My experience and 4 ideas to consider when planning or anticipating a funeral.
Many of us are uncomfortable with the idea of death. We don’t want to die and we don’t want our loved ones to die.
The thought of planning or even thinking about a funeral is too much.
It means anticipating and accepting the inevitable.
So we push any thoughts of a funeral aside.
Until we have to deal with it.
We wait until it is undeniable that our loved one only has a few hours or days left.
Or we wait for all the decisions to be forced upon us by death itself.
Yet by that time, we can be raw with grief, possibly overwrought with emotions.
If our loved one has been in palliative care we are exhausted from the last few weeks of saying goodbye.
If we have lost someone suddenly then we can be in shock.
We want to create and hold a meaningful ceremony to celebrate our loved one’s life. To connect with and involve everyone who loved them. But when the time comes we often lack the energy and resolve to investigate options.
We follow the predictable process of engaging a funeral director and doing the best we can using the system following cultural norms established in recent times.
I followed the system when Mick died.
I booked and arranged a funeral to be held three days later.
Just long enough for everyone to travel if they needed too. Just long enough for those of us closest to Mick to gather our thoughts but then be surrounded by those we love and who also loved Mick.
I wanted the funeral to be as soon as possible so that I could see everyone and hug all of those who had supported us over the three and half years as we rode the brain cancer rollercoaster.
I had some ideas of how the funeral could be different but when I met with the funeral director and brainstormed with a celebrant to plan the funeral they rebutted most of ideas as too hard. Each idea would cause delays and problems. My ideas were outside of the system. Here are some examples of our discussion.
- Could we have an eco coffin? Perhaps a cardboard coffin that our children or guests could draw on? No. Mick was six foot four. It would take a week or two to organise such a non-standard coffin. Was I willing to wait? I wasn’t so I ordered a predictable coffin instead from the brochure.
- I expected at least 400 guests. There were not many obvious venues to hold the ceremony. If we went to the local cemetery and crematorium at Macquarie Park then only 200 guests would fit inside the chapel. The remaining guests would need to be seated outside. We wanted everybody to be together in one venue. We would need to consider a church.
- Although not practicing Catholics, we had christened both children at a Catholic Church which had a progressive, open hearted priest. I rang him and asked if we could hold Mick’s funeral at his church. He was very happy to help. He would be delighted to see the church full to capacity!
- It meant that we would have to have the full catholic service but our family decided that we would be okay with that. We trusted the priest to deliver it well. Some of the congregation would be comforted by the religious ceremony.
- The church usually insisted that there would be only one person giving a eulogy but the priest kindly offered for us to have three speakers.
- We decided that a beautiful church with some ties to ceremonial rites and the children’s christenings was fitting. The mix of the catholic mass, our own eulogies and music would work.
Mick’s funeral and then the wake at a rugby club nearby afterwards were moving, connecting, beautiful events.
They were the best we could organise in the circumstances.
I wouldn’t want them to be any different.
However in the following year as I reflected on that day and planned another ceremony a year later to place Mick’s ashes in a cemetery, I wondered how things could have been done differently if we had planned for the funeral earlier.
What if we had been more comfortable as a family discussing death?
What if I had been more death and funeral literate?
These ponderings became part of my drive
- to become a funeral celebrant,
- raise awareness of the options available and
- support those dying and their families to have greater empowerment in their last moments of life and love with their loved ones.
Here are 4 ideas to consider if you are anticipating or planning a funeral, memorial or end of life celebration.
- Talk with your loved ones about dying ahead of time.
- If you are well or if you are terminally ill – it can be a positive experience to share with your loved ones what end of life support, care and celebration you would like to have. Your preferences can help guide and assist your loved ones in what may be a challenging time.
- Discuss or write down what you believe about death. Consider spiritual, religious, scientific, philosophical and environmental aspects.
- Consider if you have any wishes or preferences as to what you would like to happen to your body. Share this with those who will make the arrangements on your behalf.
- The Groundswell End of Life Checklist can be very helpful.
- A funeral does not have to take place within a matter of days. For example, in the UK it is common for the funeral to take place two to three weeks after the death. This provides plenty of time for people to travel and plan a ceremony.
- Some families organise a cremation soon after the death but then hold the ceremony a few weeks later with or without the ashes.
- Funerals now take place in community halls, parks and surf clubs. The location does not have to be in either a church or a funeral director’s chapel.
- Choice of location provides more flexibility with timing and therefore what can be included as part of the ceremony and celebration. Crematoriums, churches and chapels often offer only limited time slots – half an hour to an hour maximum. Other venues such as a community hall offer several hours and the possibility of combining the funeral/memorial and a party or wake. One idea that I love is to have an open mike session. Invite any guests who want to, to share a story or a memory with everyone. Sometimes this can take an hour or two!
- Meet with an independent funeral celebrant first.
- An initial meeting with a celebrant can assist you to explore all the options, components or ideas that are important to you as you plan a funeral. Then you can consider engaging a funeral planner or funeral director when you are clear about what support and services you will need. For example, they can help you book an unusual venue and source a non-traditional coffin.
- Sydney based Picaluna Funerals and Illawarra based Tender Funerals are relatively new service providers offering inspiring, innovative, tailored, authentic, affordable, beautiful funeral and memorial services to suit families’ needs. Their networks include celebrants and professional funeral planners.
- Lady Anne Funerals based in Sydney are an established funeral service provider that provide a professional, compassionate, caring and flexible service – the entire package.