How Does a Celebration of Life Differ from a Funeral?

By: Shama Rhoden
Tuesday, October 27, 2015

When someone dies, the traditional choice has been to plan a funeral for them. A funeral is an event where the loved ones of the deceased can say goodbye to the person and mourn their loss. However, over the past few years there has been an increase in the trend towards events which are called “celebrations of life.”

Many people have been choosing this route due to the fact that funerals are often regarded as being depressing events which keep people in mourning for longer than is necessary. Celebrations of life are designed to reflect on positive things, and are believed to help people cope with the death of a loved one in a more effective manner.

A celebration of life differs from a funeral in a few key ways, which we’ll explore in this post:

Intended emotions

Funerals are associated with mourning, sorrow and grief, whereas celebrations of life are designed to focus on the joy the deceased person brought to our lives, and the gratitude for the experiences we were able to share with them. The difference of intended emotion is what generally leads people to choose celebrations of life over funerals.

The structure of the event

Celebrations of life are a contemporary version of a memorial service, usually free of format or tradition, with celebration being the main focus. Generally at celebrations of life family members and friends will get together to share stories and look at photos of the deceased person. It is also common for family members to request charitable donations in lieu of funeral flowers from guests.

In contrast, a traditional funeral is much more structured. These usually combine religious and spiritual elements, which can vary depending on the beliefs of the deceased.

Presence of the body

One of the defining differences between a funeral and a celebration of life is the presence of the body. At a funeral, the body is usually present and displayed in an open or closed casket (depending on the wishes of the deceased and the religious beliefs of the family). At a celebration of life, the body of the deceased is absent. This means that the event can take place any time after the person’s death, that there are no restrictions on the location, and that is it a significantly less sombre affair.

In recent years the practice of having celebration of life events for someone who is sick with a terminal illness has become increasingly popular. End of life celebrations usually involve the gathering of friends and family, and together they celebrate the life and achievements of the terminally ill individual and get together as a group, possibly for the last time.

Location of the event

Generally, traditional funerals are held in funeral homes or places of worship, depending on the religious beliefs of the deceased. On the other hand, a celebration of life can be help anywhere. Many people choose to have celebrations of life at the home of the deceased, but many choose to cherish the memory of their loved one by meeting in a place where the deceased loved one liked to visit or spend time. This could include a park, restaurant, or another special location.

Ultimately, whatever you or your loved one chooses to do depends on a variety of factors, and it’s important to keep those in mind when planning the appropriate kind of memorial service.

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