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Traditional funeral or celebration of life?

Tue 5th Apr 2022

Organising an event following the loss of someone you love can be met with a mix of uncomfortable emotions. Try and find comfort in them, it will help you see it's a special time to honour your loved ones memory, giving thanks for their unique life. Grieving is also an important emotional process that helps you feel comforted when coming to terms with great loss.

Today, more people are moving away from the traditional funeral that is a formal event of mourning, filled with sombre and grief. Instead, families are shifting towards celebrations of life with a touch of personalisation, making the event as unique as they were.

If you've recently lost someone and you are unsure if you want a funeral or celebration of life, this article will aim to shed some light and help you come to a decision. Remember above all, nothing has to be a certain way and you are free to choose what you feel is right for that moment.

 What is the difference between a traditional funeral and a celebration of life?

The biggest difference between the two events is that a funeral service has the body present, whereas a celebration of life does not. A celebration of life is more relaxed and upbeat in comparison to a traditional funeral and the focus being more about celebration rather than mourning.

Each family is different and the beauty about society today is you have the freedom to pick and choose what is right for your particular situation. A family might hold a small gathering for a funeral service and have a celebration of life later with extended family and friends.  Some may decide to scatter their loved one's ashes in their favourite spot with just a few close friends.

What is a funeral?

Funerals are a tradition dating back thousands of years and are present in every culture and society on earth. They help people to mourn the loss of a loved one and bring friends and family together during times of great sadness. They encourage acceptance and healing and remind us of the natural emotion of grief as a journey.

What is a celebration of life?

Historically, we turn to religious traditions to provide us with a framework for funeral planning but while this is still important to consider, there are many secular ways to remember a loved one's life.

A celebration of life can be as unique as the loved one you have lost. They can be held after a funeral or instead of one altogether. They don't usually take place at a church or crematorium, but rather at a place that holds special significance. Unlike a funeral, there is no timeframe that needs to be adhered to, they can occur weeks or months after your loved one passes. More families are choosing the freedom that a celebration of life can offer, where they feel that a funeral service does not.

A celebration of life tends to focus on your loved one's personality, the happiness they brought to others and the life they lived. If a celebration of life as a single event has been chosen, it is normally a direct cremation beforehand where you can choose to have your loved one's ashes present in commemoration.

How do you decide?

It is not uncommon for people to consider end-of-life planning while they're alive, perhaps they shared some wishes with you about their chosen type of service. Were they the type to want to celebrate their life in a party situation, featuring their favourite music, food, activities etc? Or maybe religion was a big part of their life and a traditional service would be more suited to their wishes? There is no right or wrong way to remember your loved one, but it is important that their funeral should reflect the life they have lived.

You can begin planning by reaching out to others experiencing this loss with you and gather ideas about what your loved one would have wanted. You must start the process by setting a budget, as this will determine several decisions such as venue or guest list.

Ideas for personalisation

Consider all elements of the service, ranging from readings and music to surroundings and tangible memories, and ask yourself if these reflect the personality of their life.

A simple and popular way to personalise a memorial service is to encourage guests to wear the favourite colour of the deceased, instead of wearing the traditional black. You can continue to set the mood for the celebration by playing music from their favourite musician, movie or record collection. If you need some inspiration, read our article on the most Popular Funeral Songs here.

The possibilities are endless, which may feel overwhelming, but don't be afraid to ask for help to create the perfect send off for your loved one.

By Kirsten Jakubenko and Eliza Lake