Celebrating life before the end lets everyone share in the love

Have you ever wished you knew what glowing things your friends and family would say about you at your funeral? You can — if you plan a living funeral.

A trend that's growing in popularity, a living funeral is just what the name sounds like. It's a funeral-type gathering, but with one small difference from a traditional funeral. It's held while the person being honored is still alive.

That small difference, of course, makes a huge impact on the tone of the gathering. A living funeral tends to be upbeat and celebratory rather than sad and mournful. After all, the guest of honor is still alive at a living funeral.

But that doesn't mean there's no deep emotion in a living funeral. This sort of gathering is typically planned toward the end of a person's life. It could be that the right time for a living funeral is shortly after a person's diagnosis with a terminal illness, or as a hospice stay approaches. Or a living funeral could be scheduled to coincide with a milestone birthday. Often a 90th or 100th birthday party and a living funeral will be rolled into one big gathering.

What happens at a living funeral? A lot of the same things that happen at a traditional funeral, only the guest of honor is able to appreciate them. A living funeral might incorporate some or all of these elements:

Speeches

You can bet that at least a few—and maybe many—of the attendees will want to say a few words about the guest of honor. This can be set up similarly to a traditional funeral. Sometimes a select number of people are asked in advance to speak and sometimes the floor is opened to anyone who wants to stand up and speak. It may be helpful to have one person emcee this portion of the gathering. This is typically someone who gives the opening speech and then introduces or calls up any other speakers. The guest of honor's spiritual leader might be a good choice for the emcee. If a less religious gathering is preferred, any family member or friend who feels comfortable with public speaking could be a great fit.

​​​​​​Readings

Sometimes something that's already written says everything we want to say about a loved one, whether it's a verse from scripture, a poem, or a passage from a book. Just as there would be readings at a traditional funeral, you can include them in a living funeral. People who chose not to write their own speech just might love to present a special reading.

Music

One of the most universal features of funeral services is music, and it's all but essential to a living funeral, too. This can take a lot of forms. You might have a playlist of the guest of honor's favorite songs, a band hired to perform, a musician friend or family member singing or playing a special song, quiet background music, or even a singalong. You can incorporate more than one of these forms, too. Maybe quiet background music plays for much of the gathering and a singalong of a favorite tune follows the speeches.

Food and drink

A traditional funeral tends to be followed by a meal, and more modern celebrations of life often center around food and drink in a party-style atmosphere. You can do either one at a living funeral. The way you present food may depend on the way you've decided to structure the gathering. If you want a casual atmosphere, you might put snacks and drinks out like you would at any party. If you're planning something with a more formal schedule of events, a sit-down meal might follow a period of speeches.

Conversation

It's likely that most or all of the attendees will want to take some time to chat with the guest of honor. It's a good idea to allow some unstructured time for this, as well as providing a comfortable place for chatting. The guest of honor should have a special chair from which to receive guests, ideally something that lets them manage a couple hours of sitting. If logistics permit, this might be their favorite armchair from home.

Guest book

Just like at a traditional funeral, you can have a guest book stationed near the entrance so attendees can sign in. You might also make this a more interactive experience, offering additional paper and colorful pens for attendees to write out favorite memories and stories about the guest of honor. These can be read at the party or during a quiet time later.

Charitable donations

Obituaries often call for donations to the deceased's favorite charity in their memory. Why not ask for donations to that favorite charity while the guest of honor can still appreciate the good being done in their name? You could offer envelopes at the entrance to the party where attendees can place cash or checks for the chosen charity. It’s also helpful to offer a link to the charity's website in the invitation so anyone who prefers to donate online can do so.

Meaningful location

Where should you have this living funeral? There are so many places that might work well. The guest of honor's home, or the home of a close friend or family member, might be the perfect spot for a casual and comfortable gathering. This is an especially good idea if the guest of honor is physically unable to get out much. If home isn't suitable for a large party, a church meeting hall or restaurant's banquet room could work. If you're not interested in keeping it traditional, look for unconventional gathering places that suit the guest of honor's personality, like a local museum, athletic stadium, or concert hall.

Personal touches

If there's an element that wasn't mentioned here and you're wondering if you can incorporate it in a living funeral, the answer is probably yes. This kind of gathering can be endlessly personalized to perfectly suit the guest of honor. The sky is the limit to give them a party that shows how much people care.