There are many beautiful and inspiring things in life, but along the way comes loss. Losing a loved one is never easy to process, and adjusting to the fact that you’ll never see or spend time with them can be very painful.
When planning a funeral for a loved one, you might want to consider hosting a wake after the funeral to honor their life and commemorate the time they spent with you. But when you’re grieving, it can be challenging to muster the strength to plan a respectable celebration of life for a friend or family member.
We understand how difficult this may be, especially given that African-Americans do not typically pass down traditions like this. To make things easy for you, we prepared a simple step-by-step guide to help you navigate the process and plan a remarkable celebration of life for your loved one while grieving peacefully.
Here’s a Comprehensive Guide to Planning a Celebration of Life for a Deceased Friend or Family
Consult family members to finalize the date and location for the event
You can celebrate the wake immediately after death or wait several weeks or even months.
Waiting allows you to plan more effectively and discover more options (location, venue, and other services). It also gives attendees enough time to make travel arrangements for the event.
Create a WhatsApp Group for the event
You should include those who held a special place in your loved one’s heart in the event planning so that you can all contribute ideas, plan effectively, and monitor the progress made toward the event.
Create a guest list
To effectively prepare for the event, you will need to create a guest list of, let’s say, 100-150 people.
This list should include virtually everyone who had a relationship or a connection with your loved one and would like to join you in honoring them, such as:
- Immediate and extended family
- Personal friends
- Religious and spiritual connections
- Social groups
- Neighbors and
- Work connections.
Do you know these people? Can you contact them? To ensure no one is left off your list, you should search through your loved one’s phone or other pertinent materials for information.
Confirm venue options for the event
Things to consider when choosing the venue:
- Your guest list:
The wake can be held anywhere, depending on the size of your guest list. If your guest list is less than 100, you could host the event in the deceased’s or family’s home; however, if your guest list exceeds 100, you should consider using a church hall or renting any hall within the event’s finalized location.
- Will any portion be held at a religious location?
- Does it have adequate parking?
- Is it handicap-accessible?
- Can it accommodate all parts of the event—service, socializing, etc.?
- When will it be available?
Send announcements to various groups about the news
Accepting a loved one’s death is difficult, but announcing the news informs other people in your loved one’s life about what happened and gives you an idea of who will attend the event.
To ensure you reach everyone, you should announce the news through multiple channels, such as an online post, usually with a memorial website, handwritten notes, or phone calls for older relatives.
While grieving, it may be hard to come up with a good announcement, so we’ve prepared a sample you can edit as you deem fit to use to express everything you want:
We regret to inform you that [insert name], our dear friend, mentor, and confidant, has passed away due to [insert cause of death].
Although [name]’s life ended before we were ready, the time [he/she] spent in our lives was memorable and full of joy. We wish to memorialize [him/her] by celebrating [his/her] wonderful life, and we implore you to celebrate with us and pay your last respects.
As of now, we are still making preparations for the wake. The date, time, and venue will be related to you soon.
If you wish to support us financially, please send your contributions to [insert account details].
For more information, contact [insert RSVP].
Create/Confirm an account for financial support contributions
If you anticipate handling a lot during this time and won’t be able to keep track of the financial support you’ll receive, you can either set up an account or designate a trustworthy person to drop their account for financial contributions to the event.
Designate venue/hall decoration point of contact
A celebration of life is a time to reflect and celebrate the memories of your loved one. You may want to use a memory table of photographs and other memorabilia instead of regular decorations (however, you should include flowers).
Designate drinks point of contact
This person would be in charge of all things drink-related, such as:
- Choosing and confirming the list of drinks
- Contacting the supplier of the drinks
- Calculating the cost of drinks
- Transporting the drinks to the venue
- Drinks options
Below is a drinks drive featuring drink options you can choose from.
Designate food point of contact
This person would be in charge of all things food-related:
- The food options:
You could hire a food catering service for the event or host a potluck BBQ, picnic, or buffet and have everyone bring an item of food they shared with the deceased. The family might also prepare specific African cuisines for the occasion. Whatever you choose, be sure it includes your loved one’s favorite dish.
- Confirming food catering service (if required)
Tips: Instead of wasting time and money looking for the best catering service for your event, look around your circle or the African community where you live. You might find someone more than capable of handling the job and willing to cook for the event.
- Where to cook:
If you plan to cook at home, consider transportation costs and designate a point of contact for food transportation to the venue.
If you plan to cook at the venue, you should find out if there’s a kitchen there and where to keep the food until it’s time for refreshments.
- Finally, the designated food point of contact would oversee food distribution to guests.
- Designate Photographer or Videographer point of contact
You can choose to record the event with photos or videos to preserve the memories for future generations.
Designate a point of contact for Picture Portrait With Stand to be displayed in the background/backdrop
Confirm DJ options for the event
You do not have to hire an official DJ for the event; they only need to have a good ear and taste in music and be able to control and entertain the crowd throughout the event. You would want them to play some of your loved one’s favorite songs throughout the ceremony.
A friend or family member could be a perfect fit for the job. Feel free to ask them if they can anchor a DJ for the event. If not, you can try other options.
If the deceased person had a spiritual or religious background, their priest/religious leader should anchor this task. If not, you can hire a non-denominational celebrant to oversee the event.
Alternatively, a friend or family member can take up this role.
Designate biography point of contact
The biography point of contact would be the person to read the deceased’s biography during the event. They could be your loved one’s favorite person, maybe their child, wife, or best friend. They would need to speak to close friends and family to get all the necessary information for the biography.
A succinct bio and an eye-opening anecdote about the deceased should be included in the biography to capture their essence and highlight significant events in their life.
Designate a point of contact for Mass and readings
During the celebration of life, friends and family would like to say a few words about the deceased. Common readings include religious prayers, eulogies, poems, speeches, or live music performances.
You can assign a friend or family member from the WhatsApp group you created to reach out to your guests and make a list of those who would like to take readings.
Confirm the Mass venue, priest/religion leader, and time options
The officiant would probably have a pre-set ceremony they can personalize for your loved one. You should schedule a meeting with them to finalize the Mass arrangements, including possible locations and times, and to provide all relevant information.
Share date and location with communities
After confirming the event’s date, location, and other essential details, it’s time to send out invitations to everyone on your guest list.
- Organize the first group call to ensure everyone (i.e. your various designated points of contact) is on the same page and to gauge progress.
Make final preparations for the event
- Secure DJ for the event
- Secure venue for the event
- Secure Mass venue, priest/religious leader, and time.
- Secure photographer and/or Videographer
- Start collecting details for the reception program and booklet
- Make a holding deposit to the photographer and videographer (if available)
- Finalize memorial website with photos and guestbook
- Finalize reception program and booklet
- Place an order for T-shirts as needed
- Finalize funeral, mass, or reception program (1 week to event date)
- Print out the event booklet or upload all digital documents to Linktree with links
Attend celebration of life event
Though this might be the most challenging step in the process, you have to stay strong. Be proud of all your efforts towards organizing this memorable ceremony to honor and celebrate the life of your loved one. Pat yourself on the back, knowing they would be proud of you too, and walk in with a smile as you greet your guests.
- Express your sincere gratitude to friends, family, and community for attending the event. You could do this via text, mail, or direct phone calls.
- Upload pictures and videos to a cloud platform and share links with friends, family, and the community.
If you have recently lost a loved one, we sincerely wish you peace during this difficult time. We hope you find this guide helpful in navigating the process and organizing a unique celebration of life for them.