Memorial Services - Celebrations of Life

by J. Malec

Cremation ashes can be put into fireworks as a memorial.

Photo: Fireworks over Houston, Texas (LOC)


A Memorial Celebration Party

Death is universal – as we all know, it’s a fact of life. So if one’s life has been lived fully and well, why not celebrate that life as much as we mourn it?

If it’s your desire to have a memorial celebration, be sure your loved one’s know your wishes. Pre-planning advocates offer suggestions. The Party of Your Life website writes: “Your funeral is your last chance to express your best self, make a few demands, care for your loved ones, and say goodbye on your own terms.” The website encourages you to state specific wishes to close friends and family. In doing so, it becomes easier for those left behind to throw a party in alignment with the vision you’ve shared. Otherwise, it’s likely that a traditional service showcasing a cremation urn for ashes with a somber observation will occur.

For Some, Funeral Starts with "Fun"

Everyone has heard tell of the traditional “Irish Wake.” It is at least as much a party as it is mourning. The FuneralOne Blog describes the rite as follows: “Until modern times, Irish wake customs ran the gamut from profound grieving to what appeared to be rollicking good fun. There would be lots of food and plenty of drinks. People would come and socialize and remember the departed person’s life. This wasn’t a time for tears to say the least; it was more of a party than a funeral. It was the traditional Irish way of celebrating one’s life and ensuring that they had a good send off.”

Another entry on FuneralOne cites a number of growing businesses that specialize in celebrating lives well lived. The novelty businesses include a funeral home and winery in Naples, Florida; a drive-through funeral viewing services in California, Chicago and Louisiana; and even an Austin-based funeral home that identifies itself as the “Anti-Funeral Home.” Sarah Wambold, the director of this venture affirms that: “The truth is, if you’re not willing to put the ‘fun’ back in funeral, why bother? A funeral is supposed to be a celebration, and it’s time we let families know that’s what we’re here to do – to celebrate life.”

Memorial Services of Grieving and Celebration

Others disagree with the notion that memorial services should be fun. In an article posted in April 2015, Bel Mooney writes on that: “To me, the sharing of an awareness of mortality is essential, and therefore, surely it is a mistake to push it away? Yet people do try to push it away, and that explains the huge popularity of a poem by Canon Henry Scott Holland, Death Is Nothing At All. This, read enthusiastically at humanist and religious funerals alike, is to me a set of cheerful, nonsensical fibs.”

A celebratory funeral is intended to honor a life well lived. But many need to express their mourning and loss. To deny these feelings would short-change the complexity of emotions experienced by the loss of a loved one. So, can we do both? Absolutely!

With thoughtful preparation and planning, there is room for all forms of celebration and grieving at a memorial. While leaving the doors open to both sides may seem like a challenge, it is truer to human nature to embrace the complexities and quandaries of loss. Indeed, the party is for the living, and we can cry if we want to.

J. Malec is a visual artist and writer whose work often deals with themes related to loss and healing. She lives in Minneapolis, and spends much of her time practicing permaculture in the city.

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