Planning a celebration of life? Here's what to know

Considerations for planning a celebration of life

There’s no way for the loss of a loved one, friend, or colleague to be easy. These experiences are deeply impactful for everyone who knew the recently departed, and the emotional impact of saying goodbye affects everyone differently but measurably. However, while funerals have always been rightfully somber occasions to commemorate this passing, more and more people have begun turning to celebration of life events instead.


A celebration of life is meant to provide a more uplifting experience for memorializing a recently passed friend or family member. Instead of focusing on mourning a loss, a celebration of life event offers a chance for people to gather together and share memories, pay tribute, or spend time with others who knew the honoree to provide a more positive space for handling the flood of emotions and nostalgia that accompany these life events.


Given the seriousness of the occasion, planning a celebration of life can rightfully be a daunting challenge for those on who the responsibility falls. Aside from navigating the tense social situation, creating an event that focuses on positively commemorating the life of the honoree while also providing space for grieving parties is key. With that in mind, here are some of the most important things to remember when planning a celebration of life event.

Keep the wishes of those closest to the honoree at the center of the event

No one will be more impacted by this recent loss than family members and close friends of the honoree. This means that their wishes for commemorating their departed loved one should hold precedent over those who are a bit more removed.


However, it’s also important to provide space to mourn and be respectful of the feelings of these same people. Simply ask if any family members or close friends have specific requests for how the celebration of life should be held, or particularly what they don’t want the event to include. This isn’t like other event planning experiences – the focus here should be on those who most need a positive experience during these tough times, not on making every guest happy.

Budget and logistics go hand in hand

Remember that the wishes of friends and family should determine logistical components like the venue, necessary vendors, and the subsequent budget needed. If the closest relatives and friends want a small ceremony, then booking an elaborate venue or inviting an extensive guest list is not going to help them receive the positive space that they truly need.


In terms of event necessities, the venue, event planning elements like invitations, and food and beverage components are the only true must-haves. While there are plenty of excellent celebration of life planning ideas to consider, these fall more under optional territory and should only be pursued if the wishes of the family or friends ask for them.

Keep the guest list reasonable

While funerals are often designed to accommodate any and all who wish to attend and pay their respects, celebration of life events can absolutely be more intimate affairs. While close friends and family are obviously included, consider the wishes of the family in terms of whether co-workers, acquaintances, distant relatives, or others are to be included as well. 

Collect memories, photos, and videos beforehand

A hallmark of many celebration of life events are displays of memories, shared either with the entire group or displayed throughout the venue. One good way to create a robust memorial of the honoree’s life is to actually solicit submissions of photos and videos as part of your celebration of life invitations. If you use an event software platform, guests can simply upload files or share links when sending in their celebration of life RSVPs, which makes it easier to quickly gather a variety of elements to share or display at the actual event.

Put thought into music, readings, or testimonials as part of the event

These elements can be determined largely by what you think is most appropriate for commemorating the life of the honoree. Music should be tasteful, and the best option is often to choose music that was particularly favored by the honoree. Readings and testimonials could be scheduled ahead of time (by asking invitees if they were interested as part of responding to the celebration of life invite), or could be handled spontaneously. Once again, this is another place where the wishes of the family and closest friends should dictate the celebration of life planning closely.

Consider a way to capture the event for family and friends to look back on

Because a celebration of life event can be cathartic or healing for many who are experiencing deep pain or loss, capturing the laughs, tears, and collective tribute to the honoree is another great way to help those closest to them heal after the event is done. This might be done through a videographer, digital photo album, memory book for guests to record their thoughts, or more.

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