A celebration of life is a more modern way of sending someone off after they’ve died. Unlike funerals which have a more somber atmosphere, celebrations of life are more joyous and are focused on cherishing the memories and the life that was.
Because celebrations of life have a more fluid structure, it can be difficult to know what to expect and how you’re supposed to behave. These events can be very different from one another, and no etiquette rules are set in stone.
If you’ve never attended a celebration of life before or just want to brush up on your essential etiquette, let us help you. This article outlines the appropriate attire, tasteful gift ideas, a few things you might say, whether you should bring flowers, and more.
What Happens at a Celebration of Life Event?
Knowing what to do, say, or bring to a celebration of life can be tough. After all, the deceased’s family chooses the tone and manner of celebration. They can be formal (almost funeral-like), semi-formal, or completely informal events that focus on the sharing of anecdotes and stories about the deceased. They can also be combined with religious and spiritual customs.
The proper etiquette will thus largely depend on the type of event that the family members want. Remember, the idea is to celebrate the life of the departed, not their absence. In general, you’re encouraged to share your thoughts and memories with family and friends in attendance.
It’s wise to note that some cultures use the terms celebration of life and funeral interchangeably. Admittedly, this can make knowing which etiquette to follow even more confusing. If the invitation doesn’t make the tone of the event clear, here are some general guidelines you can follow for almost any event.
What To Say
A celebration of life is joyous. This means that what you say during a celebration of life will be different from what you’d say at a funeral. To express sympathy, you should focus on:
- The bond you shared with the deceased
- The special moments in the course of your relationship with them
- The impact they had on your life
- Stories, anecdotes, and quips that defined them
- And finally, express your gratitude for having known them
How To Say It
Now that you have some ideas on what to say, here’s how you can do it respectfully:
- Time it well. Don’t enter a celebration of life and start talking about the deceased right away. Give the family time to reflect on the life of their loved one.
- Allow others to offer their sentiments and share their memories. Don’t hog all the time of the grieving family regardless of how close you are to them.
- Stay on the subject and focus on the positives when talking about the deceased. Avoid recounting negative emotions and situations.
- If you find yourself lost for words, settle on giving a family member you feel close to a hug. Physical touch can say a lot when words won’t suffice.
What To Wear
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to attire for celebrations of life. This means you’re at liberty to wear something bright and colorful in memory of the person who passed away.
While the event focuses on celebrating a loved one’s life, you should not treat it as an all-out party. Despite its more festive mood, it still isn’t devoid of grief.
Typically, the family will specify the dress code on the invitations or the funeral home’s website for attendees to see. Some clothing themes that are commonly used are the deceased’s favorite color, their favorite sports team, or be based on their personality.
For example, if the deceased loved a certain football team, you may be asked to wear the team’s jersey to commemorate the event. Keep an eye out for instructions like this to avoid looking out of place at the event.
What if no dress code was specified? In the absence of a dress code, stick with semi-formal funeral attire; however, avoid wearing black. It gives off the wrong vibe and goes against the atmosphere of a celebration of life.
Navy, grey, and other muted colors are good options. As long as you’re dressed modestly, you don’t have to worry about dressing disrespectfully.
What To Gift
Keepsakes made from the ashes of the deceased like jewelry, glass art, necklaces, and paperweights are appropriate for funerals. But what should you bring to a celebration of life?
Gifts aren’t required in celebrations of life. However, if you’re close to the family and don’t want to arrive empty-handed, you can absolutely bring a gift. Here are some ideas to inspire you:
- A personal letter to show the family they’re in your thoughts
- A donation to a charity or cause that’s close to the heart of the deceased
- Plant a tree in honor of the person who passed
- Bring photos, CDs of their favorite songs, or something that guests can eat or sip while reminiscing
Bringing a gift to a celebration of life event is a thoughtful gesture. Unless the family mentions “no gifts” in their invitations, you’ll do well by taking a sympathy gift with you.
Flowers: Big Yes or Hard No?
Should you bring flowers to the family? While it’s a traditional way to pay your respects, bringing flowers can darken the mood of a celebration of life. Sometimes invitations to such events will say that it’s okay to bring them. However, if it isn’t explicitly mentioned, refrain from bringing flowers as they’re too closely associated with funerals.
If you really want to give flowers, have them sent to the home of the family but not during the celebration of life and certainly not at the venue. Should you choose to go this route, you don’t have to stick to traditional whites. If the family enjoys vibrantly colored flowers, go ahead and send them richly colored roses, carnations, gladioli, chrysanthemums, etc., along with a personal note.
When in Doubt
Every celebration of life is different. If you find yourself conflicted on how to act and what to say, follow the lead of the grieving family. If they’re laughing while reminiscing, feel free to jump on the bandwagon.
If a celebration of life borders on mourning and reflection, stick to typical funeral etiquette. Always take your cues from your hosts and take care not to go overboard in your laughter or grief.