You’re probably reading this because you’ve recently experienced the death of a loved one. You are likely feeling overwhelmed and highly emotional as grief can make us feel powerless.
Every family is different and how they choose to honour their loved one’s passing is as unique as the family its self. Commemorating your loss and connection can be a cathartic step in the mourning process. Honouring the life of a loved one can help to begin to ease the agony of loss by focusing on the life you shared.
In the past, families would choose to hold a traditional funeral Ceremony to honour their loved one. However, with the popularity of cremation, families are now choosing to plan a more personalized Memorial / Celebration of Life Ceremony. More and more families are choosing to celebrate the life of a loved one by sharing the memories of family and friends with a Memorial / Celebration of Life Ceremony created by Rev. Brenda O’Grady Wedding Solemniser and Family Celebrant.
Whether your choice is a traditional Ceremony, a Memorial / Celebration of Life Ceremony or something in between, there is an abundance of choice . This guide is intended to help you plan a Ceremony to remember and honour your loved one, and to alleviate some of the stress associated with the grieving process.
The Ceremony can vary in style, tone, and content to reflect the unique personality of your lost loved one. It will be a retrospective walk through your loved one’s milestones, and important events from birth to death.
A Memorial / Celebration of Life Ceremony, is designed to allow your loved ones family and friends to come together to pay tribute to the deceased, show their respect and honour their memory. It also serves as an important step in the grieving process, allowing everyone to pay tribute to and celebrate the life of your loved one, as well as gain support and fellowship from others.
It is important to remember that everyone attending is at different stages on their journey through life, their paths are varied and you all may look at life in different ways. But there the one common denominator is that at one point or another your lives have been touched by the life of the deceased. All of you are the threads that have woven the tapestry of their life. Each one is an important piece in the story it tells. It is the fabric that they wrapped around themselves and took comfort from when the world seemed cold and when everything was right in their world, that tapestry was proudly spread out and displayed for everyone to see, with all the glorious colours and textures of their diverse relationship with the Deceased.
The options for a Memorial / Celebration of Life Ceremony, are limitless and Rev. Brenda O’Grady Wedding Solemniser and Family Celebrant will guide and support you through the process to make it stress-free journey.
We would meet virtually or in-person (once Covid-19 restrictions allow ) so that I can get a sense of the type of ceremony you would like. I will supply you with sample readings/verses, readings, enhancement suggestions etc. This is how your bespoke ceremony will develop and will result in a ceremony that will reflect your loved ones life, family and friends and will be a Ceremony that both you and your guests can look back on with fond memories for years to come.
THE DIFFERENT TYPE OF CEREMONIES EXPLAINED:
What is a Funeral Ceremony?
A funeral Ceremony is typically held in a religious facility, funeral home or the deceased’s home. The body is present at a funeral, so scheduling is dependent upon the choice of disposition, burial or Cremation and must take place soon after death.
A funeral Ceremony has four main parts: the visitation, funeral, committal, and reception. A funeral can include religious elements, a eulogy, readings, prayers, songs, and reflection and it also includes burial or Cremation of your loved ones remains.
What is a Celebration of Life Ceremony ?
A Celebration of Life Ceremony is an event focused on sharing stories of the deceased and commemorating the joys they brought into the lives of others. As the name implies, it’s meant to celebrate the life of your loved one as opposed to grieving the loss. While there are often tears, these events tend to be creative, and focus on happiness and laughter. A celebration of life can take place immediately, or weeks or months after death.
What is a Memorial Ceremony?
A Memorial Ceremony is similar to a Celebration of Life, in that the body is not typically present. A Memorial Ceremony may be held in a place of worship or funeral home, although if the body isn’t present, many other locations may be considered. Parks, other outdoor settings, a favourite gathering spot or public space are popular options for memorial Ceremonies. Timing can be immediate or several months after death.
A Memorial Ceremony / Celebration of Life Ceremony can also include religious elements, a eulogy, readings, prayers, songs, and reflection. There is no wake before a memorial Ceremony.
Because the Memorial Ceremony / Celebration of Life Ceremony occurs after the remains have been cared for, there is often more room for creativity as you and your family can take more time to plan the ceremony and decide how you want to commemorate your loved one.
A Memorial Ceremony / Celebration of Life Ceremony is a gathering of people who share a common loss. The Ceremony helps the family and their community,
1. publicly acknowledge the death of their loved one.
2. Support the grieving family by surrounding them with caring family, friends and neighbours.
3. Celebrate a life full of memories and achievements.
A Memorial Ceremony / Celebration of Life Ceremony can be more casual and less structured. Many families consider a celebration of life to be more of a relaxed and get together with guests attending to celebrate a life well-lived. A Memorial Ceremony / Celebration of Life Ceremony may or may not include elements from a traditional funeral Ceremony, although the choice is entirely up to the family.
A creative Memorial Ceremony / Celebration of Life Ceremony can be a constructive way to come to terms with your grief. It can be helpful to define the essence of your loved one by asking yourself the following questions:
- What were their religious or spiritual beliefs?
- What were their distinctive qualities?
- What were they passionate about?
- What do people think of when they think of them?
Rev. Brenda O’Grady Wedding Solemniser and Family Celebrant advises you to trust the process of creating your Ceremony with her, to keep an open mind and try something different, you may find comfort and meaning in ways you never expected.
What are the Options for Disposition?
Burials typically involve purchasing a casket / coffin, cemetery plot, and a headstone.
For those who wish to minimize their impact on the environment after death, a green or natural burial is popular. Green burial settings are typically wildflower meadows with unmanicured landscapers and don’t have traditional grave markers.
Cremation uses heat to reduce the body to ashes, which may be scattered or placed in an urn for keeping or burial.
MEMORIAL / CELEBRATION OF LIFE CEREMONY PLANNING:
Rev. Brenda O’Grady Wedding Solemniser and Family Celebrant will guide you in creating the most memorable and meaningful Memorial Ceremony / Celebration of Life Ceremony that will capture the unique life and personality of your loved one.
1. Officiant, Celebrant or Host
Once you have engaged with Rev. Brenda O’Grady Wedding Solemniser and Family Celebrant she will guide and support you through the process of creating the perfect Ceremony to remember and honour your loved one. She will lead the Ceremony on the day.
A Memorial Ceremony / Celebration of Life Ceremony can be held any time after death. You may choose to make arrangements immediately or to wait several weeks or even months.
It can be difficult to make decisions immediately after a loss; planning the event into the future allows you to enlist help from others, it also allows people to make travel arrangements, making it easier for friends and family to attend.
3. People to Invite
It is a good idea to make a list of everyone you’d like to invite. Immediate family, more distant relatives, friends, and not just current friends—include friends from different chapters of the person’s life: friends from childhood, school, different jobs, and different locations.
Things to consider when choosing a Venue are:
- A religious location?
- How large of a venue is needed, based on the number of people expected.
- Does it have adequate parking?
- Is it handicap accessible?
- Can it accommodate all parts of the event—Ceremony, socializing, refreshments etc.
5. Readings / Readers
You may want to choose reflections<span”>, readings<span”>, poems, quotes, personal writings, or song lyrics that were significant to your loved one. Then, choose the reader or readers who will present them. Who will share personal anecdotes or memories about your loved one.
6. Eulogist / Speakers
- Be Brief. Be sure to check with the Officiant, Celebrant or Host clergy or Ceremony director about timing. If none is provided five to ten minutes is a good guideline.
- Be Focused. You can’t distil a lifetime into five to ten minutes, so don’t try. Start with a brief history of the deceased’s life, including significant relationships and professional history; interests; and achievements.
- Be Personal. Focus on one or two notable qualities, passions, or characteristics of the person, and share a personal story or favourite memory related to it. A saying, quote, song, or religious text that was significant to the individual is a good way to close.
- Be Positive. Now is the time to affirm the positive aspects of the individual’s life.
- Sprinkle in some humour. Laughter really is medicine. When you are grieving and also celebrating a loved one’s life—laughter can feel like a much-needed sigh of relief. Include an anecdote or ‘ism’ that is so quintessentially your loved one. Tell a funny story or joke that they told one too many times.
- Thank everyone for coming. Thank everyone for being there to celebrate your loved one’s life. Share how much it would have meant to them to see all of the people they loved together in one room. Let people know how grateful your loved one was to have so many wonderful people in their life. This is not just a celebration of the deceased, but a celebration of the relationships, memories, and experiences you all shared.
- Write it Down. A written eulogy is another way for family and friends to hold the memory of a loved one. During this highly emotional time, it is highly recommended the person reading the eulogy have a written copy to reference.
Select songs, hymns, and other pieces of music that were enjoyed by the deceased, or that hold special significance. Who will provide the music? Professional musicians, DJs, family/friends, or a playlist on an audio system ?. You may choose a combination of live music, followed by a playlist of significant songs as background music as guests socialize.
Refreshment options are usually driven by the Venue and it is best to take their advice.
Be aware that many guests may have dietary restrictions, so inquire with your caterer/venue about options. Many events, , choose to include a bar, which adds to the celebratory feel of the Ceremony.
9. Photographer / Videographer
You may choose to capture the event with photos or video, to keep the memories for years to come. This can be undertaken by a family member or friend, or you can hire a professional.
10. Personalizing the Event
Personalizing the event can range from simple to elaborate,
Some traditional ways to remember a loved one are with a memory board of photos, a display of photo albums, a video or slide show, or through displaying personal memorabilia.
To involve guests, you may ask that people bring a few words about the departed to share or post for others to see. It could be a favourite memory, a sentence or two on how they knew each other; or ask them to send a photo or song to be included in the slideshow or playlist.
MEMORIAL / CELEBRATION OF LIFE CEREMONY ENHANCEMENTS:
You may wish to include enhancements and I have outlined some of your options below or they can be seen on my website www.weddingandfamilycelebrant.ie. You may want a ceremony full to the brim or more low key, the choice is yours.
Consider the ideas below or let them inspire something that captures the unique essence of your loved one and your connection with them.
1. Memorial Painting
A commissioned work of art may take some time, but it will be well worth it when you see your loved one so beautifully and artistically memorialized.
2. Customized Memorial Candles
Memorial candles are a bright and beautiful addition to the memorial Ceremony décor.
Showcase your loved one’s hobbies and passions by displaying a collection of things that interested them.
4. Guest Book
This can be set up near the entry or reception table.
5. Choose a Theme
Decorate in a way that expresses your loved one’s heritage, favorite sports teams, hobbies, military or charitable Ceremony, religion, or other interests.
6. Decorate a Story Table
Place your loved one’s personal belongings, that spark memories such movie tickets, poetry, or souvenirs from family vacations photos, and favourite items on a table.
Or cover a table with a roll of paper and let people write their own notes and stories!
7. Create a Memorial Website for your Beloved
Create a Memorial Website for your Beloved and share a special hashtag so that anyone can tag photos they take at the memorial. Include places for people to write out their favourite memories or notes to the beloved and/or their families.
8. Live Music
Many people hire musicians for the Ceremony, to play music, to sing or contemplative classical music during moments of reflection. Be sure to have them play covers of your loved one’s favourite songs.
9. Hang up a Memory Quilt
Bring quilt squares and have family members and friends decorate them with messages and artwork using permanent markers.
10 . Decorate a Memorial Tree
There are lots of ways to get creative with this idea. Perhaps you have the memorial at home in your backyard; in that case, hang ornaments or notes from your favourite tree.
Have everyone place ribbons, photos, notes, or ornaments on the tree. Each can include a special message.
MEMORIAL / CELEBRATION OF LIFE CEREMONY: DURING THE CEREMONY
11. Memorial Slideshow
Create a memorial slide show to project photos or videos of your loved one. This can be done as a montage with music during the Ceremony, or played on a loop in the background during the reception.
If you choose to do a slideshow during the memorial Ceremony, keep it between 3-5 minutes, or the length of 1-2 songs.
12. Poems, Quotes, and Sayings
Use quotes to inspire and encourage, and to eloquently express grief, hope, and love. If your loved one had a favourite quote, poem, Bible verse, or song lyric, that should be your first choice.
Rev. Brenda O’Grady Wedding Solemniser and Family Celebrant will also provide you with a collection to help you, including quotes for life celebration, eulogies, Bible verses, hymns, prayers, and even some off-the-wall funeral humour bits which could serve as fun and cheeky ice-breakers.
13. Funeral Songs
A favourite song played at the right time can provide an appropriately emotional or nostalgic touch.
Plan music with care, if possible, use music as a transition, to provide a time of reflection,
14. Wear their Favourite Colours
During the Ceremony, everyone can wear the beloved’s favourite colour in their honour. This is a fun way to get around the traditional black
15. Create a Memorial Capsule
Place a box where loved ones can place personal letters, favourite memories, photos, or items that represent your beloved to them in the box.
This could be kept by the family as a keepsake.
16. Light a Candle in Memory
Lighting a candle in memory of a departed loved one is a way to pay tribute to their life and legacy. Have one candle as a centrepiece up front, or give everyone a candle to light at a special moment in the Ceremony.
COVID-19 VIRTUAL MEMORIAL / CELEBRATION OF LIFE CEREMONY PLANNING IDEAS:
17. Choose Accessible Video Platforms
To livestream the memorial Ceremony choose an accessible video platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Facebook Messenger. If you’re hosting a Zoom funeral , make sure to test your audio before the Ceremony, so both online and in-person guests can hear you clearly.
18. Plant a Memorial Tree
Have attendees participate in the planting process for a time of healing and connecting with nature.
19. Memorial Stones
Set up a table near the entrance with stones rock and permanent markers, and instruct each person to write a brief note on the stones expressing their love, grief, or cherished memories.
The memorial stones can then be read aloud during the Ceremony, or scattered at a favourite spot, kept by the family, placed around a garden bed.
20. Share Memories at an Open Mic
It’s a great idea to include an “open mic” time for family and friends to share favourite memories. These times are often the highlights of the Ceremony, treasured for unveiling little-known nuggets of touching generosity or laugh-out-loud humour, and allowing those who best grieve publicly to have an opportunity to express their thoughts and memories.
It is probably best to “limit the damage” of any concerns and to have the open mic during the reception, where the atmosphere can be a little less formal than the memorial Ceremony itself.
CHILDREN & BABY MEMORIAL IDEAS
21. Bubble Release
If your child loved bubbles, you can take time to blow bubbles into the sky in their honor. This cute memorial idea hits all the right notes: Meaningful and sweet, beautiful and fun, simple and affordable.
22. Favourite Candy or Candy Bars
Incorporate a favourite candy bar, chewing gum, or other treat into the memorial Ceremony.
Consider having a favourite candy in easy-to-reach bowls on tables at the reception, or pass out their favourite candy bar as parting gifts to attendees.
Create your own personalized memorial bookmarks with your loved one’s photo, name and dates, plus a sweet sentiment.
24. Tree of Memories
This adorable Tree of Memories comes with little heart papers so that attendees can write favorite memories, final farewells, or special messages of comfort to the family.
Place one at each table during the reception and watch the trees blossom with comforting and encouraging words.
25. Memorial Fireworks
Light off fireworks during or after the memorial Ceremony to provide a splash of color and light, and to emphasize that the purpose of the memorial is a celebration of life. This will be a truly memorable event
IDEAS TO HONOR A DECEASED PARENT OR GRANDPARENT
26. Keep something of theirs with you
You can make a simple and meaningful tribute by wearing something that belonged to your loved one.
Whether it’s a hat, piece of jewellery, or article of clothing, you will have their memory close to you all day. Or perhaps their wristwatch or another item could be something you carry with you always.
27. Frame something they’ve written, like a poem or a recipe
There’s nothing like seeing something written by your loved one and then framed.
Consider putting a treasured letter or another handwritten item in a special frame and remember that special someone whenever you pass by it.
28. Live a life of worthiness
The legacy of our parents and grandparents also lives on in us as people. Think about what they valued in life and see how these lessons can inspire you today.
Whether it’s your education, ethics, or other life choices, remember what they would have wanted for you and let yourself be guided by the life they modelled for you.
29. Save them a seat
A respectful commemoration of the loss of your elder might include giving that person a “seat” at special gatherings and events for a period of time after their death.
Setting a place at the table at your holiday meal in their memory can be a reminder of their lasting presence in your family.
IDEAS TO HONOR A SIBLING
30. Complete what they can’t
Finishing something that meant a lot to your sibling is a way to honour their contribution to the world and connect to their sense of purpose.
Whether completing a project or serving in a role that they no longer can, it’s an amazing gift to wrap up an unfinished task that mattered to them.
31. Make a scrapbook of their life
Gather photos and stories and create a digital or paper tribute that celebrates your sibling’s life chapters. If you can, try to find a custom scrapbook to make it extra special.
Their friends, colleagues, and children will appreciate this window into their early years
IDEAS TO HONOR A PARTNER OR SPOUSE
32. Dedicate an event to their memory
Choose something that they loved to do and make it happen every year. An annual or one-time event in honour of your spouse may be a wonderful way to pay tribute to their life and inspire others to remember them
The occasion could even be a fundraiser for a cause that they cared about.
33. Hold a Ceremony, celebration of life ceremony, or vigil
In addition to (or instead of) a traditional funeral, you may wish to organize a memorial ceremony commemorating your spouse or partner shortly after their death, or on the anniversary of their death,
Holding a Vigil can be another heartfelt way to remember your partner and also provide attention to a cause they championed. These types of memorials can be a bit more freeform and can be held on any meaningful date aside from the abovementioned.
34. Keep their unique style intact
Consider the one-of-a-kind flourishes that made your spouse who they were. Can you preserve these unique expressions of their personality?
For example, you can have their handwriting turned into an electronic font and use it to bring their flair to stories and gifts.
35. Compose a song
Use your (or someone else’s) musical talent to create a memorial song celebrating the life of your spouse.
Music can allow us to express things we might otherwise keep inside. If you wish, you may choose to record the song to share later with children or those who are far away.
IDEAS TO HONOR A FRIEND
36. Curate an online memorial
Use an online memorial site to create a multimedia tribute in honour of your friend. Most support uploading photos, videos, and documents—whatever digital items you have that can tell the story of your friend’s life.
37. Let them inspire you
Attempt their bucket list. Visit places that were special to them. Read a book they loved. Try out a favourite hobby of theirs, even if you might not have dared to otherwise.
You’ll spend the time feeling connected to their unique spirit and come away knowing them better than ever.
WHAT TO SAY TO LOVED ONES OR FAMILY OF THE DECEASED AT A MEMORIAL / CELEBRATION OF LIFE CEREMONY:
A celebration of life event can be both joyful and also sad. When considering what to say to the family of the deceased, try to be sensitive, thoughtful, and positive. Here are ten examples you can use for inspiration.
1. “Your loved one would have absolutely loved this celebration.”
A celebration of life event was likely in the deceased’s end of life plan. It can be of comfort to the family to hear that you think they did a great job fulfilling their loved one’s final wishes.
2. “I am so grateful to be a part of this day celebrating the incredible life of your loved one.”
This is the perfect phrase to use at a celebration of life event when you are not close to the family. It is simple, to the point, and expresses your gratitude for being included in such an important event. It is warm, but not too personal.
3. “Your loved one talked about you constantly. They loved you so much.”
Let them know exactly what their loved one told you. Did they boast about their achievements? Did they talk about them every day? Did they share exactly what they loved about their family member? Re-enact funny stories? Give as many details as possible.
4. “My favourite thing about your loved one was…”
Share joyful memories and favourite personality traits or quirks you loved about the deceased. A celebration of life is the perfect place to express this.
You can be sensitive and express condolences, while still reminiscing on the great memories you shared. Hearing happy or funny stories can be of great comfort to a grieving family.
5. “Your loved one brought so much joy to everyone who knew them. We’re all going to miss them so much.”
This one’s a good choice if you were a friend, co-worker, or classmate of the deceased. Share stories the family may not have heard before. Let them know that your friends, co-workers, or classmates and you will miss their loved one so much. If it hasn’t already been said, let them know exactly why you’ll miss them.
6. “Your incredible partnership inspired so many people.”
Let the grieving widow know that you saw how beautiful their partnership was. You can even validate their grief by expressing that a lifetime is never enough when it comes to your soulmate.
Pro-tip: If you were close with the deceased and their partner, add something specific about what inspired you about their partnership. This makes your condolences much more memorable and genuine. When you express something meaningful, there’s always the chance that it is the exact thing that someone needs to hear and will carry with them always.
7. “My heart is with you.”
If you don’t know what to say, and the mood is sombre, this is a simple and compassionate response. Even though the event is joyous in a lot of ways, a grieving family member is likely going to have many sad moments. Offer comfort, and if you’re close to the person, offer a hug
8. “My life won’t be the same without them.”
Be specific. Let the family know how their loved one touched your life. It’s always comforting to hear the impact a lost loved one had on the lives of others. Share your memories—they are a piece of the legacy their loved one left behind that they may not even know about.
9. “All of your friends, family, and loved ones are here for whatever you need.”
Let the person in mourning know that they have a community of people to wrap around and support them. You are together to celebrate their loved one and support them with anything else they may need.
10. “I am here for anything you need.”
This is a powerful way to let the person who is grieving know that they are not alone. It’s a good idea to offer specific support to them. People are much more likely to take you up on an offer of support if it’s concrete. Here are some things you can offer:
- Stay to clean up after the celebration.
- Deliver some meals later in the week.
- Run errands.
- Babysit their kids.
- Walk their dog.
- Take them out for a meal or drink.