Start here with our simple checklist of Wishes.
It’s uncomfortable to talk about death, and a bit weird even to think about your own. But every little thing you can sort out in your own mind is one less problem for those you leave behind. So let’s take a look at the basics.
What to do with my body when I die?
- Do you want to donate any organs to others, or even your whole body to science?
- Do you want to be cremated or buried?
- How do you want to be prepared for this: do you want to be dressed in any special clothing, have any possession buried with you, be embalmed?
How do I want people to show they care?
- Do you want a religious funeral? Who would be your ideal celebrant?
- Would you prefer a formal ceremony or something more relaxed?
- Where would you like this to take place, in a church or open space for example?
- Do you want people to dress in black or reflect your personality in some way?
- Would you prefer hired pallbearers or friends/family to bring you in?
How can I personalise my funeral?
The world really is your oyster here, and like a wedding, this is one of those big moments that really matters.
Your funeral should be all about you, with plenty to keep your character and spirit alive for your loved ones and soothe them in their grief. So if you want a formal, proper funeral with sombre black and traditional hymns, then make that clear. It’s the way funerals have been done for years and there is a lot to be said for tradition.
But if you really want YOU to shine through, give some real thought to these:
Are you a biker? A horsey-person? Love vintage cars? There are plenty of businesses offering appropriate transport to and from the funeral for your body and even your family, if you think this would make you feel near.
Think, too, about the route you might want to take on your final journey; some like to be taken past familiar landmarks or special locations.
Whilst we’re there, think about whether you want a traditional coffin (no doubt undertakers will offer their best, most expensive option, so don’t let your family be guilted into spending heaps unless that is truly what you want). Woven coffins look natural and take away some of the severity of the presence of your body, and there are many other options from fleecy wool baskets to eco-pods.
Celebration of your life
Some people prefer to think of the gathering of friends and family as a celebration of life. Whilst it won’t take away the sadness of the occasion, it does allow you to think more freely about what to include.
- Traditional hymns and old school songs sung by the choir and congregation
- Your favourite classical music played through speakers
- A local singer or instrumentalist performing your favourite pieces
- Tracks from musicals, current charts or old favourites that have a special meaning for you
Order of Service
You will need to let people know what will happen when, and include words for any songs and prayers. But the programme need not be formal or follow any set structure, and you can include any extras you like. Keep a copy of your favourite photo (of yourself) somewhere handy so there’s no chance they’ll choose one you hate.
Readings and Eulogy
It’s a brave person who can speak at the funeral of a parent. Sometimes it is simpler to read out a well-loved poem, or a quote that captures the essence of the departed. If there are words that mean something special to you, write it down (and explain why) so that it can be easily found.
A Eulogy is often read by the celebrant, and can lack intimacy if it is cobbled together through questioning of a grieving family. You can really help here by making notes to guide them so they won’t miss out:
- Basic facts of birth and childhood, including your family members and what they did.
- Your early enthusiasms, what you enjoyed doing, what you wanted to be.
- What was your education like, where did you go, did you enjoy it?
- Any achievements of which you are proud, be they sporting, academic, personal etc.
- How and when you met your partner, with any suitable tales.
- Where and when you had your children, how they made you feel, any special occasions.
- Broad details of your business or working life.
- Any messages you would like to include for your family.
Everyone will need sustenance afterwards, whether at the local pub or somewhere you loved. It’s another chance to personalise your funeral, so think about:
Where to hold the wake
Your golf club bar, the village hall, a smart hotel or the local chip shop, there are lots of places that will provide food and drink for a small crowd, especially if it is during the daytime when business might be slow.
What to serve at the wake
What was your favourite meal? Are you renowned for your love of a good Cornish pasty, or do you crave chocolate cake and ice cream? Food and drink can be evocative, so choose something that you know will raise a smile when served. A favourite cocktail, a passion for good coffee, maybe even a cream tea will cheer your guests and warm their hearts as you fill their stomachs. It’s a great way to go.
Finally, think about how you would like to be remembered in tangible form.
If you’re a walker you might want a bench erected in your memory on a favourite trail. A nature lover might want a tree planted, a stargazer prefer to have a star named after them.
There are many other ways to hold memories, and if you have thought about it in advance the idea may be soothing to those you leave behind. For example,
- Jewellery can be made with personalised lettering or stones, or include locks of hair or cremation ashes.
- Memorial stones in a range of sizes and materials can be works of art, kept in a garden or public place.
- Cremation urns can be objects of beauty, allowing them to be kept on display.
Communicate your Wishes
So sit down with a cup of tea or your favourite tipple and take some time to think through these ideas.
Then write your wishes down, with a pencil and notepad, on your phone or laptop, and store them somewhere you can easily update them.
And lastly, have that conversation. Speak to your children, let them know that when the time comes they will not be on their own: you have done your best to let them know what you would like to happen when you die, and where to find the information.
They won’t have to ask “what would Mum have wanted?”
They won’t be frustrated by trying to dig up facts and favourites when they are overflowing with grief
And best of all, in knowing your wishes for music and resting place and all those other little things, they will feel closer to you at a time when you can no longer be there for them.