THE BLOG

Don't Kid Yourself - You Should Be Planning Your Funeral

09/05/2017 12:22

"Just put me out with the rubbish."

"Put me in a cardboard box for all I care."

"Just chuck me in the sea."

Venture into the comment section of any news article about funerals or funeral directors and you'll invariably find abundant examples of people saying, "I don't care what happens to me after I die."

Perhaps it's due to a decrease in religiosity, but it seems that more and more Brits are eager to opt out of the funeral altogether. Flowers? No thanks - and no hymns or processions either, just straight into the ground, the sea, or on the rubbish tip.

Many of these comments are part in jest. No one thinks you can really leave a body out with the rubbish - at least I hope they don't. The sentiment behind these comments, however, is real. Apparently, people are getting more cavalier about what happens to them after death. The less fuss, and the less thought you have to put into it, the better.

Of course, it's not that simple, is it? Firstly, try as we might to disregard the reality and the resulting practicalities of our death, the fact is that something has to be done with us when we die. Our bodies have to be cared for and laid to rest, whether that's an elaborate mausoleum interment or a simple cremation. At the very least, we have to be disposed of legally and safely.

It's not that I have a problem with anyone wanting a sea burial or no-fuss cremation, but I suspect that these people haven't actually thought it through. A devil-may-care attitude might make you feel better right now, but it will do very little to help your loved ones with the practicalities when the time comes.

For those who genuinely mean it when they say "Donate my body to science," let's be clear: while donating your body is a noble act, it's not always easy. It can't be 'dropped off' by your loved ones, along with the bag of bric-a-brac for the charity shop.

You'll need to make arrangements with a local medical institution in advance and make your wishes clear so that your body can be taken to their facilities as soon as possible - some organs become less easily studied a long time after death. Even then, your body won't be accepted if you suffered from certain medical conditions or if you've had a post-mortem examination.

Don't forget, too, that donating your body only effectively delays the final cremation or burial. Once your body is released by the medical studies department, your friends and family might still want to hold a memorial service or a funeral.

Another favourite is, "Throw me in the sea." It's a possibility, but not as straightforward as you might think. Sea burials are complicated and often expensive affairs. For instance, the casket has to meet strict specifications, including having precisely sized holes drilled into it, so that it can sink. You have to obtain a burial at sea licence and your family will also have to charter an appropriately-sized boat to travel to the location of the burial, which must be approved in advance.

In reality, even the most simple of direct cremations involves some organisation and expense.

So why do people make these offhand comments? I think it's a way of denying our mortality. As much as we intellectually know that one day we will die, a deep part of our psyche is fighting that fact. When we say, "It doesn't matter", partly it's because we don't want to admit that one day, inevitably, it definitely will matter.

Of course, there are also more practical concerns. Arranging and paying for a funeral can be a stressful, incomprehensible task at a terrible time for the bereaved. Perhaps then, you find yourself saying, "Chuck me out with the rubbish" to try and reassure loved ones that no, you don't care if they choose the blue floral tributes or the red. Perhaps you really do want them to expend the minimal effort possible, in a valiant attempt to save them time, money and stress.

But then, whose time and money are you really saving? Do you really think your loved ones, your dearest friends and family, will just "throw you in the sea" - even if they do happen to have a yacht on loan for the occasion? Unless you translate those offhand comments into a definite plan of what you want to happen, you're not helping anyone.

Just because you say, "Do whatever with me, I don't care", doesn't mean that your family are absolved of all responsibility for funeral arrangements. Quite the opposite, in fact. They'll have to make all the arrangements with little or no guidance or help from you.

And while you may not be bothered about a funeral, what if your loved ones are? What if that last goodbye would mean something to them, even if it seems meaningless to you? Plenty of psychologists and doctors have noted the symbolic importance of a funeral, lending credence to the old idea that funerals are primarily a solace for those you've left behind.

Planning your funeral in advance really isn't as morbid or unusual as it sounds. Heavyweight champion Mohammad Ali reportedly had a special book to jot down funeral ideas, while David Bowie made sure his estate was in order and wishes known. Justin Bieber, perhaps fearing the succession of celebrity deaths last year, was said to have made plans for his memorial. Even Katie Price spoke out on the issue on Loose Women, saying, "There's so much for the family to organise and they're already grieving. Getting your funeral organised is a good thing."

So take the time to ask yourself - really ask yourself, no bravado - what do you want to happen when you die? Would you honestly be happy with the minimal fuss, no ceremony, no wake?

If the answer is yes - fantastic, but don't just labour the point in online discussion threads. Tell your family. Explain it without hyperbole. Look into the practicalities, make a plan. Better yet, think about financing options - because, unfortunately, even the most basic final disposition costs something.

Just whatever you do, don't kid yourself. Thinking about your funeral is important, not just for yourself, but for the people who will take care of what happens when you're gone.

May 8-14 is Dying Matters Awareness Week, raising awareness of the importance of planning for end of life and breaking the taboo around death, dying and bereavement.

Comments

CONVERSATIONS