HUMANIST CELEBRATIONS OF LIFE
The death of someone we have known and loved is no less sad, shocking or painful for those whose religious involvement is minimal, or who have chosen to live without religion, altogether. How we remember a loved one is far more important and relevant than what we believe, religiously, might have happened to them following their death.
Instead of a funeral, which is generally about mourning the loss and most often sprinkled with supernatural worship and devotion, Humanists practice what is called a Celebration of Life. As the name implies, the entire service is about the life of the deceased - who they were, what they were like, what they accomplished, and how they touched the lives of those who came to honor them. Where funerals are so often somber affairs focusing on some sort of afterlife, a Celebration of Life is much lighter as it focuses on, and genuinely reflects, the life, personality and wishes of the deceased, with laughter common as special moments are shared and people reminisce. The Humanist Celebrant acts as a moderator, touching on special events, then encouraging life stories from family and friends. Following is a common format for the Celebration of Life to help in planning the event, noting that the last wishes of the deceased should always be given first consideration. It is, after all, their life being celebrated.
(may be preceded by music, to help quiet the crowd and let them know that the celebration is about to begin)
This part is generally somewhat structured, as specific vital information is shared. It should begin with the full name – first, middle, last – followed by birth, death, and immediate family information. This will likely be the only time that the full name is used in the celebration. For effect, the Celebrant may pause a couple of seconds after reading the name, before moving on to the vital information. Also, many people use short or altered forms of their first name (i.e. Joseph = Joe, Michelle = Shelley), or nicknames. As the Celebration of Life moves along, it is best to refer to the deceased by the name, or nickname, that they were known by. This helps personalize the life being celebrated and enhances personal connections to friends and family. Below is a fill-in-the-blank example of a typical opening:
__________________ ________________ _____________________ Began his/her journey of life in (location) _____________, _____________ on ______________ __, ______, son/daughter of ____________ _______________ and _________________ ________________ ____________________ (generally includes mother’s maiden name). Sadly, to those who knew and loved him/her, and will surely miss his/her presence, his/her journey concluded on _____________ __, _____, at his/her home (or other place) in _____________, _____________. Today we gather to celebrate (first name) ___________’s life, the events that made him/her the person he/she was, and those special moments where he/she touched the lives of the family and friends who are here today to remember him/her. While his/her journey of life is now over, he/she will continue to live on in the hearts, minds, and memories of those who knew her – a special place that each of you will surely visit often.
This helps fill in the gaps and create a sense and understanding of the whole person, in the context of many life choices over time. This is especially helpful for friends whose close association to the deceased was relatively short. This part includes such things as places lived, education, marriage and family, career info, stories that explain certain redirections of life path or change in goals, and anything else that would help explain how the honoree got from where their life began to where they were in those final days. Interesting, and sometimes humorous, stories are often used to create a sense of how and why. The chronology is often either preceded or followed by a short Humanist themed reading, a favorite reading of the deceased’s, or a relevant musical interlude
This part focuses on the individual’s contributions and various life milestones – accomplishments as well as selfless acts. It can include a wide variety of topics, from career achievements, community involvement, and political activism to family highlights, neighborly interaction, and mentoring. Again, relevant stories may be used to help explain how they took they path and why that path was important to them, of any attribute or accomplishment being acknowledged.
Each individual has a pleasure niche (usually several) of things that make them happy. To enrich the understanding of the life being celebrated, the celebration often includes things like excerpts from favorite literature, favorite music (live or recorded), references to private creativities (crocheting, art, hiking, exploring, etc), and any task openly enjoyed by the deceased (playing cards, shooting pool, etc). Personal pleasures can either be explored as a category, or sprinkled throughout the celebration, as relevant connections to certain life events.
In the final segment, the Celebrant will open the celebration to personal stories from family and friends. It will typically begin with the Celebrant inviting immediate family to speak, one by one using a list agreed on by the family. Once the list is exhausted, the Celebrant will open the floor to anyone who wishes to share, moderating to insure that only one person is sharing at a time. Alternatively, a family member may wish to moderate the story telling, in which case, the Celebrant would introduce said family member as the first speaker, and they would take the celebration to conclusion. Before the story telling begins, the Celebrant will often provide information about after Celebration receptions, get togethers, meals, etc.
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