Only two things in life are certain. Whether we’re ready to accept it or not, we’re all headed for the same fate. And while we have no control over how our life will come to an end, we can have control over how we say goodbye. Journalist, Susie Bearne, has decided to take matters into her own hands so that she can go out just how she imagines – she’s planned her own funeral. Here Bearne explains why she’s done it, and why she’s not the only one.
Many have imagined their big day since they were little.
I certainly have - mine involves a sprinkling of wild flowers across the venue, amusing anecdotes from friends and family and a brilliantly banging party that goes on till sunrise when everyone’s feet are burning from way too much dancing.
It might sound like a familiar day that’s perhaps been well documented in many a bridal magazine, except it’s not my wedding day and I certainly won’t be present. Well, my body will be but it’ll be lying in a willow coffin.
You see, last year, as a (fortunately) healthy 33-year-old I arranged my funeral. Much to the surprise – or horror - of my friends and family.
Long bearing a strange fascination with how my funeral might play out, it worried me a little that my parents – or my partner - might not put on quite the awesome (and environmentally friendly) bash I had longed for (erm, is that actually Angels by Robbie Williams playing as I enter the room?)
You see, last year, as a healthy 33-year-old I arranged my own funeral.
With the thought of having no control over how arguably one of my most important days would pan out, late last year I carved out my funeral wishes on a cold, winter’s afternoon with funeral consultant and founder of Poetic Endings, Louise de Winter.
Admittedly, plotting your funeral ain’t the most ‘normal’ thing to do in December when everyone else is rushing around making a last-minute dash for their Christmas shopping, but it’s certainly not as unusual as rehearsing your own funeral (don’t worry, I’m not that weird. I think).
While us Brits have long had an issue opening up and talking about death, a shift in society's attitudes and the rise of the Death Cafes and School of Life workshops on how to face the end of our lives means we're beginning to embrace death more. As a result, a growing number of us are planning our funerals as healthy beings as opposed to later in life when we might be forced into quickly writing up our wishes when we’re terminally ill – or not at all if we have an unexpected, sudden death.
So why are more of us plotting our funerals?
“We're the generation who have embraced consciousness,” explains de Winter, who is known as The Mary Poppins of Death, and charges £390 for creating a funeral plan.
“We're training as yoga teachers and incorporating meditation into our daily lives. We question everything and want to know that the work we're doing is fulfilling and purpose-led. There's no way we'd go for expensive funerals with glossed over grief. We're the generation who wants to say, feel and do everything and our funerals will reflect that. We're also just much better at talking about things. Whether that's sex, health issues or death.”
Once created, de Winter's funeral plans can be emailed to loved ones or printed out and given to a family member to keep in a safe place. The cost of fulfilling the plan obviously comes down to friends and relatives, and with the average funeral costing £3,700, it's worth checking with them before you dive into some extravagant plans.
A generation that can spend hours researching which new restaurant to dine at or creating Pinterest boards for our dream homes, it’s little wonder that many of us don’t fancy a standard high-street funeral that involves pallbearers you’ve never met, cheesy songs your sister thinks you might have liked, a quick church ceremony and back to the family home for sausage rolls and egg sandwiches.
We want personalised and unique services that celebrate our lives.
I'm not the only one who's drawn to forward-planning my own departure. Hannah Bywaters, 39, a Brighton-based senior coordinator at a research institute, made the initial plans for her funeral 10 years ago just before she jetted off on a year-long travel adventure.
“It felt like it would be helpful in the event of my death and easier to do at a time when death is not expected imminently,” she says. “I don't mind being the centre of attention, love celebrating birthdays and generally thinking about events in my life, so it was a joy to think through my funeral and consider how it could have a huge dose of me in it.”
Outlined in an email to the executors of her will and to two close friends, Bywaters’ post-death wishes include her family washing her body and wrapping her in a beautiful fabric and holding a vigil for at least 24 hours after she’s died for anyone who wants to sit with her body.
We want personalised and unique services that celebrate our lives.
“From there I want to be buried in a shroud that I've already bought and have in a fireproof box under my stairs,” she says.
“I’d like to be taken to the cemetery at the bottom of my road where there are some woodland burial spots. I've also added in music for the service, some thoughts about the service like having people sat in a circle, with some space for anyone who wants to contribute.”
Bywaters says she’s specified that costs should be kept to a minimum so there’s no expensive cars or floral arrangements on her funeral wish-list.
Rosanna Smith, 26, a funeral director at Poppy's Funerals in London, was spurred into arranging her funeral soon after joining the industry. “After the first funeral that I got involved in, I realised that if you don't leave instruction of what you would like - even just loose instructions such as a cremation or burial – it makes it really difficult for the family to decide what to do. I realised that it would be hard for my family to make the decisions and I want people to remember my funeral as they remember me so what better way than doing it how I would do it?”
Smith has organised a festival-style funeral. She plans to be buried at Eden Valley in Cumbria, with guests led to a day-time party in a marquee filled with delicious food and Champagne and Skol Super on hand.
Smith has outlined her funeral in more detail than many brides do on their wedding day. There’s a dress code - white T-shirts and blue denim jeans/dungarees – although as for Smith, she’ll be naked and wrapped in a feather/down duvet (“preferably a crisp white embroidered duvet cover – I want to look really cosy,” she says).
“I want the funeral to be on a Saturday so that people don't have to take a day off work and everyone can party properly,” says Smith.
As for me, I've requested that my family works with a progressive funeral directors and several of my close friends to hold my funeral in a cool, stylish London venue, where instead of traditional hymns, modern songs will be played and friends - dressed in their favourite outfits - will be encouraged to read a poem or regale hilarious anecdotes while knocking back the glasses of Prosecco available.
The emphasis is on the party, of course. I really want my funeral to be drenched in fun and happiness, with a DJ ensuring the bash goes on till the early hours. I'll be buried in a wildflower meadow with a fruit tree planted following the service. I've asked that my family uses my funds to pay for my funeral (which isn't that expensive as I have cut out limousines, pall bearers, expensive flowers)
Going out with a bang? Amen to that.