When You Should Have a Celebration of Life Event — How To Decide!

When faced with the loss of someone close to you, it’s common to seek answers to questions such as, “How long after someone dies is a funeral?” or “How long is the funeral after someone dies?”

If you are the person tasked with the responsibility of planning your loved one’s funeral, you probably quickly discovered that American funerals, particularly those involving burial, tend to happen within approximately one week of this individual’s death. There are both advantages and disadvantages to the holding this kind of farewell event in such a swift manner.

Memorial Services that don’t involve the time pressure of a not-yet-buried body, however, do not need to be so rushed. This is especially true for the more personalized, positivity-infused Celebration of Life Ceremonies that have become a preferred option for many families in recent years.

Tombstone with heart on graveyard

Pros and Cons to Different Timelines

Selecting the right timing for a funeral or celebration of life event can be delicate. You might feel pressure to adhere to societal expectations, but nowadays, there’s no strict rule everyone follows when it comes to when to host an event which is themed around honoring this person’s life. Therefore, it’s important to think about what works best for your unique circumstances. Each option has its upsides and downsides. Below, I explore various factors to consider when making this decision.

The Benefits of Gathering with a Community of Mourners as Soon as Possible

Some people are desperate to get past the initial devastation as quickly as possible and are seeking out comfort and closure. They may feel that they can’t even begin to start grieving until after a funeral, memorial gathering, or Celebration of Life event has taken place. The bereaved person may be on an official “Bereavement Leave” from work only for a few days following the death of their family member, and utilizing these limited days to make all of the funeral arrangements may indeed be very practical. If you wait, Bereavement Leave may not be available in the same way.

Rose, coffin and funeral at cemetery outdoor at burial ceremony of family together at grave. Death, grief and flower on casket at graveyard for people mourning loss of life at floral farewell event.

During the initial days following a loss, people often want to distract themselves from the worst of the emotions and give themselves concrete tasks to focus on instead. Planning the funeral-type event is a way to genuinely improve their emotional state by focusing on the actions they can take. People are craving knowing they are doing something impactful and important. The worst feeling in the world is feeling like there’s nothing you can do to make any of this the tiniest bit better. And arranging the memorial event is a very real, tangible something you can do. It doesn’t take away the pain of losing this cherished person. But it’s important and needed. This person being honored after their life ends is a great parting gift to them, and to all who loved them.

Furthermore, it is true that such a gathering can aid a grieving individual in a number of ways during this initial stage of the grief journey. This person will feel comforted by knowing they aren’t alone in being so very saddened by this loss of someone dear, and that comfort comes right away. Extended family members have a concrete reason to fly over to you and you can get hugs and conversations you wouldn’t necessarily get if there wasn’t a funeral event. Funerals are ways to gather community around you in a way that is much harder to do if the Celebration of Life event is delayed too long.

Portrait of a sad young man on group therapy meeting discussing addiction and mental health problems. Multiracial people talking about their mental health issues. Senior woman comforting him.

Taking the Time To Process the Shock and Then Plan Carefully

People typically take a lot more time to plan ahead for a wedding, when the wedding is focused in on celebrating a couple’s love story, whereas a Celebration of Life event is honoring an individual’s entire life story, as many of the notable stories that made up their life as possible, and trying to condense it into one powerful, meaningful event! A well-done Celebration of Life event can be much more like a wedding than you might think, with symbolism present throughout the venue, a carefully written ceremony script and prepared personal remarks, people choosing their outfits to be meaningful for the occasion, personalized music being played, favorite foods of the honoree being served, and more!

I work as a funeral celebrant professionally, and I often wish I had additional time to properly write a eulogy and ceremony script that does the honored individual justice, and in order to help ensure the ceremony is meaningful and impactful to all mourners in attendance. The more moving pieces involved in a ceremony, including things like gathering photos for a memorial slideshow, the more time is needed before the event.

Furthermore, in the initial days after a loss, or even the initial weeks, the grief can be so profound and overwhelming that it is too difficult to plan the event, or even if you can plan it, it can be too difficult to appreciate it. If you’re too overwhelmed with the sadness that they are gone, it may not yet be the right time to celebrate that this beloved person had the chance to live and touch others’ lives while he or she was here. Taking extra time to get to a better emotional state first can be a gift to oneself.

The longer someone waits to hold a Celebration of Life event, the more easily it can be a true celebration imbued with tons of positivity, because people have had time to grieve privately and process the loss on their own first.

Timing May Depend on What Is Done With the Body

There are multiple choices for disposition of your loved one’s body, and I’ll write an article about these options one day, but suffice it to say if decomposition is a concern, there are very real reasons to have a funeral as soon as possible. Certain religions, including Judaism and Islam, practice burying a body within 24 hours/the same day when possible, or “as soon as possible” otherwise, and a ceremony is held alongside this timely burial. Catholics stick to between 2 and 7 days after a death, usually three days. Burial is the form of disposition sanctioned by these religions. If you are not strictly following a religion’s practices, you have more freedom of choice, and many Americans these days choose cremation, which allows much more flexibility with the timing.

Scene where Burial/Interment/Commital Ceremony is about to commence

Are Funerals Held on a Saturday?

Finally, while considering the question of “when” to host the event, the day of the week can matter quite a bit. No matter whether you choose the same week that your loved one passed away, or around the 1 year anniversary mark, (or anywhere in between!) a funeral can be held on any day of the week, yes.

Funerals are often held on Saturdays around late morning or early afternoon, so friends who will not be granted bereavement leave formally from their jobs do not have to arrange to take time off work. Most funeral homes as well as other venues that host Celebration of Life events host events on Saturdays, although sometimes it costs more money to have your event on a Saturday rather than a Tuesday morning.

You will have to weigh the benefits and drawbacks to each day of the week, including:

  • pricing differences at the venue
  • availability of the officiant or funeral celebrant of your choice
  • if friends and family of the deceased will be more likely to be able to make it to the event on a Saturday, compared to a Sunday when they may attend church services, or a Tuesday when they have work
  • if you have enough time to prepare for it, and the celebrant or officiant has enough time to write the ceremony

How did you decide when to host a Celebration of Life event or funeral for a loved one in your life? Please leave a comment below! I’d love to read about your personal story with this.

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