What do I do at a Celebration of Life?

Open field with trees off to the right side and the sun setting in the background.

When you think of a funeral or memorial service, most people conjure images of similar things: black or dark suits and dresses, quiet and formal interactions with people, and a church or graveside service. Most people who have attended such an event have a general idea of what guidelines to follow when it comes to what to wear, what to say, and what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. But what if you’ve been asked to attend a celebration of life? These types of services are becoming increasingly popular, yet many people have never been to one and are unsure of what to expect.

First off, what is a celebration of life?

A celebration of life is just that—an event to honor and remember a life lost in a joyous and celebratory way. That’s not to say that these types of funerals are free from grief and tears. Loss is always difficult. But celebrations of life aim to focus on the beauty, love, and meaning an individual brought to the lives of others. Other than that, there are no hard and fast rules for what constitutes an event like this, but they tend to be uniquely personalized experiences. Celebrations of life can be karaoke night at a bar, lighting sparklers on the beach at twilight, or a service on the pitch of the honoree’s local team—activities and places that held meaning to the deceased.

What should I wear?

Like a special dress code, the family of the deceased will communicate with guests beforehand any specific things they’d like them to do or engage in. For example, you might be asked to come prepared with a favorite memory of the deceased, light a candle in their honor, or add a photo to a slideshow that they’ll play at the service.

If there are no specific requests, there are some things you should always do, regardless of what kind of service you are attending. Always approach the family and, if you don’t know them, introduce yourself and tell them your relationship to the deceased. Sign the guest book if there is one, and if there are specific activities guests are invited to engage in, do so if you feel comfortable. Taking part in rituals as a community can help individuals heal from grief.

What should I say to the family?

Knowing what to say to people who have lost a loved one is never the easiest conversation to have. What words can truly bring comfort to the bereaved during this time? Expressions of sympathy such as “I’m sorry for your loss” or “My deepest condolences” are traditional, but the power of a personal anecdote can bring true comfort. Tell them how much the deceased meant to you, or your favorite memory of them. If you didn’t know the deceased well, express how you’re honored to be able to participate in celebrating someone they loved so much.

Can I bring my children?

Children should be allowed to attend a celebration of life, and any type of funeral for that matter, if they choose to and are old enough to handle themselves appropriately. Funerals and celebrations of life are important rituals for families and communities and can be therapeutic. They also reinforce the reality of death, which is an important lesson. We encourage families to have conversations leading up to end-of-life services to help prepare children and answer any questions they may have.

Have questions we haven’t answered here? Call us at 505-843-6333. We’re always available to help.

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