also discuss some additional ideas that offer more creativity and remembrance. But remember, there is no wrong way to celebrate the life of your loved one.

Bucket List Party

A buck list party is suitable for people who died young. It involves creating a bucket list of activities your loved one never got the chance to do, like attending their school dance or going to their dream amusement park. Guests can participate in these activities as a group over the course of a day or week. 

If the bucket list is large, each family or individual can check the items off the list over the course of a month and then come together for a party at the end where they share stories and pictures from these experiences.

Eternal Birthday Party

An eternal birthday party is a traditional birthday party on your loved one’s birthday with the theme of eternity. Rather than giving gifts, guests can share memories and donate to causes your loved one supported. You can also replace the word “birthday” in the happy birthday song with “eternity”. 

Scavenger Hunt Party

A scavenger hunt party involves bringing the guests on a celebratory adventure that includes all of your loved one’s favorite places. You can create a scavenger hunt list that includes the names of your loved one’s favorite restaurants, attractions, and hangout spots. For prizes, you can reward small possessions of your loved one that weren’t willed out to other people. 

Heaven or Hell Party

A Heaven or Hell party considers the personality of your fallen loved one to throw either a Heaven themed party or a Hell themed party. Ask attendees to dress appropriately for the spiritual location and act as if you’re all in Heaven or Hell celebrating with your deceased loved one. 

Tailor the playlist, menu, activities, and decorations to match the party's theme. You can also include a cardboard cutout of your loved one based on the theme for photo ops. 

Sports Lover Party

Was your loved one passionate about sports? For example, if your grandpa loved playing golf, holding a golf tournament may be the best way to celebrate. You can reserve a golf course for an afternoon and hold a small ceremony in the clubhouse.

Planning Ahead With Trustworthy

Although life is the most beautiful thing we are given, there is no uncertainty that it will end one day. You can use Trustworthy to plan ahead for the future.

Trustworthy is an innovative digital storage and collaboration platform designed to keep your family’s most important documents safe. 

To prepare for end-of-life processes, Trustworthy helps you plan, organize, and share your essential estate planning documents. These documents include wills, power of attorneys, and living wills.

You can also use Trustworthy to store wishes for a celebration of life before the person passes away. This way, your loved one has a say on how people will celebrate their life. 

With advanced security protocols, you can rest assured knowing nobody has access to your sensitive documents unless you specifically invite them to collaborate. 

You can try a 2-week free trial here.

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