My niece Dianne recently married a wonderful
fellow named Geoffrey. They had planned and prepared for the big day over 12
months. It was a beautiful ceremony and reception held at a nice hotel in the
Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami, Florida.

Friday night before the wedding, out-of-town
guests gathered for a family-style dinner at a nearby restaurant. My brother
Lee, the father of the bride, had invited his boss to attend. The boss and his
wife showed up late, just as we started to pack up the leftovers.

The reason for their delay: they had just come
from a funeral for a young man who had overdosed on heroin and fentanyl. They
showed me the laminated memorial card for the 21-year-old.

He looked like an All-American boy,
fair-skinned, blond, and handsome. During the course of his addiction, he had
overdosed and been revived four previous times. The fifth OD on Sunday proved

Funerals and memorial services are the parties
no one wants to plan. My niece and her fiancé took months to put together all
of the elements of their wedding. This young man’s parents had the
heart-wrenching task of creating a funeral in five days.

Now imagine planning a wedding in five days.
The less time you have to plan, the higher your stress level shoots up.

The similarities between weddings and funerals
are striking. You need to find a place to hold the event, arrange for a clergy
person or celebrant, decide on a theme or color scheme, write what will be said
during the event, and prepare a reception.

You need to invite guests for the event. How
will you contact them? And how will you send thank you notes afterward?

My award-winning book, A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die, offers a wealth of information for planning a funeral. This advice also applies to wedding planning. Here are three top tips you can use for any life cycle event.

Use Checklists and Calendars

A checklist facilitates attention to details
that might otherwise fall through the cracks. This list contains decisions that
need to be made, action items that need to be accomplished, and who will do
them. Use a calendar to chart out a timeline as an action implementation framework.

For example, establishing a date, time and
place for the event usually comes before announcements and invitations. If a
celebrant will be involved, his or her schedule needs to be determined before
setting a date and time. You might leverage a holiday or three-day weekend to
encourage guests to travel.

“Save the Date” cards for weddings are
becoming common, as couples decide on a date and work on the other details
before issuing a formal invitation. If a funeral isn’t held within a week, a
family might do a “Save the Date” card or email for a memorial gathering at a
later time.

Keep an Up-to-Date Guest List

Whether you are planning a wedding or a
funeral, who will you invite and how will you contact them? Even with the
prevalence of texts and other electronic communications, most wedding
invitations are still sent by mail.

In some instances, web-based invitations are
being used for formal affairs such as bar
or bat mitzvahs and quinceañera parties.

Funeral communications require speed to reach
people within a three- to five-day window. Options include phone calls, emails,
social media, texts, and newspaper announcements.

One way to manage guest list communications is
with a paper-based spreadsheet system. Keep an updated listing of names,
addresses, phone numbers (mark up which are for texts and which are only for
calls), and emails.

You might want to note the relationship details, such as whether the person is a friend or relative. A data management resource such as The Family Plot File from can help you keep track of who has been contacted, who sent cards or gifts, and if the giver was thanked and when.

Another approach is to use the personal contact lists we carry in our smart phones. There’s an app for that for funerals: Everdays enables you to create memorial announcements that can be shared with your community via text.

You can choose who gets those announcements.
You can also make other people administrators to further share notifications to
those in their contact lists. This app can help reach young people when there
has been a tragic death, such as an overdose.

Write Thank You Notes

I am fully expecting to receive a written
thank you note from my niece for a generous check given to the couple at the
wedding. The memory of my grandmothers and great-aunts who drilled the
importance of writing a personal thank you note still resonates in my psyche.

After a funeral, the writing of thank you
notes can actually be a healing activity. While optional, writing provides an
opportunity for grieving individuals to count their blessings. You don’t have
to write a letter. It’s a note. You
can say plenty in three sentences.

When the death of a loved one blows your world
apart, thank you notes are little pieces of writing that add up to a quilt of
gratitude for the people in your life that come together in support. And when
you sign off, sign it “love” or “with love.” Expressions of love are what
living is all about.

Whether the event is a wedding, a funeral, or
another life cycle event, these tips can help you create a meaningful,
memorable celebration without losing your mind.

life-changing event did you celebrate recently? How was it organized? Did it
follow older or newer formalities? Please share in the comments below.