Celebration of Life or Funeral: What’s the difference?

Celebration of Life versus Funeral

When a loved one dies, we look for the perfect way to honor their life. We also want to give those left behind a way to say goodbye. Traditionally, society has turned to funeral services that are based on religious or cultural traditions as a way to pay tribute.

But times change. As the world has become more mobile and less connected to organized religion, we have turned to a less formal, more personalized approach to commemorating the lives of our loved ones. In recent years we have seen the increasing popularity of Celebrations of Life instead of traditional funerals.

What is a Celebration of Life?

In broad terms, a Celebration of Life is simply a ceremony that is designed to commemorate the life of someone who is no longer living. It typically does not follow particular religious rites or requirements, and the body of the deceased is not present. There are no prescribed rules for when or where to hold the event or what elements to include. Instead, what takes place is explicitly tailored to the wishes of the deceased or his or her family and friends.

Visit our Creating a Celebration of Life Page for tips on how to plan a Celebration of Life

What is a Funeral?

The term funeral generally refers to a formal ceremony where the body of the deceased is present. A funeral commonly occurs within a few days of the person’s passing and takes place at a house of worship or a funeral home. The ceremony will follow an order prescribed by faith or custom.

What about Memorial Services?

When we think about memorial services, we typically think of a traditional funeral without the body present since that is how society has historically defined a memorial service. Not having the body present allows for more flexibility but the service includes the elements of the traditional funeral.

How are Funerals and Celebrations of Life Different?

For many people, the critical difference between funerals and celebrations of life is the focus. Funerals often emphasize religious and cultural rites and rituals that highlight grief. That is not to say that the life of the deceased is not commemorated, but the eulogy or storytelling is not necessarily central to the ceremony. A celebration of life, on the other hand, typically spotlights the person’s life positively and joyously. A celebration of life also allows room for creativity in defining the ceremony. What takes place at a celebration of life does not follow a specified order. What is included is entirely up to those designing it.

Which is Better—A Funeral or a Celebration of Life?

A developing trend in the funeral industry is the personalization of the funeral service. As time goes by we will likely see less distinction. It is not uncommon to find services today that include elements of both the traditional funeral and the more freewheeling celebration of life. The important thing to remember is that when it comes to designing an end-of-life ceremony, there is no right or wrong answer. The best service is the one that is right for you and your family.

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