Soulful Celebrations

by John M. Stuart, MSW

A tree of life

A memorial service can be a reflective celebration of life. Participants come together, celebrating fond remembrances and uplifting influences the deceased has imprinted on the fabric of their lives. 

Closure comes when we allow ourselves to mourn our loss, releasing the physical manifestation of those we love. With time, we spiritually reconnect, remembering treasured moments. Scattering cremated remains from an urn for ashes or releasing a balloon bouquet into the air is symbolic of letting go, gaining much needed closure. Wearing a necklace urn is a personal memorial, keeping fond memories of the deceased near to our heart. Such a remembrance is also part of closure.

Choosing a soulful cremation urn

Selecting a memorial cremation urn, cremation keepsake or casket is almost always one of the first items on the agenda when planning a memorial celebration. Now, more than ever, we're memorializing with creative personal touches. Color schemes, food and music can trigger specific memories of the deceased. Even selecting the memorial urn or casket can be personal and creative. Custom urns and cremation keepsakes can be designed to be reflective of those we're memorializing.  

I recently attended a memorial celebration for my dear friend, Bud Barns. In addition to the traditional eulogy, there were some simple but very creative touches, recalling a life well lived for 86 years. I had to wonder who planned such a celebration that, at times, seemed more like a party. Of course, the colorful personality of my departed friend had a hand in pre-planning his own soulful send off.

I first noticed all of the male family members, including grandchildren, who wore neck ties with Brigham Young University (BYU) insignias. After inquiring about this distinguishable clothing accessory, I discovered Bud was a die-hard BYU football fan, never missing a home game. This may seem insignificant, but for over 130 children and grandchildren, it was a lifetime of cherished memories, cheering their favorite team with their beloved father and grandfather.  With BYU being his alma mater, the university's colors (blue & white) were used as the primary color scheme for tablecloths, napkins and flowers decorating the tables.

Expecting to find traditional funeral potatoes and ham on the buffet table, I found Bud's favorite comfort foods, pizza and root beer floats. He also loved to dance, especially with his bride of sixty years who preceded him in death.  Family and friends were invited to remember him by dancing to his favorite 1940's big band tunes. Photographs were incorporated into a life review multi-media presentation. Instead of the traditional hearse, a favorite family heirloom, a horse drawn carriage, transported the casket to the small town Kanab City Cemetery in majestic Utah.

With all of its personal touches, this unique memorial celebration offered an insightful journey into a life deserving of nothing less than a celebration.

In addition to the creative memorial ideas already mentioned above, here are a few more ideas:

  • Create a memory table with favorite hobbies and interests. This is a great place to put pictures and other memorabilia. A bowl of your loved one's favorite candy can be positioned on the table.
  • Have someone distribute 3x5 cards (memory cards) before the service for friends and family to write a special memory or thought of the deceased. These thoughts can be shared at an "open mic" during the service. For a closure ritual, cards can be put inside the cremation urn or casket.
  • Create a memorial website with pictures, stories and videos. Visit a memorial website to learn how you can create your own.
  • Read about planning a memorial service or life celebration - something might pique your interest.


John Michael Stuart, MSW has been a social worker since 1997. He has worked in nursing home, hospice and home health settings, including one of the nation's largest Social HMO demonstration projects where he coordinated care between physicians, patients and their families. John has had cerebral palsy since birth and has authored Perfect Circles, Redefining  Perfection. He is also a public speaker and currently works as a home health social worker in Las Vegas.  


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