Planning a Loved One's Celebration of Life

Dear Barbara, My dad is on hospice and the end is approaching. I would like to get guidance on how to plan his celebration of life. He does not attend church and would hate a cold, uncaring service conducted by someone who didn’t know him.


Think with your heart. What would be appreciated and understood by your dad? What would be meaningful for those gathered to say goodbye? 

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Have an open casket, visitation gathering (which is helpful in our grieving). An open casket is more healing and personal than a closed casket or memorial service with a large portrait.
  • Dress Dad how he would normally dress. If that's more formal, fine. Just know it doesn't have to be a Sunday suit or dress-up attire if that's not his personality. Think golf clothes or favorite football team jersey. My own mother wanted to be in her robe. Said she was going to be asleep for a long time, might as well be comfortable.
  • Have family and friends share favorite stories about Dad.
  • Create a picture board with family photos of favorite events and memories. Put it on an easel (the funeral home will have one). This makes a great place to gather and share stories.
  • Create a playlist of favorite music and play from the overhead speaker system.
  • You don't need to have clergy present. You can do this yourself.
  • Make the flower arrangement special to you and the family. Maybe a rose for each family member, different colors for grandchildren. Again, be creative. It isn't how much you spend but what it says to you.
  • Part of the specialness of doing your own service/celebration of his life is the planning. The gathering of those who loved him gathered together deciding how to celebrate his love and life. That planning of the gathering will be as memorable for your family as the service itself. Don't let one person plan, make it a family, group effort. Healing is there. 

You get the idea. You can do anything you want to celebrate your dad's life. Be creative. What would Dad appreciate? How do you want to remember him?

Something More... about Planning a Loved One's Celebration of Life

Be sure to take part in bereavement support from your hospice. You and your family will benefit from their support.  I have a grief booklet, My Friend, I Care: The Grief Experience that can help you.  I also have other blog articles about grief if you need them.

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My mom loved Bing Crosby and the Bell’s of St Mary’s. We played that video over and over on her last day with us. We just knew it was the right thing to do.

Granny Jo

He was my Sweetheart husband of 54+ years and my dear friend of 64 years. Bob (Pops) was an avid outdoor sportsman. Ideally, he would have left this life on a fishing boat passing on his knowledge to his kids and grandkids; in a hunting blind with his son; or while either planting or harvesting his backyard vegetable garden. Near the end, our sons cleared a path through the woods behind our house and erected a wheelchair-accessible hunting “blind” with a nearby wildlife feeding station. They also built a ramp over our front porch steps. With the large wheelchair and comfort care that Hospice provided during his final six days, my Sweetheart was able to sit in the woods with his loving companions and also “meander” through his vegetable garden. On New Year’s Eve, I snuggled next to him. We listened to the New Year’s fireworks (2020), played his favorite songs, and prayed together. Previously, we forgave one another for any hurt we had caused. He told me, “This is going to be a lot harder on you than on me.” He stopped breathing several times during the day, seemed to revive, conversed with extended family, and even ate a stuffed bell pepper that one if our sons prepared. In the early hours of January 2, he asked God for a miracle. Soon after that, through a gurgling voice, he asked God to take him quickly. I watched in awe as his spirit floated away from his body. Our third son, Pops’ hunting and fishing buddy, sawed some plywood to create an insert across the seats of his dads’ pirogue. We padded the insert and brought the prepared “bed” to our funeral director. We provided Pops’ camouflage attire, his well-worn cap, his favorite pillow, and his soft, oversized camouflage blanket. He looked peacefully satisfied as he lay in his pirogue for visitation. Our “fashion minded” daughters asked everyone to wear camouflage clothing or jeans to the visitation and farewell. Because he requested cremation, we rented a casket into which my Sweetheart’s body was moved for the celebration of Mass. Our five living children and their spouses, and our seventeen grandchildren, all had a way to participate in preparing for their Pops’ farewell. I felt prompted to write this because of your comments about deciding how to dress a deceased loved one. Sorry if I got carried away. Barbara, I think of you as part of our family. I got to know and appreciate you when our Hospice director gave me a copy of “Gone From My Sight.” Another really helpful booklet is “Hard Choices for Loving People” by Hank Dunn. Thank you, Barbara, for being God’s hands and His compassionate voice. Jo Ann
BK Books replied:
Hi Jo Ann, thank you so much for sharing Bob’s last days with me and how
beautifully you celebrated his life. My blessings to you and your family.


My mother loved dancing, especially polkas. She asked for a specific song to be played at the end of the service and we encouraged people to polka their way out. There were definitely smiles.

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