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Alternative Celebrations of Life

What picture comes to mind when you think of a funeral?

Most of us probably imagine family and friends attending a service at either a crematorium, church or, maybe, at a natural burial ground, which is often followed by a wake, or gathering of some sort, at the home of the deceased or at a pub.

I'm sure that we've all attended funerals that match the description above as they are the 'norm' as it were. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But I'm here today to tell you that there are other options. Options are important. They are important in all areas of our lives, but we don't always realise that we have them when it comes to making arrangements for our loved one's, or indeed our own, final farewell.

Did you know, for example, that you can choose your own celebrant, just like you would for a wedding or any other ceremony, that you do not have to have the one suggested to you by a funeral director? That you can hold a funeral or Celebration of Life anywhere (with the owners permission and where you have easy access for a coffin)? That you can create a completely bespoke 'send off' for your loved one?

Neither did I until I became a celebrant and started to look more deeply into meaningful ways to celebrate the lives of others, but families ARE increasingly choosing alternative approaches, with a Celebration of Life as the main part of the farewell.

This blog is here to explore with you just a snippet of the art of crafting meaningful celebrations centred entirely around the unique lives of our loved ones. It is about shifting our mentality in the way we think about death, and celebrating life, and how it 'should' be done.

Personalising the Story

I was on a training course many years ago, and something the trainer said has stuck with me ever since. He said that, at the end of our lives, our time on Earth is marked with our year of birth and our year of death but, in between the two dates, is a dash. It is the dash that matters... that tiny dash represents all of the years in between the two dates, all of the people we've ever met, all of our experiences, all that we are. Wow! That tiny dash is really important!

With that in mind, how will you celebrate your loved one's dash when the time comes? Think about how they lived their lives, the people that mattered to them, their loves and hobbies, their quirks, their achievements, the things that brought them joy - big and small, the uniqueness that made them who they were.

  • Did they love being outside? Could you hold their Celebration of Life in their

favourite place to visit? If that's not possible, could you replicate it? Alternatively, could friends and family meet there before or after the Celebration of Life to raise a toast and share memories?

  • Were they a dog lover? Instead of flowers on top of their coffin, could you put a dog's lead and photos of their pet dogs over the years?

  • Did they belong to a choir or play an instrument in a band? Why not invite that choir or band to sing or play at their Celebration of Life?

Stepping Beyond Tradition

What can a Celebration of Life include? Pretty much anything you'd like! You can decide to keep it as traditional as you wish, or do away with it altogether. A celebrant can help you create a ceremony, with your vision at the heart of it, and will be there on the day to lead it as you wish.

Along with the more traditional readings of poems and personal tributes, you could consider some of the following more personalised elements...

  • Everybody to bring along something that reminds them of your loved one

  • Waving glow sticks while having a sing-along to their favourite song

  • Handing out packets of seeds of forget-me-knots or a favourite flower or plant

  • Writing messages on a cardboard coffin

  • Blowing bubbles

  • Waving sparklers

These are just a few ideas but, with a bit of imagination and creativity, many more could be created.

So, you have a vision of what you would like to include in your loved one's Celebration of Life, but where would you hold it? I mentioned at the beginning that you can hold a Celebration of Life ceremony pretty much anywhere you like, so long as you have the permission of the venue owner and have access for a coffin (if it will be present). Here are just a few examples of where you could hold a Celebration of Life...

  • Barn

  • Village hall

  • Pub

  • Hotel

  • Back garden

  • Field

  • Wooded area

Piecing it all Together

Of course, a body still needs to be disposed of and, for more or less every one of us, that is going to be done either at a crematorium or by being buried at a burial ground (there are other options and others are in the pipeline, but that's for another day), but you have the choice of how and when (to a degree) with the support of your funeral director.

For example, you could have your loved one at their Celebration of Life at a hotel. They could then be taken back to the funeral director's overnight and transported to a crematorium for a service, either a full one, un/attended committal or direct cremation, or for a burial, the following day.

Alternatively, if you know what time the cremation or committal will be taking place, you could arrange for your celebrant to begin the Celebration of Life at your chosen venue at the same time.

The options are limited only by lack of understanding or imagination!

In conclusion, as a celebrant, I am dedicated to crafting Celebrations of Life, considering the possibilities offered by alternative settings and unconventional approaches.

Let's embark on this journey together, ensuring that every celebration is a unique and authentic reflection of the ones we've lost, regardless of the chosen approach or venue.

I hope this blog has given you a tiny insight into what a Celebration of Life could look like and some of the options available.

If you would like to know more, please do follow me on my socials or contact me via my contact form. I'm always happy to discuss ideas or questions you may have.


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