Opening Words for a Celebration of Life (Ideas & Examples)

Wondering how to deliver the perfect opening words for a celebration of life event? We’ve got you covered with this step-by-step guide and examples!

You’ve been asked to share the opening words for a celebration of life event.

You’re standing in front of friends and family after you’ve lost someone you love — a mic in hand, all eyes on you, and you’re expected to say something. But what can you say to encompass a whole, beautiful life?

You might be worried about finding the right words, or how to express the emotions everyone's feeling.

But take a deep breath — today is about celebrating a life well-lived, and you have the privilege of setting the tone with a celebration of life speech.

If you’re wondering what to say at a celebration of life, either as a guest or as someone delivering a speech, you’ve come to the right place.

The key elements of opening words

The person delivering the opening words for a celebration of life has three main responsibilities: Acknowledging those present, paying tribute to the person being celebrated, and setting the tone for the rest of the event.

Here’s why each of these are important, and how you can incorporate them into your speech:

Acknowledging those present

This step brings everyone together and shows gratitude. Seated in front of you are the people who cherished your loved one. Expressing your appreciation sets a positive tone for the celebration.

By welcoming everyone, you gently guide them into the space you've created to honor your loved one's memory.

Here's how to craft a heartfelt acknowledgment:

A tribute to your loved one

Once you’ve got their attention with the acknowledgment, it's time to introduce the person everyone has come to celebrate. Here are some suggestions for crafting a brief yet impactful tribute:

Here's an example that combines these elements:

“Few people could match Barbara's zest for life. I’ll never forget her words, "You’ll never know where life takes you, so pack light!" That perfectly captures her spirit. Whether it was her love for the mountains in her younger days, or volunteering tirelessly at the shelter till she could barely pick the animals up, Barbara always found a way to say YES to wherever life took her. Maybe it was her light packing, or maybe it was just her relentless optimism.

Expression of the celebration's purpose

After introducing your loved one, you’ll want to specifically mention the purpose of the gathering. A celebration of life can be quite an open-to-interpretation sort of event. Some are like a party, and some are more reflective — your guests may not know what to expect.

By letting them know what the tone of the event is, you’ll help everyone participate more freely. Here's how to articulate the intent of the celebration:

Here's an example to inspire you:

"Of course, losing Jason leaves a void in our lives. But his spirit lives on through the memories we hold dear. Today, we celebrate his journey, his laughter, and the profound impact he had on all of us. I invite you to share stories, you can laugh, or cry, you can give someone a hug — most importantly, you can join in as we remember a life well-lived."

Crafting opening words: A step-by-step guide

Step 1. Reflect on your relationship

The foundation of strong opening words lies in personal connection. Spend some quiet time reflecting on your relationship with the person.

What were some defining moments you shared? What qualities did you most admire in them? Jotting down these thoughts will help you find genuine anecdotes and stories to weave into your speech.

Step 2. Incorporate a memorable story

Think back to a funny moment that captures their personality, a heartwarming thing they did or said, or a favorite quote that reflects their values.

Including these personal touches adds depth and authenticity to your opening words.

Step 3. Mention key life achievements

While funny and heartfelt stories are great to have, it's also important to acknowledge significant achievements or contributions that your loved one made.

Did they have a successful career, volunteer for a cause they believed in, or overcome a personal challenge? Highlighting these achievements shows the impact they had on their community and the world around them.

Here are some tips for mentioning key life achievements:

Examples of opening words

The opening words you deliver have everything to do with your relationship with the person who has passed and the feel or mood of the celebration of life event.

Here are a couple of examples to inspire you to write your own:

1. Warm and uplifting

"Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you all for coming today to celebrate the incredible life of our beloved Nana, Jeanette. We're here to remember her infectious laugh, her endless supply of homemade cookies, and the unshakable love she showered on all of us. Nana lived for more than herself — she always told us that she’s leaving behind a collection of grubby grandchildren. But today, as I look at all of you, all of us, cleaned up and dressed in her favorite color blue — I think she left behind so much more. Beautiful memories, a lifetime of smiles, and friends and family that loved her dearly."

2. Lighthearted and fun

"Who knew John could pack a room like this? Just kidding, we all knew John had a way of bringing people together. Today, we're not here to mourn, but to celebrate the life of this incredible dad, loyal friend, and master storyteller. John always told us that the only tears he wanted after he was gone were those that rolled down after laughing too hard. So get ready for an unusual, John-inspired celebration of life."

3. Intimate and reflective

"My dearest friends and family, thank you for being here today as we celebrate the life of my soulmate, Michael. Michael filled our lives with love, laughter, and a steadfast strength that we’ve gotten so used to. While words seem to fall short as I think about what to say, I take comfort in knowing that the love he shared with all of you will live forever. So today, let's look back at the life of Michael, the wonderful man, the incredible friend, the dedicated dad, and my soulmate.”

4. Honoring a colleague

"Welcome, everyone. Today, we gather to celebrate the remarkable life of Dr. Amelia Chen. Many of you at this hospital knew Amelia as a brilliant surgeon, a pioneer in the field of oncology, and a trusted friend. For me, Amelia was more than just a colleague; she was a mentor who tirelessly pushed for progress and inspired countless people just like me. Her dedication to helping patients inspired me to go the extra mile. And today, as we reflect on her incredible life and career, let’s carry that spirit forward and make her proud.”

Tips for a celebration of life speech

Once you’ve figured out what you’re saying, make sure you spend some time on the how. How you’ll deliver your speech, how you’ll connect with those present, and how you’ll stay calm through it.

Here are some practical tips to help you:

Keep it real and speak from the heart

People connect with authenticity. Don't get bogged down in writing a perfectly polished speech. Focus on capturing the essence of your relationship with the person.

Keep it brief and stick to the time limit

If you’re speaking at a celebration of life event, whether it’s the opening words or a eulogy, aim for 3-5 minutes at most.

Practice your delivery

Even just a few minutes of practice can make a huge difference to your confidence when delivering an emotional speech. Here are some tips to help you deliver your opening words:

What to say at a celebration of life as a guest

Celebration of life ceremonies are a beautiful way to honor a loved one who has passed. As a guest, you might be unsure of what to say or how to offer support to the family.

Here's how you can navigate these moments with sensitivity:

What NOT to say at a celebration of life

Delivering the opening words at a celebration of life is a privilege, but it comes with the responsibility of setting the right tone. Here are some pitfalls to avoid:

By keeping these pitfalls in mind, you can craft opening words that are respectful, uplifting, and truly honor the memory of the person you're celebrating.

Next steps

We hope this guide and the examples help you navigate the perfect opening words for a celebration of life event to honor the memory of your loved one. If you’re still planning out your memorial event in the Los Angeles area, consider using Meadow.

At Meadow, we understand the weight of this moment. We offer a more compassionate and meaningful way to celebrate a life well-lived with customized memorial planning services.

Our team of caring memorial planners will partner with you during this tender time to create an occasion as remarkable as the life it honors.

With our licensed team, you can expect:

Explore our Memorial Services.