Planning your own funeral – why you should be thinking about this now

Planning your own funeral – and why you should be thinking about this now

Recently I’ve been doing more and more thinking and writing about funerals and spending more time researching the industry here and the options… I thought today instead of talking about planning the funeral of your parent or someone you love, we could talk about planning your own funeral.

Have you planned your funeral?  Are you someone who has planned it out and left exact instructions with someone you love and trust?  Or has it never crossed your mind before?  And if not, why not?

It can seem morbid to some people – the idea of planning your own funeral – but the reality is that unless you’ve been somehow sheltered from every aspect of life, you should understand that this life you are living will come to an end someday…and you can’t be sure when that will be.  And as you are reading this blog there is a very high chance you have lost your parent or someone close to you in the past….so you will probably have spent a little more time thinking about this than people who haven’t.

I believe everyone should plan their own funeral, or at least certain elements of it.  Why?  For three main reasons…

You don’t know when it will be but you will have a funeral one day

Well you will have a funeral unless you specifically want a graveside service or some other kind instead, or no service at all, in which case you need to make sure that the people who would be taking responsibility for that (whether in 1 year or in 70) are aware of this.

You might have insurance on your house – though you may never need to use it.  You might have insurance on your car – though you may never need to use it.  You might have insurance on your health – though you may never need to use it. We plan for worse case scenarios that might happen, so why wouldn’t we plan for something that is absolutely guaranteed at some point in the future?

To help out your family and the people you love

Plan your funeral for the sake of the people you love.

Maybe you have found yourself dealing with a death, particularly an unexpected one.  And while struggling to cope with what has happened, your own emotions, and those of other people around you, you’ve also been expected to plan a funeral.  There isn’t any time to do a bit of healing and get your head around anything when it comes to funerals.  A funeral usually happens within a week or so and usually decisions and planning start to happen within a day or two of the death.

My dad didn’t even have an up-to-date will when he died.  He and my mum had made them before my brother and I were even born and never touched them since.  Mum had no recollection of who the lawyer was, just the street where the office was that they had gone to two weeks after getting married and a week before leaving the country to live abroad.  We searched the house and found a copy, but it was unsigned so worth less that the paper it was written on.  After various attempts for two months to track down the original we had had no luck and dad effectively died intestate (will-less).   If you’ve been in this situation you know what a nightmare it is.  For this reason I have a simple will.

My dad had never updated his will for the same reason he had never planned any aspect of his funeral or shared his wishes (of what he’d want for his funeral) – because he hadn’t planned on dying just yet.  But then very few people do.

Doing even a little planning takes so much weight off the people you love who will have enough to deal with already if you were to pass away, without planning your funeral on top of it.  Even a page of instructions left detailing whether you want to be cremated/buried, where you’d like your service and what type, what songs you’d like played, what colour flowers, and who you might like to speak at the service can make a world of difference to the people you leave behind. It also means there is a greater sense of you in your funeral if you’ve had a hand in planning it.  And just imagine what it would mean to the people you love if, on that one page of instructions, you’d written a few lines that were to be read out at your funeral reminding everyone how much you love them and what a difference they made to your life, and what you want for their futures.  If you never plan your funeral then you never get this opportunity…and nor do they.

I know I should probably be more responsible and have more…but I only have the one insurance policy.  Any guesses?  It’s a funeral policy.  I took it out years ago after dad died because I suddenly realised the huge expense and financial burden that a funeral can be on a bereaved family.  Also I understand, as an expat, what an enormous expense it would be if anything were to happen to me here and my family had to fly me home.

Apparently funeral planning is big business in the US.  A funeral director I know here told me there are one or two people in the UK who do it but otherwise it’s just a token sheet of paper that people in retirement homes fill in.  You could go all out and plan the whole thing if you wanted..…but I think that as long as you have something, that’s enough.  Just one sheet of paper with a few of your wishes will make all the difference.

Do it for yourself

This isn’t just about saving your family from pain and stress though.  What about the fact that this is the last party you get to go to as the person you are now?  This is probably the last time all of your family and friends will get together in your honour – wouldn’t you want to have a say about what that looks like?  Have you ever been to a funeral and thought that ‘the person whose funeral this is would be turning in their grave if they were watching this service‘?  I certainly have and I don’t want that to be me.  I don’t plan on dying anytime soon….and I hope it doesn’t happen for a long, long time…but if it does I want to be sure that my mother isn’t responsible for picking music.  I don’t want some soppy Alison Moyet or Susan Boyle playing.   And I will absolutely veto any suggestion of ‘Time to say goodbye’ no matter how beautiful and touching it is.  Not at my funeral!  And, as I have very strong opinions about grief and death, I want to be sure there are certain things that are said and certain things that aren’t.  I also want to be sure that people aren’t all dressed in black.  Now I wear a lot of black, and if I know you as always dressed in black then I’d expect you at my funeral dressed that way.  But if you always wear lime-green or bright-pink (still talking about my mum) then I wouldn’t want you turning up dressed as Morticia Adams.  But no-one would know this is I don’t record it somewhere.

It isn’t morbid or depressing or unhealthy to consider the fact that your life has a time-limit, just like everyone else’s, and that you have no idea what that limit is. In fact, I would argue it’s unhealthy to ignore this fact.  So even if you plan on living till you are a hundred, how about taking an hour now …while you still have all your marbles…to write some of your funeral wishes down.

Please feel free to share any of your thoughts on this topic with me here.




About Kristie West

I'm a Grief Specialist and I help adults who have lost a parent. I am known for positively changing people's experience of the loss of a parent in less than 4 hours.
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2 Responses to Planning your own funeral – why you should be thinking about this now

  1. Mike Stephens says:

    Hi Kristie,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insight on this subject. I agree- if you are only going to have one insurance policy, have a funeral insurance policy. My dad had specified a few things about what he wanted at his funeral, though he had not detailed everything. This is a great idea to spend just a little bit of time writing down what you want your funeral to be like. It’s not morbid, it’s really just common sense. Thank you for another excellent blog!

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