9 Celebration of Life Ideas to Honor Your Loved One

A celebration of life is an event held to honor the life of a loved one, typically focused on positive aspects of their life. This event may be less formal and structured than a funeral or memorial service, and is often considered to be – as the name suggestions – a joyful celebration rather than a ceremony dedicated to mourning.

A celebration of life is generally held in a casual setting like a park or somewhere special to the deceased, rather than at a church or funeral home. Depending on the location, attire is often more relaxed, and people are encouraged to speak and share stories of their loved one. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many funeral and memorial events are being held virtually or live streamed so loved ones can participate in the service from their own homes.

There are many wonderful ways to honor and remember your loved one. Some families choose to host a celebration of life instead of a funeral. Others have a funeral, then hold a celebration of life weeks, months or years afterward to continue honoring their loved one, or to include others who weren’t able to attend a previous ceremony. 

If you choose to host a celebration of life, you may be wondering the best way to honor them. To spark some inspiration, we offer nine ideas you can use to celebrate the life of a loved one:

1. Choose a Meaningful Location

If you’re unsure where to hold the event, consider hosting the celebration in or nearby a place that was especially meaningful or symbolic to your loved one. This can add an extra layer of connection to the event, and make it even more special. 

2. Invite People to Share Stories

Sharing stories is an amazing way to keep the memory of your loved one alive. Whether it’s a story that makes people laugh or makes people cry, these memories have the power to help heal broken hearts and bring everyone together. 

To prepare people, ask in the event invitation that people reflect on some of their favorite memories, and if they feel comfortable, share them during the celebration. 

3. Collect Photos

Photos can be a great idea to share at this event, and to have as a keepsake afterwards. You can source more photos from friends and family by creating an online group photo album, in which you invite multiple people to add photos to a folder. 

You can then use these photos to share a slideshow at the event, or create a physical photo album for your loved one’s closest friends and family. 

Here are instructions for creating and sharing a collaborative album in Google Photos. Bonus: it’s free.  

“I have been a part of an event that I and many others couldn’t attend, so the families requested photos and cards and put together a Shutterfly book which they shared online (and made available for purchase).”

Kristie T.

4. Play Their Favorite Music

Music can be a powerful tool of healing, and can bring you back to some special memories. Create a playlist of their favorite songs to play at the celebration and share with others afterwards. Similar to the suggestion above, you can create a shared playlist where friends and family can add songs they know their loved one enjoyed. 

5. Ask for Letters

Having written memories to look back on can be very healing. Ask those invited to the ceremony to write a letter about their loved one. These can be given to those closest to said person: their spouse, children, siblings, best friends. 

“Capture in writing what they meant to you. I received several letters from relatives, and friends when each of my parents passed. I even received a letter from a cousin who told me my parents financially supported him during his college years and what it meant to him to have them by his side. I had no idea. My parents kept it to themselves to respect his privacy. The letters are in a shoebox and once a year or so I pull them out and read them. Their legacies live on through these special letters.”

Susan K.

6. Start a Group Prayer or Poem

Consider sharing a special poem or prayer dedicated to your loved one. For example, you could start a group poem that gets everyone involved:

  1. Prior to the event, ask those invited to write a short 5-10 word memory or response to a simple writing prompt (e.g. “You made me laugh when…”, “What I learned from you…”).
  2. The collective responses are put together to make a lovely poem. The day of the celebration, the poem can be read as part of the ceremony, providing everyone with a chance to contribute.

You can also dedicate a prayer in your loved one’s name, as Pat shares below:

“My 96-year-old neighbor died this past December and her funeral was postponed once due to a snowstorm, and again for coronavirus. To honor her memory and her strong Catholic faith, many of us have committed to say a rosary in her name every Friday until her Mass of Christian Burial can be rescheduled.”

Pat M.

7. Establish Your Loved One’s Memorial

You can use this celebration to reveal or create a memorial for your loved one. For example, you could donate a tree in their name and plant it at their place of worship, at the park (with city approval) or a loved one’s backyard. Through nature, their memory will live on and remain something tangible you can see for years to come. 

“The Vern Tree: When Vern, a good friend of mine, passed away after a long battle with lung disease, his wife got permission from St. Paul City Parks to decorate a large pine tree in Como Park. We called it the Vern Tree. His wife asked all his friends to make ornaments that reminded them of Vern. Then we all met in the park on a cold morning and decorated the Vern tree. The ornaments ranged from objects, like a chunk of Alaskan cotton (he was from Alaska), pictures, to printed short memories. We had hot chocolate and music and people shared stories. it was a fun outdoor celebration and we felt like Vern was with us the whole time.”

Mike B.

“Plant a memory garden – after 20 years my dad’s garden is still going strong at church. Create a memory bench. Make memorial candles. Build a small memorial crafted from rocks. You can add it to your garden or at the corner of your lot. Frame something written by the loved one who passed. Create a quilt or blanket from their clothing – I have a small quilt my mom created from some of my grandmother’s dresses. I framed it many years ago and it hangs in my bedroom. Attend to their grave site. Bring flowers, bring a plant, offer to help the family keep up the grave site by pulling weeds, or watering the plants and keeping things tidy. Write a prayer and create memorial cards with it and share it with their family and loved ones. Something especially nice to do on an anniversary (their passing, birthday, wedding).”

Susan K.

8. Start a Memorial Fundraiser

Memorials and services to remember your loved one can be quite expensive. Not everyone may be able to afford the ideas they had in mind. To help with the costs, you can start a fundraiser using a free platform like GoFundMe to raise funds for the memorial or event.

If this sounds intimidating, don’t worry. These donation request templates will help you get started.

9. Record the Celebration

Some people may be unable to attend the event, or perhaps find it too emotional or challenging to fully enjoy. Whatever the reason, having the celebration live streamed and recorded allows family and friends to participate in the special day in the comfort and privacy of their own homes.

A recording is something you can rewatch or replay, and may provide a sense of comfort in hard or lonely times. As Dennis shares below, sometimes the feeling of being together is just as helpful as actually being together. 

“I grew up without my mom. My best friend’s mom Jane, growing up, really took me under her wing and was my “mom” until the day she died in late July 2015. She spent almost her entire professional life working as an art therapist, mostly kids who had trauma in their lives, and was passionate about helping others. There was no funeral, but a public gathering at the local art museum in Billings, MT. I helped my best friend and his wife pack up her office, her home, and her life. At the ceremony, lots of folks talked…but not everyone could come to this specific place at the time, so I recorded the audio of the event and made it available to others to download. In the end, I think sometimes it is about the feeling of being together…than actually being physically together.”

Dennis S.

If you are hosting the entire event virtually, one idea is to enable meeting breakout rooms (like Zoom Rooms) after the service for family and friends to talk and connect.

What Are Your Celebration of Life Ideas?

We hope these ideas will help you honor your loved one’s memory and celebrate their life with their closest friends and family.

We’d like to know your thoughts as well. What’s been helpful for you when celebrating the life of a loved one? Please comment your thoughts and ideas below: 

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  • Lyn Walker

    Instead of an open casket, consider assembling a grouping of the deceased’s favorite objects… a musical instrument, favorite books, vase of favorite flowers, gardening gloves and a trowel for a gardener, golf club for a golfer, etc.

  • Pamela D.

    My cousin was a wonderful organist and musician. In the churches where he served as Minister of Music they had wonderful memorial services for him by including those who had participated in services with him and had become his friends. They spoke of his educating them to new and different music. In his hometown we had his high school, college and local musician friends and yooung musicians he had mentored come and bring their choir, play their instrument or sing. Each one shared a short memory of their musical connection. These stories brought smiles to all! All three services ended with a recording of him playing the organ.

  • Kevin Brintnall, MDiv

    For the past ten years I have worked as a Hospice chaplain. Part of my work includes officiating at memorial/funeral services when requested by the family. Long ago I figured out that the last thing I wanted to do was to try to accumulate stories and speak about the decedent’s history and character because, in most cases, I really didn’t know the person well enough. So, I ask every family to collaborate to create a eulogy. That takes me out of the loop of speaking to a person’s history and character, and enables the family to collect and record those stories. The results have been mostly wonderful and actually assist families as they tell their own story to memorialize their loved one.

  • FELICE HOWELL

    My daughter-in-law’s father was a master gardener. When he passed away, I gathered the zucchini from his garden and made 90 mini loaves of zucchini bread. They were made available to the attendees at his funeral.

  • Arlene S

    My husband and father of our four children died in an accident in May 1996. So many people contributed in so many ways to us for months and that inspired me to send out a Thanksgiving letter instead of my usual letter at Christmas. In it, I asked if they would enclose in their Christmas card a sealed envelope with a memory for us to read on Christmas Eve when we would typically open presents. We read letters, cried, and laughed for three hours that night. Our children learned things about their dad in ways that made him come alive. All the letters are in albums; occasionally I run across them and they still warm my heart. I still thank all those who loved us for giving us such joy that Christmas Eve.

  • Jeanne Kataoka

    A group of us got together to purchase a custom peace pole that will be installed at the spiritual center where our friend was a senior minister for 10 years. It has eight languages on it from all over the world–including a local Native American one–that each say, “May peace prevail on Earth.”
    After she passed in December, we also did a memorial on Zoom in January 2021. It featured speakers representing various parts of her life: friends, work colleagues and her spiritual community. We are planning a face-to-face gathering this summer that will be a grand celebration of her life including a rubber duck race in the pool of her former home.

  • Gail Killian

    My 23 year old grandson was killed in 2018 during an armed robbery at his place of work. Our family is devastated. He was a free spirit so we decided against a traditional/formal service. We held service in a lovely park where he hiked frequently as a kid and young adult. The pavilion overlooked a pond, we played his favorite music, friends and family shared stories and their love for him, we wrote on stones and tossed them in the pond, we printed pics and tacked on several ‘memory’ boards and encouraged guests to take several home.
    Soon after the service his employer had a swing placed overlooking the pond and our family had another placed nearby overlooking the mountains where he hiked. Plaques were attached. It is comforting to visit and see them in use. Once a mother with her young were swinging and
    laughing.
    To continue his legacy of giving and love, our family started a non profit. When he was killed his employer, friends and family donated money so we knew this was a way to keep his legacy of giving alive. To date we have awarded approximately 25 scholarships in areas of interest to him – summer camp, nursing, vet tech, music, photography, history and more.
    A music festival was planned but COVID has delayed it. Trees have been planted, parkerzrocks was started, a virtual fun run was established, a scholarship day fundraiser was held, a memorial garden established and the city where he was killed dedicated a walking trail/boardwalk at a local park in his name
    We try to stay positive as it helps us honor him and focus on his amazing life and story and not the way he died.
    For more information please check out: parkerkilliangivesmoore.com. Also Follow us on FB.

  • Pam D

    For my daughters birthday we decided on having a butterfly release! It was her 40 th birthday so we had 40 butterflies.
    We used to release balloons but realized how bad & dangerous it is for animals & the environment so now we have a lot of fun w blowing bubbles!

  • Maria Lane

    This past December my brother committed scuicide. We did a normal funeral and memorial service. However, since our birthday is in May and he was also such a loving outdoor person I chose to create a celebration of life bonfire on the eve of his birthday. With a fishfry potluck and campout on our family’s ranch. Incorporating his love of family, fishing, and outdoor activities. I have built a slide show with his favorite music and photos from his life. There is time slotted for a time of sharing. The only thing I’m struggling with is an activity for children. My brother loved children and unfortunately was never able to have any of his own. Thank you for some more ideas like a guest book.

  • Sherrie

    I served my loved ones favorite foods.. desserts

  • Brenda Stannix

    Thank you, I have actually done some of these things that you have suggested:) planted the tree in Andrews’s favorite spot, Magaguadavic Lake, N.B. I am having a memory bench made and we are having his Celebration of life at our cottage, where he loved spending time. My daughter has the music picked out:)

  • AJ

    I just had a virtual funeral due to COVID and used memorial and funeral poems found at FindPoems.com. Hope they help someone else.

  • Sandra Salvador

    Have a Balloon Release with something written on the balloons and everyone release them together

  • john Hall

    I am planning on a Facebook Live memorial service followed by a Facebook room (like zoom) for family and friends to talk after the service