We never know when the last minute might crop up

This is a story about perception, about the story in our heads as it relates to our funeral narrative .. who owns the funeral space? Who is in charge when we’re gone? Is what we believe to be our funeral, realistic when we aren’t there to keep an eye on it – to orchestrate it? All things considered, maybe we need to admit that our funeral is their funeral also. Let’s not be in denial, let’s be proactive and considerate of those who come after our eventful lifetimes, such that the remainder of their lifetimes is not made any more complicated than it needs to be.

Taking the time to record our funeral preferences is a gift of love to family and friends. It doesn’t have to be onerous.

Arranging a funeral is not rocket science, but it can become needlessly stressful, if the person ‘doing-the- arranging’ doesn’t know what the person ‘doing-the-dying’, and is now dead, wanted.

Sure as eggs, sure as day follows night, we will all die one day.

There’s no doubt about that, so why not make it easier on those left behind? Why not begin today, as the old saying goes, by writing a list of your funeral essentials.  I am bent on having this; I’d prefer not that. Sometimes it’s easier to explain what we do care about, by starting off with what we don’t. By a process of elimination, we end up with our preferred options.  That boils down to agreeing that, in the first instance, some basic planning is a good idea. More than that. Experience tells us, it’s important.

Since we have a choice, would you prefer to be buried, cremated or do you have an unusual wish for the disposal of your bodily remains? Does this come down to a price thing, or an environmental thing? What drives this choice over another? 

Do you want a simple or elaborate coffin?  Flowers or some other floral arrangement or non at all?

Do you have a preference for who might do the arranging in addition to the family member or friend.  In other words, the company that the family might employ?

The same goes for how we’d like to be remembered. By way of a service such as a church service, and if so, what sort of service?  Or maybe we think it should be what the funeral industry people call a NSNA – No Service, No Attendance – in other words no one turns up?  But that might not be what others think.  Remember the title of this piece is ‘how your funeral is, not your funeral’.  Family and friends might think it’s important for them to get together and celebrate or reflect on a life well lived. 

Expanding on this. It’s not about us, it’s about how others deal with the ‘non-presence’ of the person who until a few days before had been ‘present’ in their lives and is no longer answering the phone or answering the door, welcoming visitors, or in this day and age, visible on the screen of a mobile phone or tablet or computer screen. In other words we’ve shifted from being in ‘present’ column to the ‘absent’ column. For them it’s not the same and they’d like to have a yarn about it.  It’s all a part of letting go and moving on. Before being so adamant about a nothing funeral. Just think about it. 

At this very moment – this being written in early March 2022 – people are dying in very difficult circumstances in the Ukraine, in a war not of their making.  How these things are processed matters, since it is about how we tell the stories, that help us mentally deal with trauma and manage the grief and put into words the thoughts that muddle our minds and prevent us from sleeping at night.  We need to do this, so that we are not haunted by death, that we know happens, but not able to control the circumstances of the happening.  It’s said that: the time of our dying is always the right time.  Well this can be hard to process when we have no or little say in the timing due to the actions of others, in this case the leader of another country.  It’s totally out of our control.   Not so overwhelming, not as terrible as a war, it might be a car crash, caused by another person. Nothing is as simple as it seems, when it comes to this dying business. Which, by the way, has become a huge multi-million dollar business largely because we have passed the arranging over to strangers in a shop front or a fancy office, they call a home, but is nothing of the sort.

Some say it can be made easier for those left behind, if we prepay.  That is, buy a pre-arranged funeral plan. This is not always the case.  The family needs to know that it has been organised and there can be additional costs, so it’s not necessarily as convenient and straight forward, as the industry makes out.

Importantly, make sure that your wishes fit within your budget or your family’s capacity to pay.  The best way to deal with the money side of a funeral, is to have ones bank balance sufficiently in credit that it can pay for all the necessaries, listed / included in this plan. There’s no sense going into debt over a funeral.  There are many examples of families who have arranged and conducted respectful, dignified funerals with little expense.  Family arranged funeral are more common than people think.

The best course of action is to pre-think and pre-plan your funeral such that it is for all intents and purposes pre-arranged.  Consider it time well spent and money well saved, so much so that you could ‘ear-tag’ an equivalent amount of money now quarantined for your / our funeral.  Another job ticked off.  Rest easy.  Sleep well.  A bonus is the message it sends to family that this is doable and well within our skill set.  It should be considered a burden lifted off the shoulders of those remaining and a gift of love to the relos. You could even go so far and make it a good news story in the eulogy that’s delivered during the memorial service or wake, depending on what eventuates. 

Back to the arranging.  This will need to include your / our personal information for registration purposes with Births, Deaths and Marriages.  Also required is a certified copy of the death certificate available from the doctor who confirmed the death.  Apart from name, date and place of birth, the registration requires information about a partner – if you were married or where in some permanent relationship- children and your parents.  All part of verifying who we are.  It’s best to get all this information together now rather than leave it to the last minute, because we never know when the last minute might crop up.

Your / our funeral and the lead up to it, can be stressful enough without having to collect all this rather ordinary information for the sake of form filling.  We can make it easier on everyone involved by doing this little bit of pre-planning, now, rather than leaving it to others, later.  They’ll have enough on their minds – or an old saying: enough on their plates – so why burden them with these things.

As we say, it might be your funeral, but it’s theirs too.

Reference for this story: How your funeral is not your funeral: The Voice, CPSA-NSW, February 2022.

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