How My Sister's Death Became a Celebration of Her Life

Over the last four weeks Barbara's health took a turn for the worse. She’d known for awhile that her cancer diagnosis was terminal.  It had spread too quickly in too many areas. But in the last four weeks its effects had accelerated.

June 7th she died.

How My Sister's Death Became a Celebration of Her Life
How My Sister's Death Became a Celebration of Her Life

Barbara was my big sister, my step-in mother, friend, counselor and caretaker.  I loved her. Growing up my sister Joanne and I depended on her. Barbara watched out for us through the divorce of our parents, my rebellious teenage years, the death of our mother and even during her illness.  She had a keen sense of the emotional state of those around her and the tenderness to address it.

Rather than a traditional funeral or remembrance event, Barbara insisted on having  a “Celebration of Life” picnic. This made perfect sense. Barbara had always been the “glue” of the family. She wanted to use her passing as a way to reconnect family and friends that had drifted apart. In this last wish she brought us together, not to grieve, but to celebrate her life and each other. 

Barbara's choice reflected how she chose to live her life. Upbeat, proactive, intentional, loving, connected.  It was a wonderful gift to all of us.

How You Choose to Be Remembered is Important.

Decide now and write it down. Share it with your loved ones.

Here are Seven Tips for a Celebration of Life Service:

  1. A festive location—A picnic is a great setting. If that is not your taste, consider renting an arboretum, zoo, water park or fancy restaurant.
  2. Loose, fun format—Rather than a solemn affair, create space for attendees to mingle and reconnect with family and friends they haven’t seen in years.
  3. Story time—Invite attendees to standup and share fond or funny stories about the one being celebrated. At my sister’s picnic, I learned about aspects of my sister that I had not known. Let people know you'll be doing this when their invited.
  4. Games, games, games—If it’s appropriate, make it fun. My sister insisted on a balloon animal maker (her brother-in-law did his best), bubbles and cards for Euchre. Play lifts the spirits of everyone and can help the young ones embrace the celebration.
  5. Keep it casual--No black suits at Barbara's picnic. Everyone was casual and relaxed.
  6. Have a memory board for attendees to sign—Buy a big canvas and invite everyone to sign or write a short message about the impact the deceased had on them.
  7. Make it a family reunion—It is a sad fact that people often feel too busy to organize or attend a family reunion. In our case, Barbara’s picnic created one. I reconnected with family and friends that I had not seen in over a decade. It was wonderful to hug and hear about their life’s journey.

As you grow older, you need to decide how you will handle the death of those around you.

Will you focus on the loss and sorrow? The pain? Or will you view each loved one's passing as a hard tap on the shoulder to remind you not to waste your life?

STOP and think before you answer. Your choice will define the rest of your life.

I choose to embrace my sister’s death as her last lesson to me to celebrate life and live more intentionally.

What do you choose?