Planning for the end of life can bring comfort for both the person who is dying and their loved ones. You may want to think about what you want for your funeral or remembrance service and communicate this with your family. Planning your service can give you agency and knowing your wishes can make things easier for your family.
But you may not want to have a traditional burial or funeral service. A survey by ICM reported that 54% of people in the UK wanted their funeral to be a celebratory rather than sombre occasion – an opportunity to reflect on and be reflective of a person’s life. But what other options are there?
Celebration of Life
A Celebration of Life is an increasingly popular alternative to a traditional funeral. A Celebration of Life can be held in a range of locations – from places of worship to hotels, pubs or even outside at a park or on the beach. They follow no specific format, and celebrations might include planting a tree, listening to your loved one’s favourite music, memory boards of photo displays or telling stories of their life. They can be led by a Celebrant, or even a family member or close friend.
Living funerals draw on the Japanese traditional Seizenso – meaning ‘funeral-while-alive’. When someone doesn’t have much time left to live, a living funeral can be a cathartic event bringing the dying person and their loved ones acceptance and closure, and an opportunity to talk about and celebrate the life they have shared together. For some, a living funeral is an opportunity to celebrate the life and achievements of the dying person whilst they are still with us – as in the infamous line from the memoir Tuesdays with Morrie: “What a waste,” he said. “All those people saying all those wonderful things, and Irv never got to hear any of it.”
With the increasing emphasis on environment and sustainability, many people – particularly in America – are opting for ‘green funerals’. Green funerals are held in harmony with nature and may include an outdoor ceremony, a biodegradable casket and/or a natural or woodland burial. Hollywood star Luke Perry was buried in a mushroom suit; an eco-friendly burial option that helps to decompose the body, neutralises toxins and provides nutrients for plant life.
A company called Eternal Reefs provides an environmentally friendly alternative to Burial at Sea, turning cremated remains in to a memorial ‘reef ball’ – a sphere that is attached to an ocean reef providing a habitat for sea life and a “permanent environmental living legacy as a gift to the environment and generations yet to come”.
Custom or ‘fantasy’ coffins
Custom or ‘fantasy’ coffins are a Ghanaian tradition, used as totems to ensure protection by sprits and ancestors in the next life. These custom coffins are representative of the person’s profession or interests and are usually bright, colourful and elaborate. Ghanaian coffins are viewed as works of art and became popular in the West following an exhibition at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris in 1989 and the 2016 documentary Papa Joe and the Lion.
Did you know that Hospiscare receive flowers donated from funerals to make arrangements and posies for patients at Searle House? To find out more, read Mo and Ruth’s story here.