How Do You Want Your Life To Be Celebrated?

When my step father died we asked the priest we, as a family, had known for years to conduct the funeral. He apologized and said church rules were that he could not do a service in a church because it “wasn’t his church.” He didn’t have a church because he worked in a hospital. SO Don’s funeral was in a church that our family used to attend but conducted by a priest we didn’t know, who didn’t know us. It was a cold, impersonal service, an official, traditional church “send off” but not particularly comforting. 
Five months later my mother died and we were considering funeral options. We definitely didn’t want a reoccurrence of Don’s non-comforting experience. My sister and I contacted our hospital priest friend and asked if he could do some kind of a service at the funeral home. He said yes BUT he would be on call and at the last minute may not be available, that we should have a back up plan.

We did just that.  As a family we planned what to say, what to read, who to share, when to open it up for anyone to share. We were so pleased with our finished service that we told Father B. we didn’t need him for the service. We would do our own funeral at the mortuary and, if available, would he meet us at the cemetery for an interment blessing? He agreed.

We, a family of daughters and son, grandchildren, cousins, nieces, and nephews, shared our love and appreciation for the matriarch of the family. We did it our way, with our words, our stories, our and others sharing. It was the best funeral I have ever gone to—-and I’ve been to many.

Our grieving began long before Dorothy’s death while we were still grieving Don’s death. Coming together with the purpose of planning a funeral service channeled our grief in a productive way. It gave us not just something to do, together, but gave us a creative outlet for the emotions we were feeling. Not only were we creating something of significance to us, we were doing it together, as a family, as a unit. Most of the time we lived in different states and had different lives. We were bonded by family but were separate in living. This was a way of coming together, of rekindling that love and unity that symbolizes family.

You really can’t call what we did a home funeral —-because it wasn’t in any of our homes BUT it was an “outside the box” funeral. It gave us control over the content. SO often in our grief and our traditions we do what is expected of us—call a funeral company, have a visitation then a church service or skip the visitation and church service and have a Memorial service with a picture of the deceased. That is what tradition expects of us. That is how, without thinking about it, we follow burial traditions.  

In the last few years I've been hearing of celebration of the Life parties, often in restaurants or bars. Some people even have Before Death funerals where the person has not died yet and attends to hear the honors given and celebrate their life. Also, in-home bathing of the body, keeping the body at home with no embalming, and in-home visitations are occurring. Choices in how the body is interred, cremated or otherwise disposed are also broadening.

What is the purpose of my writing this? To suggest that as part of our Advanced Directives we can ask for the kind of service we would like. I'm writing this also to give us all permission to “break the rules,” to think outside the box, to find a meaningful way of celebrating a life, of saying goodbye. 

Something More about...  How Do You Want Your Life To Be Celebrated?

My book, The Final Act of Living: Reflections of a Long-Time Hospice Nurse I go into detail about Advanced Directives and other topics that we need to address before our final act of living. 


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Hi Michael, I hope we are learning we can create a meaningful memory as we say goodbye. That how we create the memory is in our hands and not that of others telling us how we have to do it. Thank you for sharing. Blessings! Barbara

Michael Duffy

The longer I do this work the more stories I hear about what can’t be done for a funeral due to this rule or that policy. When my parents died within 8 months of each other we asked the Hospice Chaplain to do the service. It was done at the funeral home. They were “outside the box” services and we did it our way. I highly recommend doing it yourself or asking a Hospice Chaplain.

Maria F

My husband & I were pastors of a church, and we discussed how we wanted our memorials to be handled when the God called us home to be with Him. I told my husband that it was my desire for him to perform my memorial service. I wanted my husband to celebrate my life in his loving way. His memorial was going to be officiated by a minister that he knew, since he knew I would be too emotional to handle such a request. As it turned out, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. He told me that he desired “me” to perform his memorial service, which I had never done. I also felt I would be too emotional to handle this responsibility. In my heart, I knew I was to perform his celebration of life to grant his desire. I prepared as best I could, always remembering how my husband handled it in past times for church members. I prayed God would give me strength to fulfill my husband’s request, whom I loved so deeply. God was faithful, and I was able to officiate the Memorial Service for my beloved husband with the prayers and songs I knew truly celebrated his life. I was thankful my niece helped. As I read your article, I look back, and am so thankful and filled with joy that I fulfilled my husband’s request of my officiating his Memorial Service in his honor & memory. Thank you for your eye opening article. To anyone contemplating officiating a service for a loved one, I recommend it without any reservations. Sincerely, Maria F
BK Books replied:
Hi Maria, thank you for sharing how you did your husband’s  memorial service. In sharing you are giving others courage to think creatively about a more personal celebration of life. Blessings! Barbara 


Hi Carol, always good to hear from you. Hope all is well. Thanks for sharing your experience with your father-in-law and then your parents—very similar to my experience. I’m thinking there are many people that could have had a more meaningful service if they only knew they could.
Blessings! Barbara

Carol Cowan Harris

When my new father-in-law died his family had his funeral mass at the local church. He was not someone who attended weekly, but he was a Catholic. The priest, in his comments about the deceased, said, “Don’t be like Mr. _____ and make your next visit to church be like this one.” I was finished with that man and his church.
My parents died in a plane crash, we had no bodies because the plane crashed in the Atlantic Ocean and the remains had to be identified. The local funeral home donated their two largest rooms for mementos, photos, their baby shoes, Dad’s carved birds, etc. Hundreds of people came to share memories in a beautiful way.

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