A celebration of life is different from a funeral or traditional memorial service. This event is meant to be more of a party, honoring the life of the deceased and is therefore typically far less formal than funerals and memorial services.
A Celebration of Life
This event shouldn't solely be a party for friends of the deceased to get together and hang out, though that's certainly an aspect of a celebration of life. There needs to be references to the deceased within the event, whether that's playing their favorite songs or running a slideshow of photos of the deceased throughout the duration of the event. Reminders of the deceased's full, happy life should be prevalent but not overbearing at the celebration.
Timing of Celebration
A celebration of life has a less rigid timeline than a funeral does since the body is not present at the celebration. Some people choose a celebration of life event as a way to gather loved ones despite varying schedules and availability; for many, it's simply easier to attend a celebration of life scheduled a couple months in advance instead of attending a funeral that happens following the death. The other advantage to a celebration of life scheduled weeks or months after the death is that the raw emotions may have subsided a little as mourners work through their grief.
Choose the Location
The location for the celebration should be somewhere the deceased person would have loved in life, if possible. So while a church social hall is a perfect location for a parishioner who was an avid volunteer there, it's not the appropriate location for a young adult who hated stepping foot in the church. Gathering friends and family for a weekend camping trip as a celebration of life is great when the deceased loved the outdoors, but not a good idea when the deceased far preferred an urban environment. Bars, restaurants, and a private home are all appropriate for this celebration as long as they are places the deceased would have enjoyed visiting in life.
Getting the Word Out
Think of how the deceased would have invited people to a party; did they mainly contact people through social media or were they more prone to mail out official invitations? Use whatever method is most appropriate, ensuring it reaches the largest number of loved ones possible (people not on social media should receive a phone call or mailed announcement). One aspect of crafting the invitation to keep in mind is this: the invitation should not be the first notification of the person's death received. In other words, putting out a social media blast about the celebration when some friends and family members were not yet made aware of the death is in poor taste.
Celebrating the Loved One
A celebration of life is just as it sounds - loved ones gathering together to share memories and enjoy each other's company while remembering the deceased. It's not a formal affair and should be kept as informal as possible. Throw a party the deceased would have loved; make it feel as if it's the type of party the deceased would attend and smile at because it's just what they would have wanted. Serve their favorite food or drinks and decorate the way the deceased would have decorated for the same party were it thrown in their honor while alive.
Finger foods and light beverages are suitable for a celebration of life. Honor the deceased when selecting the menu; if the deceased was a vegan, meatballs and bacon-wrapped pears are poor choices. A full meal is also appropriate for these types of celebration. Offering food the deceased would have cooked in life - especially if they were known for certain dishes, can add another element to the celebration. If the deceased enjoyed imbibing in alcohol, it's fine to serve these drinks at the celebration as long as the crowd is largely comprised of people who can drink without causing a scene.
Making Attendees Comfortable
The key to a celebration of this kind is the word "celebration." This isn't the venue for people to break down and cry to the heavens about the injustice of death or the futility of life. If someone does get up to speak, it should be a quick, happy memory or a toast to a life well lived. Formal speeches or eulogies are more appropriate at funerals or memorial services. Strive to keep the vibe of the celebration celebratory instead of morose.
Gesture of Closure
A final instance of goodbye toward the conclusion of the celebration can help people process their grief and say goodbye to the deceased. Though some people like to release balloons, lanterns, or butterflies, these aren't considered good for the environment. Instead, planting a tree together or releasing flower petals down a stream or river can be better choices.
A Fitting Goodbye
Though it may feel contrary to celebrate a life that's already ended, it's a good way to honor someone after they're gone. Keep the ambiance upbeat and celebratory and save the decorum for the funeral.