Planning your own funeral is the only way to ensure it will have your personal stamp
Planning your own funeral may seem morbid but it’s actually a thoughtful and organised exercise that will save your next-of-kin a whole lot of trouble. And it allows you to put your stamp on the ceremony, personalising it so that your farewell will reflect your best qualities.
Event planner Jennifer Muldowney has just published Say Farewell Your Way: A Funeral Planning Guide for Ireland. Working mainly on weddings and parties, she suffered a number of bereavements, including those of friends, in a period of six months.
“It was a bit of an eye-opener for me because, for the first time, I realised that death doesn’t discriminate. The trauma of losing friends made me realise that I could go tomorrow. My event planning brain kicked in and I started thinking logistically.
“With a wedding, you have a year or two to plan it. People throw a lot of money at weddings. With an unplanned funeral, you have only two or three days to turn it around for someone you loved. You’re trying to deal with your emotions as well as practicalities such as finances.”
Given that the average cost of a funeral in Ireland is €4,500, it’s a good idea to make provision for your send-off.
According to a recent survey, two-thirds of those taking part had never thought about their wishes for their funerals. One in 10 of the 1,000 people surveyed by Empathy Research had made some arrangements. Of 35-44 year olds, 67 per cent of them would pre-plan their funerals if there was the option to do so. Some 59 per cent had no idea about leaving a digital legacy.
There are a number of pre-planning options. You can have a pre-paid plan with a funeral home or have a pre-paid plan with a trust. You can put your own wishes down on paper and entrust them to your next-of-kin or you can do a pre-plan with an independent funeral planner.
A pre-paid funeral plan gives you the opportunity to pay for your funeral before you die. The advantages are that you pre-pay for the funeral home’s fees at today’s prices. By pre-paying, you remove the burden of costs from your family.
Some funeral homes ask you to set up a separate financial account for payment of the funeral costs, dictating to the bank what the account is for and nominating the funeral home as the recipient of the funds on your death.
According to Muldowney, there are no pre-paid independent funeral plan providers in Ireland. But you can deal with UK-based or international companies such as Golden Charter and Golden Leaves. These companies will place your money in a trust where your funds are managed to achieve long-term growth.
If you choose to be “waked”, with a vigil held beside your remains, you don’t have to hire an embalmer although it is more hygienic. “It’s not a legal requirement. However, the body will leak fluids so it needs to be in a very cool room. The body is washed and dressed, usually in white.”
Officially inviting people to your funeral is very un-Irish but, says Muldowney, she dealt with a woman who was adamant that she wanted control of the guest list.
“There are some people who feel they don’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry showing up at their funeral and the reception afterwards. Also, you might want to control the guest list because of a feud in the family. It’s a way of keeping the peace. I heard of one family who held two separate ceremonies for the one bereavement.”
At a church funeral, there are limits as to what music can be played. “I think it’s a massive issue that the Catholic Church is going to have to overcome if it wants to hold onto people. You should go through with the priest what readings and music you want. If you want something a little outlandish, I’d recommend discussing it with the priest. Personally, I want It’s Raining Men sung at my funeral.”
Writing one’s own eulogy “might seem a bit narcissistic. But my advice is to plan your eulogy and put your personality on it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t guarantee that it will be read out. You just have to hope that your loved ones respect your wishes.”
While Muldowney’s funeral plan is for her corpse to be cremated, she says some people “are horrified at the thought of a body burning”. But cremation is more environmentally friendly than digging burial plots. However, some of the people you leave behind may want a physical location or place of remembrance to visit. If you are going to be cremated, it’s a good idea to have some of your ashes buried or placed in a vase or urn that’s kept at home.
Thanks to technology, you can now live beyond death as a digital persona. Photographs, videos, tweets, emails and blogs can have significant value for your loved ones after you have gone. You can nominate someone to alert Facebook to the fact that you’ve passed away via a “Memorialisation Request”.
Your profile will be frozen to act as a memorial page where your friends and family can leave thoughts and memories. Only friends from the pre-death account are able to view the page.
You can personalise your funeral by requesting that keepsakes are given to those who attend it. The American writer, director and producer, Nora Ephron, planned her own funeral which took place in July 2012.
She asked for a recipe from each of her cookbooks to be included in the memorial service booklet given to the 800 attendees at her funeral.
Say Farewell Your Way: A Funeral Planning Guide for Ireland by Jennifer Muldowney is published by Oaktree Press. oaktresspress.com.