Comparing a Celebration of Life to a Funeral

By the time you reach your 50s or older, you’ve likely been to at least a few funerals, and you might have experienced a range of end-of-life ceremonies. Traditionally, funerals are somber. Grieving loved ones gather for the memorial service and then again near the grave as their family member or friend is laid to rest. Dark clothing, greens and flowers, and tear-filled elegies are common. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the traditional funeral — and some people find the tradition and the formality cathartic — many people are opting for a celebration of life instead.

What Is a Celebration of Life?

During a celebration of life, those present reflect on the lost loved one’s life in a way that is less heavy and sorrowful and more joy-filled and celebratory. While that doesn’t exclude tears, it does usually remove a reliance on dark clothing, formal settings and mournful songs and ceremony. During a celebration of life, individuals tell funny or interesting stories about their loved one, rejoice in what that person accomplished and share the person’s favorite foods, songs, or activities. Celebrations of life are not limited in style or format; at a traditional funeral, someone might tell a story about how the deceased enjoyed a good cookout. A celebration of life might actually be held at a cookout in the deceased’s memory.

New Trends in Funerals

Modern celebrations of life are evolving with their own rituals, which are often much more flexible than those associated with traditional services. Flexibility affords families numerous benefits.They can enjoy a memorial that leaves them with positive closure and in a manner that matches financial capability. Celebrations of life can also be tailored to the personality and life of the person who passed away, making them more meaningful to those who are left behind.

One popular trend is for an at-home celebration. Families can celebrate loved ones in a more intimate and comfortable setting that lets them truly share their feelings, grieve in a way that is both personal and positive, and engage with loss more fully to reduce the difficulty coping in future weeks and months. If you are planning your own end-of-life services, it’s understandable that you want your wishes followed. But one of your wishes might be to make the time more bearable for those you leave behind, and an at-home funeral might be right for your family.

Not every family has a home appropriate for a celebration of life, especially if many people are likely to attend a service. You also want to consider whether a celebration in the home puts undue stress or work on anyone. Families can work with professionals, such as those at Neptune Society, to plan for what is known as a participatory funeral, which involves loved ones in every stage of planning and implementing a celebration.

No matter what type of service is planned, one common trend across the nation is the chance to personalize arrangements. Obviously, funerals have always been somewhat personal, but today you can create services that are completely unique. It’s common to see customization around hobbies, careers or even favorite movies or books. Customization can extend to the casket or urn, decorations in the facility, presentations at the memorial service, displays outside of the service, or how the attendees engage with each other during the event.

What Role Does Cremation Play?

Another difference between traditional funerals and celebrations of life is that often a person chooses to be cremated. Cremation provides versatility for life celebration and closure that a traditional burial cannot. First, for those who desire it, cremation provides a way for loved ones to symbolically keep a person in their lives. Whether family members keep remains in a traditional urn or opt for jewelry that holds a small amount of ashes, the symbolic presence afforded by cremation is often soothing to those dealing with grief.

Cremation also enhances your choice for a celebration of life. Instead of your loved ones gathering in a funeral home, they could gather at your home, your favorite park, or a seashore. The site you or they pick for your celebration of life can be enjoyable and relaxing without belittling their grief or love of you. Cremation also provides a chance at a meaningful act of closure that many people appreciate. People have scattered ashes in favorite locations or at sea, added ashes to a family garden, or even buried urns in special locations. The requirements for burying an urn of ashes in one’s yard are very different from burying a casket, allowing widows or widowers to keep a spouse’s remains in a lovely home backyard memorial if desired.

Why Go Nontraditional?

Ultimately, the decision about your funeral or celebration of life is a very personal one. You shouldn’t go nontraditional simply because it’s trendy. Choose a nontraditional celebration of life, with or without cremation, because it’s how you want to be remembered, or because you believe that it would be most emotionally helpful for your loved ones.


The Neptune Society is the nation’s oldest and largest provider of affordable cremation services. Whether you have an immediate need or want to plan cremation services in advance, we are always available to assist you and your family.

Call 1-800-NEPTUNE (800-637-8863) today or contact us online to learn more.