How to Plan a Celebration of Life: Our Complete Checklist
Time to read 9 min
Time to read 9 min
Planning a Celebration of Life event is a deeply personal, emotional and sometimes overwhelming process. Go easy on yourself, you’re not just grappling with grief, but also the pressure to honor your loved one in a way that feels as extraordinary as they were.
In this article, we’ve put together a detailed checklist on how to plan a celebration of life ceremony. We'll walk you through all the key decisions like choosing a venue, ideas, to the tiny ones that add a personal touch to the event.
If you're starting from the beginning, there are four immediate things to start planning. Below we will explain each one:
Immediately or later: It’s really up to you but some people prefer to host a ceremony shortly after their loved one has passed. While others wait for a significant date like a birthday or death anniversary. Whatever you decide, do what feels right for you and your family.
This can be a tough one but the next decision is deciding who will lead the event. Whoever you choose will set the tone for the whole ceremony and may also help you decide on the order of service. Some people to include are the:
Officiant: if your loved one was religious, an officiant like a minister, rabbi, or priest might be appropriate.
Celebrant: they are usually trained and certified, and specialize in crafting unique and highly personalized ceremonies.
Host: sometimes the most fitting person to lead the Celebration of Life is a close friend or family member who knew the person well. They can bring a sincere and personal touch to the ceremony that an outside person can’t do.
Money is often the last thing you want to think about during a time like this, but it's a necessary part of the planning process. It’s best to decide on a budget that's comfortable for you. This will help narrow down your choices for venues, catering, and other elements.
The next step is deciding who will attend the ceremony. A good thing to consider is the size of the venue and its capacity. Most guests fall into these groups:
Immediate Family and Close Friends
Extended Family, Friends and Colleagues
You don't have to do this alone. Choose a few close friends or family members to help you plan. Share and delegate the responsibilities based on who is good at what and who will best capture the essence of your loved one. While one person might be good at logistics, another might be a superstar at choosing music or writing a heartfelt speech.
The venue and style of the ceremony are really what make a Celebration of Life special and different to a traditional funeral. It could be a unique venue or something as simple as their cherished home.
Take some time to find a place that resonates with the life and spirit of your loved one. Here are some things to consider:
Personal Significance: consider places that had special significance to your loved one. Was there a park they adored or a museum they could spend hours in?
Accessibility: there’s no point choosing a venue if it’s too difficult for family and friends to attend. Make sure the place is easy for guests to get to, with plenty of parking or public transport.
Facilities: think about restroom facilities, audio-visual equipment, and any other amenities you may need.
Welcoming & Introduction: this is the opening section where the host, often a family member or a celebrant, sets the tone for the ceremony and welcomes attendees.
Readings, Speeches, and Eulogies: these are thoughtful passages, speeches, or eulogies delivered by family members, friends, or religious leaders. They often capture the essence of the deceased's life. For example, this can be reading of a favorite poem or a recounting of cherished memories.
Celebration of Life Speech: it’s a keynote speech that provides a full picture of your loved one and is often given by someone who was very close to them. For example, this can be a lifelong friend speaking about the journey they've shared from childhood to adulthood.
Videos & Slideshows: videos and slideshows help to share stories, memorable moments, often set to a favorite song or with instrumental music. A slideshow featuring photos from various life stages, or a video montage of happy moments can be a special way of celebrating your loved one’s life.
Open Microphone: guests love feeling part of the proceedings and to spontaneously share their own stories, memories, or feelings. You can create closeness by giving guests turns to recount their special moments with your loved one.
Themed Activity: this can include a special activity that aligns with the deceased's interests, hobbies, or passions. If the deceased was a fishing enthusiast, how about distributing custom fishing lures as keepsakes or for a nature lover, consider a group tree-planting ceremony.
Meal & Drinks: sharing a meal or refreshments often breaks the ice, allows everyone to let their hair down and relax. It’s nice to remember a loved one by including their favorite food of the menu, whether with a buffet or a toast with their favorite drink.
Closing Words: remember to offer final words of gratitude to the guests for participating in this celebration of life. You can say something like, "Thank you all for being here to honor [Name]. Your love and memories are the greatest tribute we could offer them."
Choosing a theme for a celebration is an opportunity to show off your loved one's life and their passions. Start by taking some quiet moments to reflect about what made them special.
You can make a list of their unique qualities, favorite activities or defining moments. As you review your list, you may find that a particular theme naturally rises to the surface. For example, if your loved one was an avid gardener, a floral or botanical theme could serve as a touching tribute.
Alternatively, if they were a summer person who loved the beach, a seaside theme could be perfect.
It’s quite a common practice to have a themed celebration, as it adds a personal and meaningful touch to the ceremony. Let's discuss how you can decide on a themed activity and some creative examples you might consider.
Reflect on Interests: begin by considering the hobbies, passions, and interests of your loved one. Did they enjoy fishing, painting, or perhaps gardening?
Think of Shared Experiences: what activities did you and others enjoy most with the deceased? These could be as simple as weekend family barbecues, movie nights, or annual vacations.
Consider Practicalities: think about the venue, the number of guests, and the general tone of the celebration. You'll want an activity that can be comfortably accommodated.
Create a Memory Tree: you can place a small potted tree at the venue, and let guests attach notes or trinkets to its branches to create a "memory tree".
Butterfly Release: a butterfly is seen as a symbol of transformation and renewal, which can make it a profoundly touching and visually captivating part of the ceremony.
Scavenger Hunt: for someone who loved adventure, set up a scavenger hunt around locations that were significant to them.
Time Capsule: create a time capsule filled with the deceased's favorite items and have guests contribute.
Karaoke Tribute: a light-hearted karaoke session featuring songs that the deceased loved can bring smiles and tears.
Trivia Game: create a trivia game around facts and funny stories about your loved one, offering a light-hearted way to remember them.
Celebration of Life Decorations can add a special touch to the theme and tone that you wish to create for a celebration. When choosing them, try to focus on creating an atmosphere that feels true to the person you are honoring. Here's what you can do
Reflect on Personality: whether your loved one was vibrant and outgoing or more reserved and introspective, let their personality guide the mood of the decorations.
Match the Theme: if you've selected a specific theme, ensure your decorations align with it. For instance, if your theme revolves around their love for nature, consider floral arrangements and rustic elements.
Involve Color: ask yourself, ‘’Did [name] have a favorite color?’’ Integrate it into the decor, whether it's through table settings, balloons, or flower arrangements.
Incorporate Memories: things like photos, cherished belongings, and even written quotes can make great decorations.
Memory Table: display a table filled with photographs, memorabilia, and keepsakes.
String Lights: you can string lights around for an evening celebration, to create a cozy and intimate atmosphere.
Personalized Signage: think of signs that quote a favorite saying or describe character traits can add a personal touch.
Thematic Centerpieces: think of centerpieces that tie into their hobbies, such as miniature boats for a sailing enthusiast.
Floral Arrangements: consider flowers that had specific meaning to your loved one or to your family's heritage.
The next step will be sending out an announcement and invitation to the celebration.
Tone and Language: consider the tone you wish to set. Is this a solemn remembrance or a joyful celebration? Make sure the language of your invitations reflects this.
Incorporate Personal Elements: just remember to use a design or theme that reflects the deceased's interests or passions. Photos or artwork can add a uniquely personal touch.
Details Matter: it’s all in the detail – apart from the date, time, and location, include any specific requests such as dress code, items to bring for themed activities, or whether children are welcome.
Contact Information: make it easy for guests to RSVP and to reach out with questions or special requests.
Traditional Mail: some find a physical invitation to be more heartfelt and considerate.
Email and Digital Invites: these are convenient and quick, especially for inviting out-of-town guests.
Social Media: it’s useful for more informal or larger gatherings. Make sure to adjust privacy settings appropriately.
Phone Calls: personal and direct, this approach may be suitable for closer friends and family.
If you're not feeling up to the task of planning a celebration of life, why not hire a professional planner.
Expertise: planners bring a wealth of knowledge in coordinating events, ensuring things run smoothly from start to finish.
Time: with a planner handling the logistics, you can focus more on the emotional aspects and spend quality time with your family and friends.
Personalization: a skilled planner can help you host a personalized and meaningful event that truly honors your loved one.
Thanks to technology, finding help and support are at our fingertips. You are not alone and can get support via:
Online Directories: websites that specialize in event planning often list professionals who have experience with memorials and life celebrations.
Local Venues: many venues offer planning services or can recommend trusted planners who have hosted similar events.
Word of Mouth: personal recommendations are invaluable; ask your network if they've had positive experiences with specific planners.
Social Media: search for planners in your area who have positive reviews and portfolios that resonate with you.
It’s only natural to want everything to run smoothly. The following tips can assist you with this:
Interview Several Planners: share your vision, budget, and needs. It’s crucial to find someone who resonates with you emotionally and stylistically.
Check References and Reviews: previous clients can provide valuable insights into a planner's professionalism and reliability.
Be Transparent about Budget: a good planner will be upfront about costs and will help you navigate your options effectively.
We hope that our detailed checklist has helped to ease some of the stress of planning a Celebration of Life. Please do share them with someone else.