With Dying Matters awareness week in May 2019 posing the question, “Are we ready?” one Celebrant takes a look at why it is so important to think ahead and plan for the inevitable, your funeral.
So many funeral celebrants have heard the following comments when having the first conversation with someone who is recently bereaved,
‘We never talked about funerals…’
‘Burial or cremation? I don’t really know what she’d like’
‘Religion? He never said whether he believed in anything’
‘She liked lots of different music, but I have no idea what she would’ve liked at her celebration of life ceremony’
Does this sound like you? Perhaps it is time to open up the conversation about death, dying, funerals and celebrations of life.
Death is the destination we all share
Steve Jobs said ‘Death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it’ – and yet we all seem to try to ignore the inevitability of death. As a celebrant I’ve spoken with 80+ year olds who have lost their life partner of over 60 years, but who still say; “We never talked about it” and so don’t know what sort of funeral or celebration of life that their loved one wanted.
Like most people, I don’t want to die and prefer not to think about it – but I have always told people what sort of funeral I want and have written my wishes down.
Now I’m a Celebrant I am also thinking about writing the whole thing, but that’s probably a bit egotistical… However, I do wish more people would think about what they would like for their final send off.
Planning your own celebration of life can make it easier for those you leave behind
Last year I was privileged to be asked by a man who had a terminal diagnosis to meet him and plan his funeral. His wife was with us for most of the meeting and she struggled, but he was very pragmatic about it, told me what music he wanted and why, who he wanted to speak (if they were willing). He also told me things about his younger life that no-one else knew. He did not want to see a draft of anything, just wanted the chance to tell me what he’d like to happen. The celebration of his life.
When he died a couple of months later I went back to see his widow and she was so grateful that most of the service was planned. She said that although it had been painful to hear him talk about it back then, it made things easier for her now as she grieved for his death.
For my part, I was able to take a service when I could tell everyone there that the deceased had put together most of the celebration of his life himself and so we knew it was what he wanted.
Everyone said afterwards that it made it much more special, as if he was still there with them.
Personally I found it so nice to be able to say ‘when I met so-and-so’ – normally as Celebrants, we never get to meet our ‘clients’.
So – my mission is to try and encourage more people to think about what they want and write it down / tell someone – don’t keep it to yourself.
Planning a funeral, making a list of things to think about
Let’s be positive, the main thing is that you have lots of options!
- Religious / non-religious?
- Burial or cremation?
- Favourite music?
- Charity donations?
- Who should speak?
- Favourite readings/poems?
- Special mentions or memories?
- Anything else?
As Celebrants perhaps we could do more to promote this by visiting care homes / hospices and offering to talk to people and explain what happens. (That was another bonus for my client – he asked me practical questions about what would happen etc. He needed to know, and it helped him – although that may not be what everyone wants).
Wouldn’t it be nice to think that even when we’re no longer around, we can still be part of our own funeral because we planned it! A parting gift to those we leave behind.
For more information about death, dying and bereavement visit Dying Matters