Sometimes people say that they don’t want “a big fuss” made upon their death; they don’t want anyone to have to go to “all that trouble”. While this may seem like an appropriately modest sentiment, the reality is that it leaves family and friends emotionally in limbo because they have been denied the opportunity to say good-bye.
The truth is that an end-of-life ceremony – whether a funeral, memorial service or celebration of life – is for those who are left behind. It is an opportunity to express love and affection, thus enabling family and friends to meaningfully acknowledge and honour the life of the person who has died. By recognizing and sharing the significance of their loss, loved ones can ease their feelings of pain and isolation.
We can set this process in motion with thoughtful planning. While it may seem egotistical or controlling to organize one’s own end of life celebration, it is the precise opposite. It is, in fact, the most profoundly generous gift we can give our successors is to let them know how we want to be remembered. It provides them an outline in a time of grief, and offers assurance that they are doing the right thing. We are also giving ourselves a gift, by removing the fear of a boilerplate service, conducted by someone who has no connection to us, or anything that we have represented in life.
Pre-Planning a memorial service can include many things, from the mundane to the magnificent. Who do we appoint to carry out our wishes? Who are the family and friends that we want to inform? How can they best be contacted? Whom do we want to conduct our memorial ceremony? What do we want it to be called… Memorial service? Celebration of Life? Where? What should be the tone – religious and dignified? Will a Funeral Celebrant guide the service? Should it be playful and life-affirming? What music should be playing? Favourite flowers? Food? We may want to outline special recognition of loved ones and their role in our lives, our hopes for the future, our legacy. Include your Funeral Celebrant in your ideas and planning too if you wish… we have tons of great ideas.
Whatever the plan, it is necessary to do it in advance, and to advise our loved ones of both its existence and its location. Including the plan in the will is a good idea, but often not sufficient, as the will can be opened after the end of life ceremony has already been conducted. This is particularly important for LGBTQ+ couples, who may be subject to decision making by their families which is not respectful or relevant to their lives.
It is never easy to face the idea of our own ending. It takes tremendous courage, and it’s always easy to put it off for another day. But surely it is worth it, for ourselves and the ones we love.
Funeral Celebrant Janis Horne, for Modern Celebrant