Funerals: How to Plan your own Celebration of Life Ceremony – part 1

Anyone can plan their own funeral. This is the first of two blogs which will give you points to consider in setting out your wishes for what should happen after you die.

I acknowledge that in some traditions it is not for the deceased to make these choices, so this is aimed at people whose customs permit more options.

Even if you are religious and most of the service will be laid down already in liturgy, in most cases you can still choose the readings and make a list of the music or hymns that you would like played and sung.

There are many advantages to planning your own funeral.

In this way, you can be sure of getting what you want. Recently a friend was unable to attend a funeral of her dear friend. When she saw the programme later she was most upset that they had not sung the deceased’s favourite hymn. We can’t presume that family members know that sort of detail, so write it all down beforehand.

Also make sure that more than one family member or close friend knows where your list of wishes has been stored.

This also prevents arguments amongst the bereaved. This is a stressful enough time for your family and friends and by stating what you want, you make their job that much easier.

This exercise is not limited to the elderly or very ill. We know neither the day nor the hour when we will die. Many young people lose their lives in accidents. Criminals and diseases like cancer or TB do not respect youth either.

It doesn’t mean that the list is cast in concrete ~ you might alter it as you get older or as your priorities and wishes change.

Perhaps a good place to start is to indicate that you wish to be cremated or buried, if that option is available according to your religion or family customs. If you want to be cremated, state where you want your ashes to be kept or scattered. If you don’t have a strong affinity with any particular placed, you could ask that the bereaved scatter them in a place that reminds them of you.

If you want to be buried, state where.

There are a few places in South Africa where you can have a natural burial. The grounds are often conservation areas and there will be a

In a natural burial ground there are no tombstones.

small stone marker or tree planted to indicate where you are buried. The coffin will preferably be biodegradable and no embalming will take place.

If you would prefer an urban cemetery, investigate whether there are plots available where you would like to be buried.

If you want a religious funeral make a note of who you would like to conduct the service and where, if you don’t regularly attend the same place of worship. A recent experience saw the wife and daughter of the deceased arguing heatedly about which rabbi would be suitable ~ rather make the choice for them.

Put it in writing if you want to have your coffin present at the service, depending on the conventions of your religion.

If you are not religious, there are non-religious celebrants who can conduct a funeral ceremony for you. Celebrants can meet with you while you are still alive to discuss all the options. Wordways Ceremonies offers this service. The alternative is to meet with your family after you have died, to discuss your wishes. I will then create and a conduct a ceremony according to what you wanted.

In my next blog, I’ll be looking at what the funeral ceremony can consist of, in terms of the music, the readings and other elements that can be used to make a fitting celebration of your life.