How we look back on the life of a loved one and how we gather to acknowledge their passing as a family and community are vital parts of the grieving process. Many of us have some thoughts as to how we would like that occasion to unfold and now there are more options than ever to make it specific to a loved one’s wishes. Celebrations of life have become popular alternatives and additions to the traditional funeral, but how do they differ?

The order of events

Funerals have been a part of our culture for centuries and while they have evolved over time, the order of events tends to be more set-in-place. At a funeral service, a pastor or funeral director leads an order of service which often consists of hymns, religious recitations, prayers, and eulogies. This is followed by the commitment of the deceased, where the casket is lowered into the ground with more prayers said.

Celebrations of life tend to have a much more flexible order of events. Some people prefer to still say a prayer or a Bible reading, but just as often the celebration will include a more personalised telling of the loved one’s life. It may involve stories about them, recognition of their achievements, listening to their favourite songs, recitations of their most beloved poems or passages from treasured books and more. The inclusion of slideshows, home movies, food, games, and toasts are all common.

When and where

The vast majority of funerals take place at churches and places of worship since they are religious rites with strong traditional ties. Funerals occur a few days after death, with a visitation or wake the day before the funeral. Celebrations of life can take place anywhere; in parks, hotels, beaches and more. Sometimes the location is somewhere dear to the deceased, sometimes it is chosen for practicality purposes. Unlike funerals, celebrations of life can happen any time after the passing of a loved one and even after a funeral. Some people celebrations of life on the same day as a funeral, and some will hold it weeks, months, or occasionally even years after the passing. Sometimes, they are even used to celebrate the first birthday of a lost loved one.

What are they like?

Just as their order of events is rigidly set, the tone of a funeral is often very similar. They are most often described as sombre, spiritual events. Eulogies and readings can offer hope and warm remembrances, but many officiants believe that the dignified and solemn nature of funerals is important to the grieving process. Celebrations of life, as the name suggests, tend to focus more on the positive impact that the life of the loved one had. They can be hugely varied, but rarely have the religious overtones of a funeral. By contrast, they can be significantly happier and lighter experiences, often led by a family member or close friend acting as an officiant instead of a religious figure. Because they can take place in gardens, beaches, even a favoured pub, the setting can contribute a much lighter atmosphere, too.

There are as many different ways to honour, celebrate, and remember those we lose as there are people. Finding just the right way for your loved one can help the grieving process tremendously.