The trend towards 'Living Funerals' speaks to our growing willingness to speak openly about death. One celebrant gives her advice and support for those of us looking to move away from tradition, actually attend our own funeral in order to celebrate our own life and achievements where death is no longer a prerequisite!
Over the last few years both celebrants and funeral directors have seen more people moving away from traditional religious ceremonies towards the unconventional with funerals and memorial ceremonies conducted in woods, on beaches, in gardens and other more unconventional places.
Often individuals are choosing a lower cost option such as a direct cremation or choosing what is called by many funeral directors a “simplicity” funeral, which does not include a service.
Many people choose one of these options not just for cost, but perhaps because they don’t wish their loved ones to have the stress of arranging a service and having to pick music, poetry or readings.
Others are choosing the simple route due to family rifts, where there is animosity and having to arrange matters or choose options such as music, readings etc might cause even more discord among the family.
“Living Funerals” are a way to celebrate someone’s life while they are still around - even death is no longer a prerequisite. These “Celebration of Life Events” are already common in the US and Japan (seizenso) and it seems that more people in the UK are now opting to have an event of this kind. They can vary considerably in format depending on the wishes of the individuals.
The first time I hosted one of these events, the terminally ill person chose to speak about their life and who affected it and this was followed by a number of the guests saying a few words or recounting stories and others reading a poem.
A recent themed event that I hosted was “A pie and a pint” and this was with a terminally ill gentleman who had chosen a village hall which was set up with tables for his guests to be seated at and there was a buffet table with his favourite beer and pies.
He had decided that he wanted to visit each of the tables in turn so that the guests could regale him with a funny story from their friendship or a memory of how they met and became friends.
Another event that I hosted involved an “Afternoon Tea” for a lady in a similar situation where the lady wished to have family and friends reading some of her favourite poetry and a few readings from her favourite books.
Living funerals tend to involve a few tears, but lots of laughter and in general tend to be an uplifting experience.
Living Funerals or Celebration of Life Events tend to take place towards the end of a person’s life but whilst they are still well enough to participate in an event to honour them. Occasionally however, someone might choose to have one of these celebration of life events for a different reason.
Recently I did one of these events for a lovely lady living with dementia who wanted to have a gathering of all her friends before she began to cease recognising them or remembering their names.
It was a lovely “brunch style” gathering with family and friends in her garden and everyone was asked to bring a poem to read. Although there were a few tears, it was a really lovely event with lots of reminiscing and loads of laughter. All in all, it was a wonderful and uplifting experience and the lady in question was really pleased that she had decided to do it and thanked me profusely for facilitating it for her.
I consider it a privilege and an honour to officiate one of these events and I make sure I go the extra mile to ensure it will be a successful and uplifting experience for everyone involved.
As an Independent Celebrant, Jo Ohlson Clark specialises in funerals. She creates and officiates cremation and burial ceremonies, which include cemetery, eco, green and woodland burials as well as memorial services and scattering of ashes. Jo also has a large amount of experience in "Living Funerals"To view Jo's profile, click here
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