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When a loved one dies, we look for ways to honor them.  So too, we want to give those left behind ways to say goodbye.  Customarily, society has turned to funeral services that are based on religious or cultural traditions to commemorate one’s passing.  But, times change.  As the world has become more mobile and less connected to organized religion, less formal and more personalized approaches are more often acceptable.

As members of your family get older it is natural to give thoughts about how to remember them when they pass.   Their passing can be acknowledged by a somber service that is associated with traditional funerals.  Funerals often emphasize certain rituals that tend to highlight grief.  Eulogies and storytelling, while part of the more formal program, are generally not central to the ceremony.

Alternatively, the ceremony can be a celebration of the life and joy that the deceased brought to the lives of the people who are impacted enough by his or her passing to attend the funeral in the first place.  A “Celebration of Life” provides an alternative to a traditional funeral.  This decision is more often based on the personality of the deceased.  In some cases, the nature of the recently departed in life would suggest almost a “party” atmosphere.  In other cases, it would be lower key, but with emphasis on a celebration of the deceased person’s life rather than something more formal and somber.

By definition, a celebration of life should be, well, celebratory.  A joyful-oriented event is less likely to go by the format and rules of a religious service.  As the name implies, it is more likely to be there to celebrate than to mourn.  The celebration typically emphasizes the person’s life positively and joyously.  The whole process allows for a great deal of creativity.

In the planning and communication with prospective attendees, encourage all the participants to be positive and remember all the good things about the deceased.  Invite attendees to recall (and be prepared to share) stories that will warm the hearts of all who come.  And, while there are no steadfast rules about what needs to be done at such a celebration, it is a good idea to have some level of structure, even if it is not firm.

Mixing a traditional funeral with a celebration of life is not common.  Those who are comfortable with or expecting a traditional service may be put off by a more freewheeling style.  Ultimately, the decision is based on your experience of how the newly departed lived his or her life and what you believe would be right for your family.  Today you have options.