Family and friends celebrating a loved one's life

How to Plan a Beautiful Celebration of Life

Losing someone important is painful. Something that can be just as hard as processing grief is dealing with the logistics of someone passing away. For many people, this includes planning funerals, memorials, or maybe even a celebration of life.

Traditional burial and funerals can be quite expensive. This means their high price tag (often thousands of dollars) can create a lot of stress for living relatives. Nowadays, many people are turning to more affordable options like cremation.

But what about funeral services themselves? Some families may choose to have a celebration of life service rather than a typical funeral.

In this article, we will cover exactly what a celebration of life service is and we will also leave you with some ideas for planning the type of event that your late loved one would have enjoyed attending.

What is a celebration of life?

The purpose of a celebration of life service is exactly what the name implies: to celebrate someone’s life instead of only mourning their death. Rather than the somber setting we’re used to seeing at traditional funerals, celebration of life services focus more on joy and positivity.

A celebration of life can look very different from person to person. They can be large gatherings or small, intimate get-togethers. They can be just about anywhere you want – your home, a park, or somewhere that was special to the deceased.

What is a celebration of life like?

Celebration of life services might include music (click here to see our guide on the best songs for a celebration of life), dancing, story-telling, or whatever else the family feels honors the life and accomplishes of the deceased. They also might include elements of religion or spirituality, like prayer.

The truth is that a celebration of life can be whatever you’d like it to be, but the central focus is always about life rather than death. Instead of dwelling on grief and sadness, these celebrations try to encourage loved ones to reflect on positive memories.

Celebration of Life Programs

You can include some of the elements of a more traditional funeral during a celebration of life service if you’d like.

A popular feature of many services is a celebration of life program, which can have pictures, stories, a biography, and/or an itinerary of events that will take place during the celebration.

A program is a great way to communicate information about the event to the attendants. It should contain any and all information that you think is relevant for everyone to know. 

Here’s a brief outline of what sort of content you might expect to see or want to include in a celebration of life program:

  • A front cover: featuring photos, the name of the deceased, birth/death date, location of the event, time of the event, etc.
  • An order events or schedule of events: featuring a list of any songs, games, events, meals, etc. that will happen during the celebration. You might also want to include times as well.
  • Other important information: this might include song or hymn lyrics if you’re including them, poems, quotes, or anything else that you think fits. The program can be as simple or as personalized as you’d like!
  • An obituary: this can be included wherever you want in the program itself, but it’s a very popular inclusion. You can include the same obituary you’ve submitted elsewhere (like the local newspaper), or write something new.
  • A back cover: featuring closing remarks, quotes, songs, etc. 

Many template options for creating a program are available online for free (or, if you’re willing to spend some money, you can get them from a printing service). You can also make them yourself, if you’d like.

An important thing to remember when creating a program is that the experience can be as unique and personal as you’d like it to be. 

You might feel overwhelmed or like you can’t come up with ideas for your program or celebration. This is completely okay and normal! Celebration of life services come with a lot of freedom around post-death care and mourning that we aren’t quite used to.

As you create your program, try to think of activities that will be healing and approachable for all of those who attend. 

You might ask guests to bring food that reminds them of the deceased and have a shared meal. You might include time in your schedule to mingle and share stories.

There are lots of other opportunities to make a celebration of life service feel unique and meaningful, which we will discuss in more detail a bit later.

How is a celebration life different than a funeral?

Aside from the clear difference in focus (on life instead of death), celebrations of life are pretty flexible compared to funerals. They can also be a lot more affordable, which is something that many caregivers and families might be grateful for.

Celebration of life services can happen just about anywhere. You can think of them more like positive memorial services rather than a type of funeral. They might seem more like parties or family get-togethers than post-death grieving.

Things that might seem inappropriate or out of place during a funeral can fit right in at a celebration of life. For instance, you might see dancing, food being eaten, or family members sharing funny stories.

When does a celebration of life occur?

Another notable difference between funerals and celebrations of life is timing. Traditional funerals often happen very soon after an individual passes away – this can happen to ensure that a viewing is possible or to ensure that the body is buried quickly. Celebrations of life, though, can happen any time. They can happen immediately after a body is cremated or buried, or they can happen days/weeks later.

Why choose a celebration of life?

Ultimately, choosing a way to commemorate the life of someone you’ve lost is a very personal decision. Many people find celebration of life services to be a more positive way to process their grief and sadness, but sometimes celebrating seems out of the picture when you’re struggling.

As we’ve mentioned, celebration of life services can be a lot cheaper than the typical funeral service. The current average cost of a traditional funeral in the United States is $7000-10,000. This charge often covers funeral home fees, service fees, caskets, decorations, and more.

A celebration of life can cost as little as $0 if you’d like it to. You can have one at home and ask family members to bring food to share. A celebration of life could also cost more if you’d like to splurge, but it will still likely be less than what you’d expect to pay at a funeral home!

Life and death go hand in hand, so death does not need to be a topic to fear or a reason for resentment. It can be very cathartic to focus on the positive memories you made with this person. Dedicate a song to them, or dance in their honor.

Another benefit is that your loved one would want you to be grateful for the time you shared- they wouldn’t want you to suffer. Especially if this person you lost was fun-loving and happy, the best way to honor their memory is with a service that is fun and happy.

Ideas for Celebrating Someone’s Life

If a celebration of life sounds like an idea that you’d like to implement either for yourself or for a loved one, that’s great! Celebrations of life can be incredibly healing for everyone involved, especially if you’re able to make it special and personal.

In order to do that, you may need to spend some time reflecting and thinking. There are no real rules about what can and can’t be done. Feel free to be creative and be expressive!

If you’re struggling to come up with ideas, don’t worry. Here are some suggestions to think about:

  • Play the deceased’s favorite music: artist, genre, whatever the case may be
  • Share photos and videos
  • Create a celebration of life program
    • Programs might have pictures and facts or memories about the deceased. You can easily find customizable options online for ordering, or you can make them yourself.
  • Create personal invitations
    • These can have photos of the deceased as well as important info about the time/place of the event
  • Tell stories and encourage others to share positive memories of the deceased. Laugh about the silly mistakes and experiences that you lived through with this person.
  • Light candles
  • Set up a nice display: flowers, wreaths, whatever you’d like
  • Make the deceased’s favorite foods to share
  • If religion is important to you and your family, group prayer or meditation may be meaningful to include
  • Choose a location that was meaningful to the deceased. This could be the beach, the outdoors, a certain park or church.
  • Encourage others to bring items that remind them of the deceased
  • Create group activities and projects, like making a photo collage
  • Don’t be afraid to invite young children, pets, and anyone who really loved and cared for this person.

This list is not exhaustive by any means. As discussed previously, part of the appeal of a celebration of life is the ability to do whatever you want. Whatever feels like it brings you peace or healing is likely a great inclusion. Think about what type of party your loved one would enjoy, and give them a great send-off.


If you decide a celebration of life is right for you or for someone you care about, that’s great! You’ve taken a big step by considering this alternative method to remembering someone’s life, and you have a great opportunity to make it something special and meaningful.

Grieving is heavy, and it’s different for everyone. But take a little time in the grieving process to feel gratitude for your loved one. This person made your life better just by being in it. Their life, and existence, is reason for joy, even after they’ve moved on.


  1. Funeral Costs and Pricing Checklist, Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information,

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