Introduction

Plan your own funeral???  Perhaps eating aged sushi or being barraged with high-definition techno tunes seem like more attractive alternatives. Why in the world would you do that? You’re not dying. Well, I’ve got news!  No matter how rich you are, how smart you are, or how powerful you are – no one gets out of this world alive. Even he who dies with the most toys is still dead.   Maybe it’s time to get off the comfortable couch of denial.  Now is the time to put together that inevitable final celebration of your life – your funeral!  Take charge and put together a plan that is so innovative and personal that everyone who attends will feel your very presence and go away inspired to live a more worthwhile life.  And while creating this plan, you may find that you have the added benefit of a fresh perspective on your life right now.!

Numerous books have been written with standard forms to be filled out and specific instructions to be followed for planning your funeral.  When the Sun Goes Down makes a giant leap of faith and suggests that you create your very own funeral service.  Just as traditional wedding vows did not quite “say it all” at your wedding, nor did the traditional “hospital birth” suffice for your baby’s delivery, neither must you compromise this final celebration of your life with a customary funeral service. You are entitled to make this last celebration of your life entirely your own!  The information in this book is meant to spark your imagination and assist you in this exciting and stimulating process!

Traditional funerals are currently going the way of rotary telephones.  Many people are even choosing to forgo funerals on the mistaken assumption that they are unnecessary. The idea that “Everyone is suffering enough without all the added confusion” is a terrible misconception since dealing with grief in a healthy manner is vital.  A funeral is an important part of this process.   A funeral is ABOUT the person who has died, but it is really FOR the living. Your loved ones need to gather together to share and support each other in their grief.  They need to cry, laugh, hug, and remember together.   A funeral is a time for the significance of your life to be celebrated.  So why not be the author of this celebration? 

A common misconception is that a funeral is inescapably coupled with a church and clergy.  Alhough this is traditionally the case, it is not compulsory.  You are free to personally define exactly the type and style of life celebration you prefer.  Spiritual services may be held within the church walls or outdoors in a garden.  More secular services can have tremendous power. Personalize this service and make it your own.

Funerals are often of the cookie-cutter variety.  In an emotional turmoil, loved ones call a funeral home, and the details of the service proceed at a rapid and uncontrolled pace. You are given choices, but they are limited and must be made immediately.  A wake with an open casket?  The deceased dressed in a coat and tie, which is so foreign to him that he is unrecognizable?  Everyone gathered in a stuffy little room at the back of the funeral parlor?  Canned music?  Profuse flowers giving off a sweet and heavy odor?  And then a service the next day in a church the departed would have rather died than attend. Leading the service is a clergy person who never laid eyes on the deceased and has to sneak a look at his note cards to reference his name.  This is followed by a graveside ceremony with a $4,000 casket being lowered into the ground with no one watching.

Then, a reception either at the church or in a dreary function hall.  People roam the room uncomfortably, sipping sweet punch and nibbling sandpaper cookies, “comforting” the grieving with such phrases as “He’s in a better place now” or perhaps “We’ll miss him.”  Tears are avoided, and eyes are averted.  Everyone leaves thinking the survivors are “so strong.”

There are many alternatives to this rather maudlin scenario.  Now is the time to creatively plan the final celebration of your life.  We seem to find plenty of time to anticipate and plan other milestones in life. Weddings, birthdays, and retirement parties are all given lots of thought and preparation.  However, the events surrounding a death are certainly not conducive to the same feelings or time frame.  The loss of a loved one is a time of stress and grief, regardless of the situation.  Often, the pressure of planning a funeral aggravates the survivors so much that they fight among themselves.  Each knew you “best” and “knows” what you would have wanted. So, to present your loved ones with plans to mark this final event is one of the greatest gifts you can give.

Your funeral service should be a reflection of who you were, the people you loved, what you believed in, what you accomplished, and what you did for fun.  Did you marry a wonderful woman and share 50 years with her?  Tell us what that meant to you.  Did you raise wonderful children and now have fabulous grandchildren?  Tell us how that affected you. Did you volunteer your time and give something back to the community?  Tell us how that changed you. What are you most proud of?  What was your greatest disappointment? What made you laugh? Did you work to protect the environment? Did you create a garden? Did you golf every conceivable moment you could? Did you know every Red Sox player on the roster? Did you swim every day?  Did you have the coolest car on the block?  Did you carve wooden eagles? Did you paint?  Did you read?  Did you write?  Reviewing your interests and your values will give you a fresh perspective.  And it will give your loved ones a much deeper understanding of you and what made you tick!  This funeral will be yours!

Planning your funeral also sets a budget.  If you define what you want, no one will have a problem with their conscience later if they know that you want a plain pine casket and not the 18-gauge orchid-brushed casket with pink velvet interior.  They will know your wishes concerning the disposition of your body and will not have to make that very personal decision for you.   Nor will they have to guess about the gathering afterward. What would you most like?  A formal reception or a picnic in the woods?   Champagne and fois gras, beer and sausages, or iced tea and animal crackers?  At such a stressful time, articulating your desires makes everyone more comfortable and keeps costs real without imagined pressure.

Your funeral should be so full of your spirit that your very presence is felt. This service is your final chance to share your life philosophies.   People whose lives you have touched will be gathered together. Organizing this service will demonstrate that your caring for them transcends death.  Now is the time to pass on worthy lessons and wisdom you have garnered during your lifetime.  

Ideally, people will leave this event not only having felt your essence, but also with a new perspective on life and how to live it more fully and meaningfully.  The ideal funeral will teach the attendees something about LIVING.  What a wonderful way to celebrate your life!

Planning your funeral may also have an immediate personal benefit for you. People’s attitudes toward death have long been an indication of how they lived.  Thinking about death puts a perspective on living.  You may gain fresh insights about how you are currently living, which can change your actions and attitudes right now.  Americans, in particular, tend to ignore death and not embrace it as a part of life.  This attitude can skew both short- and long-term decisions.  Sensing that life has a finite end challenges procrastination.  Do you want to see the coast of Alaska?  Go! This perspective might also foster forgiveness and reconciliation. Was that past snub really so cruel and unforgivable?  Do you have time to live with it any longer?  Come on…let it go.

So go to it!  Open your heart and mind to one of life’s inescapable sure things. Have the final say! Define your own dignity!  Have some fun with it! Take the time to thank and acknowledge the people in your life who have been meaningful.  By planning thoughtfully and creatively, you will be giving an invaluable gift to all your loved ones, and you may even change your life in the process.


When The Sun Goes Down by Betty Breuhaus | All Rights Reserved ®2007 | Marblehead, MA USA
Telephone: 781.631.7166 | email: bettyann5@earthlink.net