Funeral directors will receive all kinds of requests from bereaved families when they are asked to arrange a funeral for a dearly departed loved one, and one request which has grown in frequency to a considerable extent in recent years is for non-religious or secular funerals, which are often referred to as a ‘celebration of life’.
In these kinds of funerals, the families, often taking their lead from a request made by their loved one before they passed, will seek to have a positive celebration for the deceased to recognise the life they lived, rather than a sad, black-tie, traditional funeral where the emphasis is often on grieving the loss.
Before we go any further, we do not say the former is any better. The point we must make is that any funeral should first and foremost be conducted based on the deceased’s prior wishes, should they have made any regarding their funeral. If not, then whatever the family chooses to make them feel that they have said farewell to their loved one in the best way possible is what counts.
However, we cannot escape the fact that celebrations of life are being requested more and more by families and especially for those who have passed away at a young age. Often, when someone younger passes, many of the people who attend within their family and friends are young too, and families feel that it would not be fitting to have a formal funeral, so they instead opt for a celebration of life.
That is not to say that celebration of life funerals are just for young people. For someone who has had a long and eventful life and who passes away in their 80s or 90s, it can be equally appropriate to recognise that long life with a non-religious celebration funeral where their loved ones can say their goodbyes.
So, let us examine in some detail what a celebration of life entails and what you can expect to see if you ever attend one. Firstly, a coffin, hearse, cars for the family, and flowers are needed for most funeral types so funeral directors will still be needed. The good news is your local funeral directors will be just as accommodating in helping to arrange a celebration of life funeral as they will a formal religious one.
The location where the celebration of life takes place is unlikely to be a religious building, given that this is a non-religious funeral. More likely they will take place at a crematorium, in a funeral chapel, or in another building deemed suitable. Even local halls, function rooms, and a person’s home can be where the celebration of life takes place with the obvious caveat about space and the number of people who will be attending.
Next, the person conducting the funeral will likely not be a religious leader, so some thought is required as to who will do so. Many funeral directors are happy to act in this role of ‘master of ceremonies’ although it could also be someone known to the deceased who is willing and confident enough to conduct the funeral service on behalf of the family.
Dress codes for celebrations of life are also not normally the traditional black suits and ties. It is prudent to advise those attending that the dress code is entirely down to them. Note there will still be some who feel obliged to wear a black tie out of respect and they should be allowed to do so. Otherwise, you can tell everyone that jeans and a T-shirt are fine if that is what you want, or more to the point, what you believe the deceased would want.
As for the service, it is not so much that anything goes, as there still needs to be some level of decorum. However, including music loved by the deceased, playing videos of them throughout their life, and allowing those who wish to speak about them the opportunity to do so can all form part of the celebration of life.
Some of the other basics in organising a celebration of life are similar to a traditional funeral such as the date and time, ensuring all who should or would want to attend are aware of the details, and of course, there is the wake, which could take place in the same building and will undoubtedly have its unique atmosphere to celebrate the life of the departed.