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Creating a unique celebration of life: how to plan a living funeral

Imagine all of your friends and family gathered in one place, saying beautiful things about you, but you aren’t there to express what they mean to you in return. That’s the case at most memorials, where family and friends gather to grieve a loved one, expressing things they may have never said when they had the chance. 

The growing practice of living funerals, or living memorials, can change all of that. A living funeral is a celebration for someone who’s alive and able to attend the event. It’s a celebration of life with the opportunity to say final goodbyes, offering everyone a chance to leave nothing unsaid and to find a sense of closure. Learn more about this growing practice below. 

Why would someone have a living funeral?

Living funerals allow people with terminal illnesses or old age to celebrate their life on their own terms. When you plan your own living funeral, you can ensure that the last gathering thrown in your honor aligns with how you want to be remembered. Saying your goodbyes to loved ones in a location and manner of your choosing often helps people find peace as they prepare for their end-of-life. Planning this type of memorial can provide a sense of empowerment while you come to terms with death.

In the book Tuesdays with Morrie, Morrie reflects on his colleague’s passing. "What a waste,” he said. “All those people saying all those wonderful things, and Irv never got to hear any of it.” Morrie had a better idea. He made some calls. He chose a date. And on a cold Sunday afternoon, he was joined in his home by a small group of friends and family for his own living funeral.

What happens at a living funeral 

Just as each life is unique, no two living funerals are the same. While the movies Coming 2 America and Empire Records offer theatrical examples of what a pre-death celebration could look like, the exact activities and feel of the event will depend on the person being celebrated. 

These can be traditional religious affairs with hymns and prayers or might be structured more like a retirement party, with speeches and festive decorations. Dinner, dancing, sharing stories, and slide shows are all common activities. Often a person will read their will so that there is no confusion about their estate after they’re gone. 

A common pre-death ritual is to visit your final resting place — to help create a sense of peace, empowerment, and comfort. At Better Place Forests, we allow customers to visit their memorial tree where they can build memories with the forest before they pass. You’re welcome to bring your family and friends to experience the forest and find your perfect memorial tree. Our customers often comment that visiting the forest has brought them comfort when facing their own mortality. 

“The idea of being part of a forest brought me peace and joy. This is what my tree, our walk through the forest, and my daughter’s understanding as we walked together brought me — and why I chose the tree I did. It was an incredible moment in time for us, and an opportunity for my only child and I to face my mortality with peace and love.” - Better Place Forests customer, Julia O. 

Communing with the forest will put you at ease — knowing you’re creating a legacy that’s good for the planet and the people you love.

How to plan a living funeral

There is no right or wrong when it comes to how you plan your living funeral. Here are some things to consider when planning: 

  • Set the tone for the event. Do you want it to be somber or joyful, religious or agnostic? Your answers to this will influence the rest of your planning. 
  • Choose a location. Living funerals can take place in your home, favorite restaurant, community center, place of worship, local banquet hall, or any place of significance. 
  • Ask guests to bring mementos, like photos, jewelry, or other trinkets that symbolize a memory or special connection. These objects will serve as helpful icebreakers when it comes time to share stories with the other guests. 
  • Appoint a friend or relative to act as the MC, or hire an officiant to help manage the flow of speakers and activities. 
  • Cater — or ask friends to cook — your favorite foods. Food brings people comfort and sharing meals can be a bonding experience.
  • Hire a videographer to record the event. It can be shared later and watched during your final days.
  • Curate a playlist of your favorite music. Introduce people to all your favorite songs and dance to celebrate a life well-lived. 

How you choose to plan your end-of-life celebration is a deeply personal decision. When you’re ready to start making your end-of-life plans, schedule a free online forest tour to see if a memorial tree is the right final resting place for you. 


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