This week, throughout Dying Matters Awareness Week, we will be talking about the importance of talking openly about death, funerals, and funeral wishes.
Learning about someone else’s funeral wishes can make you start thinking about your own: that’s what happened to humanist funeral celebrant Kate Hobson who tells us about the conversation that prompted her to make her own funeral plans. Perhaps this will get you thinking about yours…
The call came out of the blue one November evening – would I come and talk to Catherine (not her real name) about her funeral – her own funeral? She had found me online and ‘felt she could trust me’.
That was my first experience of a pre-planned funeral ceremony, and it was one I shall never forget. Catherine was facing a terminal diagnosis of cancer, but she was also used to planning her life, and considered planning her death and the immediate aftermath no different. She was surrounded by a loving family to whom she felt protective: lessening their distress and pain after she died was very high on her agenda.
The time I spent with Catherine impressed upon me the need to get my own house in order, but it seemed so difficult – I wasn’t knowingly facing my own death, and I hate planning.
Some family relationships are complicated. Where was my incentive? The temptation to think, ‘Well, it was straightforward for her’, was strong, but I didn’t want to give up immediately. Like most people, I really do want to spare my loved ones as much stress and distress as possible when I die. This called for another way of looking at things.
By concentrating less on Catherine’s actions and more on her motives – her kindness and thought for others – I looked for a strategy that could work for me.
‘Planning’ sounded too daunting to me, so I decided to think of it more as ‘visualising’. How might it feel for my family to arrange my funeral? Are they going to be wondering about basic things like whether I want to be buried or cremated? Have we ever talked about it, however casually? Might there be disagreements among them?
Even as I asked myself these questions, I started to think of a few other things to write down. What is that piece of music called that I’m always humming? Do they know its name? What about the people from different areas of my life who may have some useful knowledge or insights and who could give them a hand?
So, I jotted down my thoughts on the back of an envelope (literally) – it seemed somehow more doable than sitting down at my computer in front of a blank document. It took five minutes. And next thing I knew, I was adding some notes to go with my living will – another item lurking at the bottom of my ‘To Do’ list.
I resolved to go back to this in about a month’s time, on the anniversary of my father’s death. He left clear instructions for his funeral, which eased our burden greatly at the time, so it was a good time to think, not only about him, but also his legacy – that of a caring and empathetic man.
As the next anniversary is coming up soon, I shall go back to my piece of paper. And maybe I’ll be ready to expand some of my notes. Or maybe I’ll have some new, or different ideas. And maybe it won’t seem so strange to do the same again next year.
Here are my top tips for thinking about your own funeral wishes:
An increasing number of people want to talk to a celebrant to help them to plan their own funeral. Many of our celebrants can assist with this and will talk you through what options are available.
Our pre-planned funeral ceremony service puts you in touch with a funeral celebrant who can help you plan your funeral. The pre-planned service allows you to discuss your funeral wishes with a celebrant in advance, and know that these have been recorded and safely stored until needed.
A funeral celebrant will talk to you about the type of funeral or memorial service you would like to have, who you would like to be involved, what music should be played, which poems or text should be included, and whether you would like anyone to contribute a tribute or a reading. They can advise on many practical matters, and suggest ways in which to make the ceremony unique and meaningful.
Helpful information can be found on the following websites: