What to Say at a Celebration of Life to Pay a Meaningful Tribute

Make your tribute personal and meaningful with a few well-chosen words, whether you're opening the event or speaking as a guest.

Published April 26, 2023
Person giving a speech to guests and family at outdoor dinner table

A celebration of life is a wonderful way to honor someone special who has passed away, and one of the ways you can pay tribute is with words. Knowing what to say at a celebration of life can feel tricky, but it's actually easier than you might think. Whether you're planning the event or just attending and want to share your thoughts, it's all about making your message meaningful, positive, and personal.

Perfect Opening Words for a Celebration of Life

A celebration of life tends to be a little less formal than a regular memorial service or funeral, so it doesn't always have the standard structure to help you get things started. The right words can help you transition from people mingling to the actual ceremony or service, usually by acknowledging their presence and mentioning the deceased by name.

These are a few ways to start a speech at a celebration of life:

  • I just wanted to thank everyone for coming today to share in the gratitude we all feel for the time we had with Paul. He was an amazing person, and I know he would be honored to have you all here.
  • Welcome, everyone! Looking around, I can feel so much love for Judy right now. Thank you for coming.
  • What an amazing turn-out! Jim always joked that he was such a grumpy old man that no one would attend this sort of thing, but look how wrong he was. He was the best guy, and I'm looking forward to celebrating his life with all of you today.
  • Welcome! Sawyer would be so honored to see everyone here today. You all mean a lot to them. Let's share a few memories about how they touched each of our lives.
  • Well, Elsa always said she wanted people to be joyful at her memorial, and looking around at all these faces, I can see that she's getting her wish. Even though we miss her dearly, there are so many lovely ways she's impacted all our lives. Let's share a few of them.
Need to Know

There aren't any rules for who speaks at a celebration of life. Usually, the person or people hosting the event will say some opening words, and then anyone who wants to can share memories or thoughts about the person who has passed away.

Senior friends sitting outside chatting and sharing memories

What to Say at a Celebration of Life: Three Themes for Any Situation

If you're speaking at a celebration of life, you can make your message about anything positive about the deceased. However, many speeches focus on one of these three themes. You can use these as inspiration for speaking at any type of celebration of life service or party.

Stories That Illustrate the Person's Life

Tell a story about the person, but not just any story. Pick something that explains who they were, whether it's funny, exciting, or just really touching. For instance, if you're honoring someone who loved animals, tell a story about how they adopted a stray and then use that to talk about how compassionate they were.

Statements of Gratitude

A celebration of life is a positive event, even though you're mourning the loss of someone important to you. The focus is on what you loved about that person and how grateful you are to have known them. One great option for a speech is to talk about the person's good qualities and how they impacted you personally. Then give a statement about how much you appreciate having known them.

Messages About Their Legacy

Leaving a legacy can mean a lot of different things, from professional accomplishments to a loving family. A legacy is what is left after we are gone, and it's a perfect subject for your celebration of life speech. Talk about the positive things the person is leaving behind and how they made the world a better place.

Need to Know

Generally, a celebration of life speech is short - less than five minutes long. It might even be only a few sentences. A lot of people will be talking, so keeping things concise lets everyone get a chance to share their thoughts and memories.

Hands around table cheersing their glasses

Celebration of Life Speech Examples

If you need a little inspiration, it can help to look at example speeches. You can edit these to match your situation or just use them as a starting point for writing your own.

Speech From a Family Member

Thanks for joining us to celebrate Anne's life and share our memories of her. It's hard to express just how much she meant to me. My sister was a unique and amazing person, as anyone who sampled her super spicy salsa or watched her dance the Macarena can attest. She was full of life and laughter, and it was so contagious.

The thing is, even though she's gone, that's really what she leaves behind for all of us. All those memories of times she made us laugh or did something super sweet - those experiences have changed us as people. Just like her laughter, love is contagious. The love she showed to all of us inspires us to go out into the world and make it better and kinder. That's a legacy I know she would be proud of, and I'm honored to have been her sister.

Speech From a Friend or Co-Worker

I think it's perfect that we're meeting to celebrate Ed's life. It's a life worth celebrating. Ed and I met years ago when we were sharing a dorm room at Penn State. He brought the mini fridge, and I brought the piles of dirty laundry and pizza boxes. Together, we managed to have a pretty amazing time in college, but we actually built something really important too: a lifelong friendship.

When I needed him, Ed was always there. He helped me through the loss of my mom, my divorce, and all kinds of other stressful moments. It wasn't his advice that helped (although he did give good advice). It was his ability to empathize and listen. I'm honored to have been friends with such an incredible person, and I'll never forget what a good companion he was.

Quick Tip

While celebration of life quotes can be a way to begin or end a speech, it can be just as powerful to use your own words. If you do use a quote, consider how it connects with the person's life or reminds you of them. This could help make it more meaningful.

What to Say to the Family at a Celebration of Life

If you're attending a celebration of life as a guest, it's nice to share your memories in a speech. However, you might also want to say something to family members in a more casual way during the party or event. These are a few ideas of what you can say:

  • Mrs. Carson was an incredible teacher, and I'm really honored to be here to celebrate her life. She made a real difference.
  • You've put together such a lovely tribute to George. He was such a funny man, and his humor is clearly alive in everyone he loved.
  • Thanks for inviting me to this. I'm just really happy to hear all the beautiful memories of Julia. She meant so much to so many people.
  • Your dad was such a special person, and it's wonderful to hear how everyone cared for him. Thanks for including me.
  • I really miss Marie, and this helped so much to see how her actions are moving forward in the world even with her gone. What a wonderful tribute.

Speak From the Heart

Knowing what to say at a celebration of life is mostly about sharing something positive, such as memories of the person who died, their impact on your life, or the way they've changed the world for the better. Keep in mind that this is a celebration, even though it's also a moment of loss. Speak from the heart, and your message will always be perfect.

Trending on LoveToKnow
What to Say at a Celebration of Life to Pay a Meaningful Tribute