What is a Celebration of Life Ceremony?

Published on December 3, 2012 by

This is a guest post by Maggie Rose Muldoon of Creative Celebrant

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What is the difference between a celebration of life ceremony and a traditional funeral or memorial service?

 The primary difference is that the celebration of life ceremony focuses on joy and gratitude for the life of the deceased. This being said, many memorials, and even funerals, have moved from the somber, dark and dreary affairs of the past to a more balanced focus between sorrow and joy. In many churches the color of vestments and décor is now white, rather than black, and music may be lighter and more joyful.

What happens at a celebration of life ceremony?

A celebration of life (CoL) can range from a more upbeat service to an all out party. The setting can be a church, home, park, beach, community center or any sort of facility. It will generally include a meal, anything from a picnic to a formal dinner. Dress can be casual, formal or festive. In many ways the CoL is similar to a birthday or anniversary celebration, except the one being celebrated is now deceased. (There can even be exceptions to this, which I will speak of later.)

What are some examples of celebration of life ceremonies?

My own interest in CoL ceremonies began when I was a teenager and my uncle died. Our family was very traditional Irish Catholic, but my aunt’s husband was not. He had requested before his death that instead of a funeral, he wanted to treat the whole family to dinner in a very nice restaurant. I thought this was an amazing and highly unusual approach, one I thoroughly enjoyed!

There have been several occasions while I was working as a parish minister that a memorial service became what I would classify as a CoL. In one case, we were planning a 90th birthday party for a long-time parishioner named Marjorie. She requested a local New Orleans style jazz band provide the music at the church service that morning, and at the party afterwards. We obliged and had a great time with the band playing “When the Saints Come Marching In,” and other gospel tunes in the service and later. It was a perfect party for this lively woman.

During the following year, Marjorie died and we followed through with our promise to have the band back again for her memorial service. There was very little difference in the two celebrations, the major one being the absence of Marjorie’s beautiful smiling face as she rocked back and forth to the music. But we knew she was there in spirit, having as much fun as she did on her birthday.

Can you have a celebration of life for someone who is still living?

Absolutely, and there are occasions when this is very appropriate, such as when someone knows he/she is terminally ill. Gathering family and friends for a CoL can be a wonderful thing for both the dying person and those who attend. This can also be done when someone like Marjorie reaches a significant birthday, like 90, 95 or 100.

Please follow this link for suggestions on how to plan a celebration of life ceremony.

Maggie Rose Muldoon is a retired minister who now works as a professional celebrant in Vancouver, BC. She works with clients to create personal, meaningful ceremonies for marriage, celebration of life, baby naming, coming of age, house blessings, vow renewals and more. You can learn more at http://www.creativecelebrant.ca.

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