How do you celebrate the life of a departed loved one?

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Sometimes a religious service, or flowers, or candles aren’t enough. But sometimes they are. How do YOU find comforting in celebrating ones life? (Photo by Medill News21CC BY 2.0
This past Sunday night my mother lost her life to Kidney Cancer. She was a wonderful person and I want to throw a celebration of life for her in the coming month. We are having a traditional Catholic mass for her but since that is not my faith, I know that it will not be a satisfying goodbye for me.

The Offbeat Empire has been there for many of my life stages, I hope the community can be here for me now as well. I’d love any advice and guidance from those who have lost a loved one and have chosen to do an event to celebrate their life. — Liset

Many traditions and faiths honor the passing of loved ones with rituals and celebrations. These are meant to help friends and family mourn by enjoying happy memories. A celebration of life is a wonderful way to say goodbye.

When my grandmother passed, we held a Catholic mass for her, too. It was beautiful to see how many people came to pay their respects and how many lives she’d touched. At the same time, it wasn’t really closure for me, either. That came later.

Our family gathered at my uncle’s home and settled into couches and familiar stories, tall tales and tearful laughter, recalling many cross-country moves as a military family, her trademark no-nonsense wit, and times she’d put each of us in our place with humor and grace. It was healing for all of us to share our stories, laugh, and remember so many bright spots in our lives with her. As the afternoon turned into evening, we ate together, a potluck of extended family specialties that were truly comfort food, and broke out the Irish whiskey.

All this is to say that celebrating life is exactly what you make of it. There are no set guidelines or rules to follow — whatever you and your family are comfortable with is just right. Some people gather at a familiar hearth and share stories. Others rent out a hall and throw open the doors to colleagues and far-flung friends. Favorite foods, music, or drinks may be shared in memory of your loved one.

You might decide there are words you need to say, or you might just let the words of others comfort you. If you’re inclined to collect photos and pass them around to set the scenes for your stories, do just that. If you’d rather set them in a display, do just that. If a guestbook of some kind would give you more comfort later, consider the kinds of alternatives that have been meaningful for people in other life stages. Autographing a treasured recipe book, signing an old guitar, or scrawling memories onto squares for a quilt might give you a tangible keepsake from the celebration of your loved one’s life.

Finally, find a release to help you find your goodbye. Maybe it’s sealing a letter, letting go of a balloon, burning a candle, or just saying it out loud. Maybe it’s something else entirely. Your release is a personal expression, and it’s ok to make it a private one if that’s your comfort zone.

Homies, let’s help each other heal — how do you celebrate the life of a departed loved one?

Comments on How do you celebrate the life of a departed loved one?

  1. My father passed away when I was young, and for a long time I was not able to really grieve that loss. I had to get to a point in my life when I was able to understand myself, my circumstances, and how to go through the process of grief before I could “celebrate his life” in a meaningful (to me) way. I didn’t have the tools to emotionally deal with his death when it occurred, so I had to find them later. Books, counseling, and support networks have been extremely helpful to me.

    What I do now is incorporate his memory into my regular day to day life. I have pictures of him and us around the house that make me smile. I have a few sentimental objects, like a coin collection that I pull out and look through every once in a while. When something comes up in conversation with friends that reminds me of him I share that story with them. If there’s a show on tv that makes me sad because a loved one dies in the story I will allow myself the few minutes I need to feel that sadness and cry, even sob.

    I’ve learned that grief is not something that I do once and then get over it and move on. I can give myself the time and patience I need to grieve a loss, and I know that those same feelings will probably creep up again from time to time, just as potent as they ever were. Today I can recognize that and honor myself and my father enough to let those feelings flow while not dwelling in them.

  2. My husband passed away suddenly and unexpectedly 4 1/2 months ago.
    His birthday would have been yesterday.
    I didn’t want to let the day pass by, ignored.
    But I also didn’t want to pour through photos and cry myself into a wreck.
    I decided to do “what felt right”.
    If he had been here, alive and well, I would have made him a great birthday dinner and invited family and friends over.
    And that’s exactly what I did.
    The same menu choices I would have made for him: all his favorites.
    Spared no detail.
    Even a cake – though no candles and didn’t have his name or ‘birthday’ on it (we all knew why we were there)
    I had a photo of him on his last birthday holding up a bottle of his favorite spirit (he only had a drink a couple times a year) so I had that photo, and a bottle of the same spirit, and we all had a silent toast (again, we all knew why we were here – saying anything would have just caused more tears) and a drink.
    I still cried after everyone left, but how I chose to honor the anniversary of his birthday just felt so right.

    • I thought this post was supposed to be about “how to celebrate the birthday of a deceased loved one”, but there are so many posts here about what people did for the funeral/celebration of life, I guess I can add mine in too.

      So like I said, my husband passed away suddenly 4 1/2 months ago.
      Because it was unexpected, I had no pre-arranged plans about funerals or anything like that…I’m only in my mid-30s; I’ve never had to deal with anything like this before and was overwhelmed.
      Although together for nearly 13 years, my husband and I never made black and white, clearly written, detailed instructions as to how we wanted our final affairs handled, although we both had talked casually about it many times.
      I felt I had to do what he would have liked, and did my best to do so.
      He was cremated, which was helpful as then there is no immediate rush to plan for a funeral.
      I chose to bury him in our garden, under a pink chestnut tree that we had planted together on one of our first dates.
      I knew he didn’t want to be interred in a lonely cemetery; this way he got to stay “home”.
      I made a memorial stone for him out of cement and decorated it with scores of beach stones that the two of us had gathered over the years of hiking and camping (we had saved them in a can in the garage).
      It felt much more personal, special and appropriate than something you could buy.
      To give all family and friends the opportunity to be able to attend, I chose a date 1 month after his passing to hold a “Celebration of Life” here at our house.
      He designed and built this house.
      He was born on this property too (it belonged to his grandmother).
      He loved entertaining here at the house and we hosted family birthdays and Christmas parties here.
      I felt it appropriate to have the celebration of his life here as well.
      It was a LOT of work to prepare the house for this, and easily consumed 14 hours a day for the next 30 days.
      But being so busy was helpful to me.
      I completely cleared out the garage and in the house, put away all our personal things, took everything off the walls, and basically stripped the house bare (that was actually really hard for me – it felt as if I had died as well and the house was being sold).
      The reason I did this was so that I could make up these huge banners and posters; with hundreds and hundreds of photos of my husband, all through his life, doing the things he loved best.
      I included all kinds of scrap-book type things…ski-pass, scuba diving certificate, trophies he had won for karate, awards for being a long-time volunteer…things like that.
      I wrote “little known facts” about his life on the poster boards with photos to back up the claims.
      Everywhere you looked, there was something to read, to look at…
      (The comments I heard most from guests was “wow, I didn’t know he did that!” or “look at these wonderful photos – this really tells the story of his life!”
      Then all the guests brought pot-luck, so there was lot of food.
      And I had a ‘memory book’ in which I encouraged guests to write a story (about my husband) or draw a picture or write anything they wanted.
      And I made a slideshow presentation on a USB and had it running continuously on two TVs in the house.
      I’m an amateur photographer and I easily had over a thousand photos of him that were clear and close and interesting.
      It was nice to just stand for a few minutes and look and see him, smiling and happy and full of life.
      And I opened the house to this celebration from 10am – 10pm…which was incredibly exhausting for me, but gave everyone a chance to attend.
      And the day was very well attended; it was also a bit of a blur for me.
      Everyone who came said it was incredibly appropriate, and they felt better after having come.
      They said they felt that he would have loved that day, and that all the photos and the Celebration being here at our house and taking the time to go through each room and learn more about him really gave them a sense of closure.
      Admittedly, it was difficult for me to take it all down afterwards (felt like the closing of a very personal museum) but that’s all part of the process.

  3. My son was stillborn and suddenly my world changed – dreams for a newborn were replaced by funeral, cremation and burial plans. Keeping a small portion of Athan’s ashes was important to us, because we didn’t know how to say goodbye. We wanted his memory to be kept in plain sight in our home, yet private at the same time. He is a part of our family and his cremated ashes are always in our living room. I am gratefully that I was able to love him. Everyday I thank him for that.

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