Funeral or Celebration of Life: What’s Right for Your Loved One?

Friday, May 20, 2022

There are many ways to honor a loved one’s passing.

From traditional funerals to festive celebrations of life, there is a service that allows you to pay tribute to the departed in just the right way. But what is the right choice for you and your family? Each type of farewell offers unique benefits.

To help you understand the differences between these services, we have created the following guide so you can make the most informed decision for your needs.

A different approach with the same underlying goal

Funerals and celebrations of life have much in common but they differ in their execution. Funerals are rooted in tradition while life celebrations reflect recent changes in social values. But ultimately, both ceremonies honor the life and memory of the departed. In addition, they both serve to support the bereaved and aid in the healing process.

Funeral basics

In the U.S., the most common funerary ceremony is the traditional funeral. It is usually held at a place of worship, funeral home, or some other meaningful location. Traditional funerals range from deeply religious to secular and often fall somewhere in between. They can be simple or elaborate affairs but the tone is always reverent. Traditional funerals generally include some or all of the following elements:

  • The visitation, or wake, gives guests the opportunity to pay their respects to the deceased and spend time with the family. The body is typically displayed in a casket (which may be open or closed. Visitation usually takes place the day of or the day before the funeral ceremony. 
  • The funeral service, or ceremony, is at the heart of a traditional funeral. Attendees gather to listen to readings from religious or literary works, give eulogies about the departed, and often participate in prayer.
  • There may be a committal service, during which the body is buried. A small number of guests, often just family members, attend the graveside burial. 
  • The reception is the last step of the traditional funeral. Following the committal ceremony, guests are often invited to a family member’s residence, to a special location at the funeral home, or to a restaurant to reminisce and share a meal. 

About celebrations of life

These services are usually casual and loosely structured. The general atmosphere is relaxed and even festive, with guests attending to rejoice in a life well-lived. A celebration of life may or may not include elements from a traditional funeral service, such as a viewing of the body or visitation, although the choice is entirely up to you. Here are some primary things to note:

  • These ceremonies are often personalized to reflect the preferences of the departed. They may include lively music, activities, favorite delicacies, special attire, and more.
  • Celebrations of life can take place at any time, providing more time for planning and more flexibility for guests.
  • The body of the deceased is typically not present. If they were cremated, however, an urn containing their ashes may be present.
  • These ceremonies are typically not held at a funeral home. Instead, the setting is often at a location that was meaningful to the departed, such as a house of worship, family home, park, beach, or restaurant.
  • Even though celebration of life ceremonies are more relaxed, the etiquette rules for funerals still apply. Lateness, disrespectful remarks, and boisterous behavior are not appropriate.

What’s right for your loved one?

If you had discussions with the departed about their memorial preferences, you may already know what kind of service to arrange. Or perhaps they said something along the lines of, “I want people to have a party when I’m gone.” In this case, a celebration of life would be appropriate. You could feature your loved one’s favorite foods, music, and activities. On the other hand, if your loved one tends to be traditional and religion was important to them, perhaps a funeral would be a better choice. If important to note that both celebrations of life ceremonies and funerals can be held successfully even if you are on a tight budget. Your funeral director will help you craft the perfect tribute to your departed loved one.

When choosing between a celebration of life ceremony and a funeral, it’s important to remember that neither choice is wrong. Honoring the departed and bringing your family and friends together is an act of love that will be crucial for your healing process.

Funerals and celebrations of life offer comfort and help the bereaved process their grief.  If you have questions or need to make end-of-life arrangements, the compassionate professionals at Vaughn Greene Funeral Services are here to assist you. Please contact us anytime. 

About Vaughn Greene Funeral Services: For more than 25 years, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has been providing a ministry of care to Baltimore’s African American community. As a leading local, minority- and family-owned provider, we promise to provide our highest level of service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved ones. For more information about our funeral, cremation, memorial, and repast services, please call us at 410.655.0015 or visit us online at

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