“All rituals on earth are healing gestures. They are symbolic performances which heal psychic wounds and help us make the great transitions in life.”Marie-Louise von Franz, The Way of the Dream
An End of life ceremony can help create meaningful opportunities for those facing death and their loved ones to express what they’re holding and come together as a community. It can also help support people on their individual grief journeys.
Our Western society hasn’t properly prepared us for grief. We are accustomed to honoring life stages such as birth and marriage — but what about death? Be Ceremonial is committed to shifting the narratives surrounding death, dying, and grief by bringing more awareness to the power of ritual regarding our mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing.
In recent years, there has been a growing change in the way families and friends honour deceased loved ones. In 2015, a survey of 2,000 people in the UK reported that 54% wanted their funeral to be a celebration of life rather than a traditional funeral.
Whether you’re planning a celebration of life for your loved one or for yourself, we’ll go through everything you need to know about how to make this ceremony unique and meaningful, including a few samples of the hundreds of secular and universal rituals we offer in Be Ceremonial.
Celebration of Life, Memorial Service, or Funeral: What’s the difference?
A celebration of life creates space for both the grief from losing someone and the gratitude we hold for having shared experiences with them. With a focus on lighthearted or informal rituals, the sky is the limit when re-imagining what a celebration of life can look like.
A memorial service is a ceremony that memorializes and mourns the deceased, typically after the body has been cremated or buried. It can take place in a funeral home, in a cemetery, in a special setting, or in the home of a loved one. Rituals tend to be more traditional and grief focused.
A funeral is typically held in a religious facility or funeral home, and the order of events follows a more traditional structure. Since a body is often present, funerals tend to take place soon after death.
Weaving storytelling and celebration into your ceremony
When creating an end-of-life ceremony before someone dies, invite them into the process if possible. Ask them: What moments stood out in your life? How do you want to be remembered? Where did you feel most alive in this world? If they’ve already died, find a way to bring their stories and values into the ceremony so that it feels like a personal reflection and celebration of who they were and how they lived.
With a focus on storytelling, meaningful music, personal items, and shared experiences, the following rituals can help you hold space for a range of emotions while also inviting new ways of carrying someone’s legacy forward.
Ritual Water Pour
Often referred to as a libation, pouring water or a drink of your choosing into the ground in memory of the deceased can be a lovely symbolic gesture.
Create a pathway of moments and memories to follow, honouring the life you’re celebrating with a meaningful walk. This can be indoors or outside in nature.
Take turns in sharing stories and memories connected to the person you’re honouring and make a toast after each one.
As the celebration of life draws to a close, invite a special sound, such as music, chimes, or a simple bell, to signify the completion of the ceremony.
It’s okay to ask for help
Planning a celebration of life while grieving a loved one is a difficult task that no one should have to do alone. We’ve curated a list of companies that could support you along the way:
- New Narrative Events is an event planning company based in Vancouver, BC, specializing in person, hybrid, and virtual celebrations of life around North America.
- Find a Life Cycle Celebrant through the Celebrant Foundation & Institute
- Keeper and LifeWeb 360 are online memorial platforms dedicated to memorializing the stories and memories of the departed.
- Memorials by Eirene and Solace provide online obituary service free of charge with their cremation services.
Taking matters into your own hands
Most of us don’t enjoy thinking about dying and what comes after. However, Be Ceremonial’s co-founder, Megan Sheldon fiercely believes that unless we learn to live with death, we will never be properly prepared.
“Make death part of a regular conversation instead of something that is so far away we just keep ignoring it,” says Megan.
Pre-planning your own end-of-life ceremony is the best way to make sure your wishes are met after your death and to ease your loved one’s emotional stress when dealing with grief. This process may even bring you comfort, clarity and closure.
If you would like some guidance to get started, we recommend Christa Ovenell, founder of Death’s Apprentice, who offers holistic, individualized advanced care planning workshops to help people prepare for death and consider what they would want at their own Celebration of Life.
We may not be able to control how or when we die, but we can decide how we want to be remembered and how our legacy is carried forward.
Create a Celebration of Life
Download the Be Ceremonial app for helpful tools on how to create a meaningful celebration of life ceremony. Simply follow our ritual framework to create a ceremony that’s unique and meaningful to you. Learn more about Be Ceremonial