No, I don’t mean that four letter that is used freely by many people. Nor do I mean the other four letter that we all love, food. The word I want to talk about has ‘fun’ in it but many people don’t think of this word as fun.
So, what ‘F’ word am I talking about? Well, it is funeral. Derived from the latin ‘funus’ meaning death or corpse, the Oxford Dictionary defines ‘funeral as a ceremony or service held shortly after a person’s death, usually including a burial or cremation’. A straight forward definition but there is no mention that a funeral is often a ceremony of love as family and friends celebrate the deceased’s life.
We don’t like to talk about funerals (or memorials) as we find it confronting to talk about the end of life. Yet, all of us have to plan a funeral service at least once in our lives as our grandparents, parents, spouses or sadly, a child passes away. Farewell services are difficult to discuss as it means we have lost someone we love dearly and we are grieving. Making decisions after a death is in most cases, the worst time as we are often struggling with grief. We just want to get it over with because we are hurting.
So, let’s talk about it?
Is it the death that we fear? Is it losing the person we love? Do we worry about how we will react when the death happens? All are very good reasons to not want to talk as we never really know how we will be until it happens. No one can ever prepare for a death and the grief that follows. I certainly do not want to make light of the responses that occur as I know myself personally that the emotions can be overwhelming. The conversation that I want to see happening in families is how you want to say goodbye. If everyone could openly talk about how they would like their funeral or memorial to be then, it would make it easier for your family who are left behind to make the right decisions when the time comes. It would be great if conversations about death were as easy as discussing every day activities. The simple fact is we will all die one day whether we like it or not.
Many people buy a funeral plan that covers the logistics such as coffin, flowers, newspaper notice etc. but that doesn’t go anywhere close to talking about the actual ceremony. How do you want the actual ceremony to celebrate yours or a family member’s life? A farewell ceremony is an important part of the grieving process. Whilst you may not want a fuss, the ceremony is not for you. It is about you but it is for your family to find some acceptance about losing you.
Whether you have a funeral or a memorial is your decision. Certainly explore the options available to meet your family’s needs and budget. Just as the wedding industry has changed over the last 50 years from church dominated ceremonies to the flexibility of today’s weddings. So too the funeral industry is being challenged to provide personal unique farewells. Baby Boomers have been challenging social norms since the 1960’s and as they age, they are now questioning ‘same old, same old’. They want different. They want personal. They want unique. Farewell ceremonies bring family and friends together to celebrate the essence of the deceased’s personality with love and to share food and drink as stories are shared.
The traditional 30 minute ceremony is satisfactory for many but for other families it is inadequate. So what can you do? If you are having a traditional funeral ceremony, consider making a double booking of 2 hours. Thus, the funeral staff can attend to their organizational requirements, leaving the family with 90 minutes to create a personal unique ceremony that they will feel is fitting for their loved one.
If you prefer a memorial ceremony then your options are greater. Choice of location can be based on the significance to yourself or your family e.g. beach, park or home. Timing is also flexible. Think how a candlelit ceremony at sunset or a ceremony at lunchtime in a restaurant on a weekend. Many speakers can share their stories and tributes and as many songs can be played. Often a cremation has been completed previously which provides an opportunity to include a scattering of ashes if desired. Importantly, memorial services allow time. There is no urgency to have the memorial as soon as possible following a death. Thus memorials provide flexibility, giving the family time to grieve and to not rush into making decisions.
Planning for a funeral or memorial whether it is for a loved one or yourself is important. It would be great if we all started to think about our own goodbye so our families know our wishes. I’m not referring to purchasing a funeral plan which is about a burial or cremation, coffin, flowers, newspaper funeral notice, priest / celebrant. I mean- choose your favourite music, photos, who do you want to speak at the ceremony. Do you want something to be read out on your behalf? Do you have any special hobbies or interests or memorabilia to be displayed? Do you want a funeral or a memorial? Where do you want to have the ceremony? Do you want candle lights, party atmosphere? Do you want people to write on your coffin? Do you want Tibetan bowls, incense? There is so much that can be included. Guess what? Without prior conversation, your farewell will be “same old, same old’ !!!.
Something out of the box. If you are seriously ill, how about a Living Wake before you die so you can tell people how much they have meant to you through your life? Your family and friends can let you know what you meant to them. I know it will be emotional but wouldn’t be nice to hear how important you have been in their lives, rather than it being said after you die? Sounds daunting? Why not ask a celebrant to help you in planning the Living Wake and / or farewell service. Your celebrant can design a ceremony that truly reflects the essence of you as a person. Making decisions about the ceremony in turn, helps to plan the logistics when needed. Everyone in the funeral industry will help you as there are many decisions to be made. By making it easier on your family helps them know they are fulfilling your wishes as to how you want to be farewelled.
So, where to now? It’s simple. Start talking to family and friends about what you would like when you die. Don’t be scared to take the first step.