Celebration vs Memorial?

. . . I’m falling apart, I’m barely breathing
With a broken heart that’s still beating . . .
. . . I’m holdin’ on, I’m still holdin’, I’m barely holdin’ on to you . . .

What is a Celebration of Life?

The celebration of life is also a way to say goodbye to a loved one, but instead of a formal ceremony, it’s a get-together with a more casual atmosphere. One of the primary differences between a funeral and a celebration of life is the lack of a body. The body of the decedent is buried or cremated before the service. The celebration of life is less formal, less structured, and doesn’t follow any religious rites and requirements. You don’t have to wear black, or somber colors at all, unless that is what makes you feel comfortable (now or at anytime, of course).

If you know anything about traditional Irish wakes, emotions there can range from profound grief to a merry and grand old time, you could think of this celebration of life as something like that. Maybe somewhere in between.

We don’t expect you to come and not be sad at all, but a celebration of life is just that, a celebration.

A Celebration of Life can help those of us left behind to mourn, but also to focus on positive aspects of Teresa’s life. We will share our experiences, stories, and memories of Teresa with each other. Support and console each other. We are celebrating Teresa’s life, not (just) mourning her death.

A Celebration of Life is often held weeks, or even months, after the person’s death. In my case, I put it off for two main reasons.

  1. We were having a terrible winter, with many surprise storms. I didn’t want anyone having an accident (or worse) trying to come to Roanoke.
  2. My grief was too raw to even think about talking about good times with T.

I finally settled on the 2nd weekend of June, because June is a month much more likely to have good weather, and it put the actual event in between our 6th wedding anniversary (June 5th)  and T’s 51st birthday (June 12th). I saw many suggestions to hold the celebration on a special day (like an anniversary), but that was a bit too much for me. I didn’t want to tie T’s celebration of life day to her birthday or our wedding anniversary. A date in between the two seemed okay, though. it put it on a weekend, and at a time where it looked like many kids would be out of school (for those of you with kids in the K-12 system).  Or, if not out yet, since I know winter weather and cancellations can wreak havoc on school calendars, at least allow it to fall on a weekend, and hopefully let you take a short trip to be here for T and for me. (Part of a Celebration of Life is also supporting the loved ones of the person who has died).

Author Barbara Kingsolver*, in her book The Poisonwood Bible, wrote “To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know.” We think this reflection is at the heart of planning a celebration of life. While a funeral has more to do with the orderly and often spiritually-defined; a celebration of life is more concerned with telling the story of the deceased. Celebrations of life are just that: a time people come together more to celebrate the unique personality and achievements of the deceased than to merely witness or mark the change in their social status.

Celebrations of life are similar to memorial services, which can be described as hybrid events; combining the flexibility of a celebration of life with many of the activities of a traditional funeral service.

There’s more room for creativity in a celebration of life than a funeral. Since celebrations of life are commonly held after the individual’s physical remains have been cared for through burial or cremation, there is much more time available to plan the event. And without doubt, this allows you to make better decisions about how you’d like to celebrate the life of someone you dearly loved than a quick service held just days after someone’s death.

 * Barbara Kingsolver actually has a restaurant in Meadowview, VA, which isn’t far from where Teresa and I lived in Abingdon.

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