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Planning a Loved One’s Celebration of Life

Dear Barbara, My dad is on hospice and the end is approaching. I would like to get guidance on how to plan his celebration of life. He does not attend church and would hate a cold, uncaring service conducted by someone who didn’t know him.


Think with your heart. What would be appreciated and understood by your dad? What would be meaningful for those gathered to say goodbye? 

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Have an open casket, visitation gathering (which is helpful in our grieving). An open casket is more healing and personal than a closed casket or memorial service with a large portrait.
  • Dress Dad how he would normally dress. If that’s more formal, fine. Just know it doesn’t have to be a Sunday suit or dress-up attire if that’s not his personality. Think golf clothes or favorite football team jersey. My own mother wanted to be in her robe. Said she was going to be asleep for a long time, might as well be comfortable.
  • Have family and friends share favorite stories about Dad.
  • Create a picture board with family photos of favorite events and memories. Put it on an easel (the funeral home will have one). This makes a great place to gather and share stories.
  • Create a playlist of favorite music and play from the overhead speaker system.
  • You don’t need to have clergy present. You can do this yourself.
  • Make the flower arrangement special to you and the family. Maybe a rose for each family member, different colors for grandchildren. Again, be creative. It isn’t how much you spend but what it says to you.
  • Part of the specialness of doing your own service/celebration of his life is the planning. The gathering of those who loved him gathered together deciding how to celebrate his love and life. That planning of the gathering will be as memorable for your family as the service itself. Don’t let one person plan, make it a family, group effort. Healing is there. 

You get the idea. You can do anything you want to celebrate your dad’s life. Be creative. What would Dad appreciate? How do you want to remember him?

Something More… about Planning a Loved One’s Celebration of Life

Be sure to take part in bereavement support from your hospice. You and your family will benefit from their support.  I have a Grief booklet, My Friend, I Care: The Grief Experience that can help you.  I also have other blog articles about Grief if you need them.

Originally Published on

Barbara Karnes Registered Nurse

Barbara Karnes, RN Award Winning End of Life Educator, Award Winning Nurse, NHPCO Hospice Innovator Award Winner 2018 & 2015 International Humanitarian Woman of the Year

While at the bedside of hundreds of people during the dying process, Hospice Pioneer Barbara Karnes noticed that each death was following a near identical script. Each person was going through the stages of death in almost the same manner and most families came to her with similar questions. These realizations led Barbara to sit down and write Gone From My Sight, "The Little Blue Book" that changed the hospice industry.

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