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Finding Joy and Inspiration Through Celebrating A Loved One

Aug 31, 2022 ● By Rebecca Hoffman
A group of people with balloons celebrating a life of a loved one.

Photo courtesy of Lighten

The death of a loved one is never easy, but for some people, celebrating a life well-lived instead of mourning a loss can be a source of comfort, healing and inspiration. After they pass away and the initial shock of loss, there is an overwhelming feeling of grief. These strong feelings are often accompanied by pressure to plan a memorial service that meets the needs of grieving family and friends. The options have long been standardized and limited to the resources of a traditional funeral home.

Alexandra Koys

When Alexandra Koys, founder of Lighten, was suddenly faced with planning a memorial service for her uncle who had just passed away, she could not find any place or resource that felt like a good fit. “The funeral home environment immediately felt wrong for my uncle. He was young, vibrant and always the life of the party. I wanted to plan something he would have loved,” says Koys, reflecting upon that experience. “I knew that I was not alone in wanting to plan a life celebration personalized to my loved one’s personality, and in wanting to avoid the somber funeral home environment. I founded Lighten to meet this growing need among families.”

Lighten is a startup in the staid funeral space. Based in Chicago, but serving clients around the country, it is devoted to creating memorials that are uplifting and personal, reflecting the unique identity of the person being celebrated and alleviating the incredible stress that often accompanies planning a memorial. Koys received early encouragement for her business concept when Lighten earned second place in the Polsky Center at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business New Venture Challenge.

Lighten’s commitment to consumers offers a solution to a very real need people face today. Mary Fencl, a Lighten client, echoes Koys’ desire for a differentiated experience when speaking about her husband’s celebration of life. “He knew hundreds of people, was adored by so many people,” she says. “I needed to do something that was worthy of him and his life.” Fencl worked with Lighten to plan her husband’s gathering at the historic Davis Theater, in Chicago.

More than anything, Koys and her growing team are working hard to educate consumers about the evolving options for memorial planning. “Families no longer need to settle for the somber, one-size-fits-all approach offered by the local funeral home. When collaborating with Lighten, they have the opportunity to plan a gathering that is more personalized and more uplifting—and that matters. The families we’ve worked with have shared with us that planning a personalized celebration that feels just right for their loved one can add comfort, healing and even joy to their grief journey. And those who are preplanning their own memorials as part of their estate planning efforts are empowered to define their own legacy via their end-of-life gatherings,” says Sue Opeka, Lighten CFO and a longtime advisor.

Photo courtesy of Lighten

“We’ve helped communities gather in beautiful settings like museums, live music venues and outdoor locations. And for the many families who are spread out across the country, we offer virtual gatherings and hybrid in-person/virtual gatherings. Lighten has really been able to make an impact in the lives of the families we’ve worked with,” says Opeka.

Death and grief are inevitable experiences all people encounter in their lives. It is nice to know that there are uplifting, authentic and inspiring ways to celebrate lives well-lived.

For more information about Lighten, call 312-373-0847, email [email protected] or visit

Rebecca Hoffman is a strategic communications consultant to Lighten and a seasoned marketing and brand consultant serving clients in the Chicago area and around the United States. Contact her at [email protected].