How to Plan a Celebration of Life

When a loved one passes away, the family and friends they leave behind can choose to have a funeral, a memorial service, or a celebration of life. Services can be combined or layered, assuring that the deceased receives the proper funerary rites, and their loved ones get to enjoy a day of remembrance.

But because there can be a lot going on after the death of a loved one, planning a celebration of life can seem like an arduous and nearly impossible task. Let this comprehensive guide help you plan the best, most joyful celebration of life to honor the memory of your loved one!

What Is a Celebration of Life?

Simply put, a celebration of life is a chance for the friends and family of a deceased person to come together and celebrate that person’s life and memory. Funerals are often very solemn and sad, but a celebration of life is the opposite.

Attendees are encouraged to share their favorite moments, memories, and thoughts about that person. Though activities, choice of venue, and decorations are bound to vary from event to event, the main objective of a celebration of life remains constant: Have fun, remember the good times, and honor the person you’ve lost.

How Exactly Does It Differ From a Funeral?

With a funeral, guests are expected to dress formally and to attend a ceremony that typically involves a casket and a burial. Final rights may be administered during this ceremony, and one or more family members or friends may give a eulogy.

Sometimes, before or after the funeral, family and friends may gather for a wake or memorial service. These secondary events allow the guests to connect over pleasant memories of their deceased loved one briefly. However, formality and solemness permeate a funeral and its events.

A celebration of life is typically an informal event. Guests can arrive at the chosen venue dressed however they like. Also, the vibe of a celebration of life is one of energy, joy, and humor. Friends and families gather to recognize the achievements of the deceased, choosing to honor their life legacy with happiness rather than sorrow.

Planning a celebration of life immediately after the passing of a departed family member or friend can be difficult. Emotions may be running too high, and you may find yourself burdened with paperwork, errands, funerary tasks and bills. But, you don’t have to choose between having a funeral or a celebration of life.

A celebration of life could easily occur several weeks, months, or even years after a loved one’s passing. The timing of the event is far less important than the meaning of the event. Whenever you feel ready to gather everyone together and laugh, sing, or cry about the good times and memories, you’re ready to start planning an amazing celebration of life!

Things to Consider When Planning a Celebration of Life

Before you begin planning a celebration of life event, it’s crucial that consider these vital factors. Doing so may save you time, money, energy, and a whole lot of patience.


Your budget will determine quite a lot about your upcoming event. The amount of money you can afford to spend on reserving a venue, supplying invitations and activities, and providing food and drink will help you to determine where, when, and how you can hold your celebration.

There are plenty of budget-friendly options for those with many financial restrictions, and there are hundreds of decadent, opulent options for those looking to make their event more extravagant. No matter your financial barriers or allowances, you can plan and hold a celebration of life!


The location of your event is incredibly essential. You want to choose a venue that meets your standards, your budget, and allows your guests to feel comfortable. It may also be helpful to think about your lost loved one. What places did they enjoy visiting? Where would they have liked to spend time with friends and family?

If you find that your budget restricts you from renting a venue, consider hosting the celebration at your home. If you feel that your home could not accommodate such an event, do not be afraid to reach out to others for help. Chances are, there is a friend or family member who is more than happy to host the event at their home.

Rented venues tend to come with a list of rules and regulations, so be sure to become familiar with your chosen venue’s guidelines before placing a deposit. You may also want to let guests know what kind of behavior is expected of them at the venue. Some locations do not allow alcohol consumption, outside food and drink, or casual dress.

Once you have determined where you would like to hold the celebration of life, you must decide when to hold the event and what time of the day it will take place.

Date and Time

The exact date and time of your event are completely in your hands. You could choose to celebrate an anniversary related to your loved one, such as a birthday or marriage. You could also choose to cater to the schedules of your guests.

When choosing a date, it’s crucial to think of your guests’ schedules. Setting a date that is only two weeks from now may be too little time for guests to take time away from work or other plans. However, scheduling an event for six months from now might be too much. Guests could forget that they have an upcoming event to attend!

Two to three months from now seems to be the sweet spot in terms of event planning. It gives you plenty of time to secure a venue, schedule activities, decide on food and drink options, and send out invitations.

However, if you’re planning on holding a very small gathering that is limited to a handful of people, you may want to disregard the rules above. Tight-knit groups that see each other often can decide to plan and hold a celebration at almost any time that it is convenient for them.

The time of day or night that you decide to throw a celebration of life depends on your preferences and the needs and preferences of your guests. You may also want to choose a time that reflects the preferences of the deceased.

If they were a morning person, you might want to hold a morning service. If they were a night owl, late into the evening could be a more appropriate option. However, as always, you must consider that your guests will have their own schedules and needs. Some may not be able to attend very early or very late events.


Sending out physical or virtual invitations to your event is one of the essential parts of planning a celebration of life. After all, if no one is aware that there’s a party in the works, they won’t know to show up at the venue!

Your invitations can be as simple or as decorative as you’d like, but it’s important to try and keep them as informal as possible. A celebration of life isn’t a grave experience. It’s an uplifting one! A little humor or color will make your invitation far more exciting and enticing.

You could also choose a favorite picture of your loved on to use with your invitations. Doing so will help your potential guests remember the good times they shared with that person. Once you’ve got the memories flowing, it’s hard to turn them off. Your guests will likely respond to your invitation immediately and look forward to the opportunity to remember and talk about the deceased.

Invitations can be handwritten, printed from a home computer, or ordered online. There are many options available, but the one that works best for you depends on your budget and aesthetic preferences. There are plenty of sources of inspiration out there, so don’t be afraid to explore lots of different ideas!

Celebration Activities

Your guests have arrived at your chosen venue — now what? Well, it’s time for activities, of course! These can vary greatly and are completely up to you. However, there are a few common activities that tend to be popular choices for these types of events.

Memory tables are a fantastic example. The host sets up one or multiple tables with photographs and items that represent the life of the deceased. This can be done in a time-line like fashion and be very organized, or it can be a hodge-podge of sentimental stuff. You could even ask your guests to bring an item to contribute to the memory table!

Memorial stones are another great idea. Set up a station with a clear sign that reads, “Memorial Stones: Grab a stone, a marker, and write something you remember or miss about [name].” Guests can inscribe a large flat pebble or stone and deposit it into a glass jar, a box, or any other storage space.

These stones can become part of your garden, or they can travel around. You could even choose to leave a single stone at every place that was important to your loved one. The possibilities are almost endless!

The activities that you choose should all be focused on remembrance and celebration. Try to get creative and have fun with your decorations and mini-events. Happiness, togetherness, and thankfulness are all key components of a successful celebration of life. If you find yourself stressing out about activities, take a step back and breathe.

As always, it can be helpful to try and imagine how your loved one would feel. They wouldn’t want their friends and family to be worried and stressed about remembering them, would they? The answer is: Probably not. So if you’re struggling to come up with ideas, don’t worry. There’s plenty of inspiration and help on the way!

Program of Events

Once you have a list of possible activities, it’s time to create a program of events. This may seem like an unscary step, especially if you plan on having a very small and informal gathering. However, for groups of ten people or larger, a program can mean the difference between aloof confusion and focused celebration.

Using your party start time as the basis, begin determining how long each activity should last. There should be plenty of pauses between activities to allow guests to mingle, converse, and enjoy each other’s company. Please resist over-scheduling, as it will likely drain you and your guests. A celebration of life should be comfortable, relaxed, and enjoyable.

After you have a rough schedule of events, go ahead and figure out an appropriate event end time. Depending on the nature of your celebration, this may be a few hours after the start time or several hours after the start. Be sure to keep your guests’ needs and schedules in mind when declaring an end time.

Food and Drink

When it comes to food and drink, you have two basic routes. You can choose to serve food and drink that your guests enjoy. Simple sandwich platters, chips and dip, and other snack foods tend to fall into this category.

Or, you can choose to only serve your loved one’s favorite dishes. This option is extremely popular, and highly recommended. It may take slightly more time and care to achieve, but it’s an excellent way to honor the memory of your friend or family member.

You and your guests can enjoy the deceased’s favorite dishes and relate stories, experiences, and fond memories while dining. It’s a bittersweet but deliciously kind and loving gesture.

Of course, if any of your guests have food allergies, it’s important that you provide healthy options for those guests. Be sure to include a small portion that asks about food allergies on your invitations. You may just be very thankful that you did!

Thank-You Notes

Speaking of thankfulness, you’ll want to make sure that you have thank-you notes or party bags prepared before the celebration begins. This will ensure that guests feel appreciated for attending your event and that your post-party clean-up and work is shortened.

Thank-you notes can be simple and handwritten or professionally designed and printed. Take-away party bags can include small knick-knacks and products related to the dearly departed. Their favorite candies, small toys or items that they often had with them, and even tiny photo albums are excellent options.

Your budget and preferences will help guide you to the perfect thank-you notes or favors. Allow the memory of your loved one to guide your decisions. In every aspect of planning a celebration of life, consider who you’re holding it for and what they would have wanted. Doing so can help anchor you and keep you focused and moving in the right direction.

Celebration of Life Ideas and Inspiration

If you’re feeling a bit stumped or overwhelmed, you may want to take a brief respite from planning and come back to it at a later date. It can be immensely helpful to browse through ideas online. Doing so may just grant you the inspiration you’ve been hoping for!

Here are some fantastic celebration of life ideas and sources of inspiration to draw from.

A Mad Libs for Your Loved One

Part of the fun involved in throwing a celebration of life is laughing, getting silly, and enjoying your time together. Write 8 to 12 sentences about your loved one. You can make it a simple biography or you can take something they wrote or often said and turn it into a short document.

Now identify all of the nouns, verbs, numbers, adjectives, and adverbs. Select at least two of these from each sentence and replace them with a long underline. You have now created a personalized Mad Libs!

You can print a copy for each guest and include that copy in the program of events. You and your attendees are sure to have more than a few laughs comparing your crazy sentences.

Game Time

If the deceased had a favorite board game or was an avid gamer, set aside time for guests to play their favorite game. You could even create a small games competition and hand out prizes to the winners!

Not only is this an excellent way to remember your loved one, but it can also help to lighten the mood of the event.

Make a Memory Tree

Just like memory stones, a memory tree is a way for guests to write down their thoughts and feelings and display them during the celebration. A wire-made artificial tree, a bonsai tree, or even a papier-mache tree can also work well for this activity.

Thick pieces of paper, metal tags, or anything that accepts ink can be used as an appropriate writing surface. Attach ribbon to each piece of material so that it can be hung from the tree. The result will be a colorful and heartfelt tree of memories!

Plant New Seeds

One way of celebrating life is to help it grow. Wildflower seeds or native vegetable or flower seeds are an inexpensive and thoughtful memento that guests can take home and plant. As they watch the seeds germinate and grow, they can feel a sense of peace and connection to the deceased.

The circle of life and death are connected, and seeds are a great way of representing how life often comes from death. Besides, flowers are a gorgeous way to remember a loved one that’s passed on.

Keep a Memory Capsule

Rather than burying a time capsule, you could choose to keep a memory capsule. This doesn’t actually have to be a capsule. It could be a wooden chest, a wicker box, or any other container.

You and your guests will fill the container with trinkets, photos, and written statements that all represent the loved one. Because it remains above-ground, you can choose to visit your memory capsule whenever you’d like. This can help you retain your connection and memories of that person.

It’s also interesting to see what your guests might contribute to the capsule! Spouses, parents, and children of a passed-on loved one are often astounded at the stories they hear from others. Though you may have known the deceased very well, people are complex, ever-changing creatures.

A memory capsule may just help present a better, more well-rounded picture of who the deceased truly was. For some, this can be a great way of continuing to get to know someone, even though they’ve passed away. A memory capsule can also be a great comfort during periods of grief.

Make a Website

There are websites for pretty much anything, nowadays, including birth announcements and weddings! So, why not make a website for your celebration of life? Before the event, this site can be filled with practical information such as what to expect, what to wear, and when and where the event will take place.

After the event, you can post pictures and guest statements to the site. Think of it as a digital scrapbook that all of your guests can visit at any time! A celebration of life web page functions as a sort of continual memorial. Guests to the site can leave comments and messages about the deceased and add their own photos as well.

It’s a great option for anyone!

How to Plan a Celebration of Life

Here is a step-by-step walk-through of how to plan a celebration of life. Using this simple process, you and your guests can enjoy the best celebration of life possible!

Create a Guest List

Creating a guest list isn’t as easy as just thinking about who you’d like to invite to your party. When it comes to a celebration of life, it is often better to think about who your loved one would like at the party.

You may have to reach out to the friends or family members of your loved one, which can be awkward if you don’t know the people very well. But they will likely be very grateful for receiving an invitation to a celebration of life, so don’t be afraid to contact them!

While you make your various contacts, be sure to ask the individuals about their schedules. Do they work night jobs or attend college? If so, they may have a schedule that is very different from your own. Be sure to take these details into account when creating a final, master guest list for invitations and catering.

Choose a Venue

Now that you know how many people you’d like to invite, it’s time to decide upon a venue. You could choose a swanky conference hall or your own backyard! The type of venue that will work best for you depends on your budgetary limitations and the number of people you intend to invite.

Obviously, smaller budgets and guest lists tend to work better with smaller, less expensive venues. But the more guests you invite, the larger the venue must be, which is a crucial point to keep in mind. Your home may be able to hold twenty or so guests without too much issue, especially if you incorporate an outdoor area.

But a guest list containing more than twenty people may require a rented venue. In this case, your budget, your preferences, and your beloved’s preferences can help guide you to the proper place. If you’re still unsure, try asking family and friends for suggestions on a possible venue. Someone may just have a perfect idea!

Pick Celebration Activities

Write down a list of possible celebration activities. If you’re feeling blocked and cannot think of more than one or two things, try searching for a little inspiration. You’re bound to find something that just reaches out and grabs you!

When you have a list of five or more activities or ideas, go ahead and begin sorting and scheduling them. Figure out how long each activity should ideally last, or decide if guests should be free to move around from station to station at their leisure. If you’d like, the only thing you could have set on a timed schedule is the end of the celebration! It’s all up to you.

Prepare Food and Drinks

You could hire a caterer, make some homemade dishes, or order out for food and drinks. One of the most highly-recommended options is serving only your loved one’s favorite snacks, entrees, drinks, and desserts.

Of course, it’s important to make sure that you have options for all of your guests. So, be aware of potential food allergies, or you may end up calling the celebration short to drive a guest to the hospital.

Remember, Relax, and Rejoice

A celebration of life should be a tremendously joyous and happy event. The focus should always be on remembering and celebrating the life of the departed loved one. If you ever feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with stress, remember to take a deep breath and relax. A celebration of life doesn’t have to be perfect or regal or exuberant.

The only thing a celebration of life should be is a fantastic chance to rejoice in the love and life of both living and passed-on family and friends. The Three R’s of this event will help you to make the most of your time, so please: Remember, relax, and rejoice!

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