We Need To Talk More Openly About Death

I reckon the best funerals are the kind of event that the absent guest would have loved to have been there

I attended my first Death Café the other weekend. For those not familiar with this movement, it is exactly what it suggests, tea and cake and open discussions about end of life care and death. These are not bereavement support groups. I met a death doula who advocates for the person who is at the end of life and ensures their wishes are honoured. She explained she is also there to support loved ones. I always think of funerals having a standard format and being pretty traditional but was fascinated to learn about the vast range of funerals and ceremonies people can opt for.

Funerals are evolving to some degree, bright colours can be worn, favourite songs can be played and there is emphasis on recounting and celebrating the person’s life. If these ceremonies are genuinely a celebration of a person and their life, where are the fancy frocks, cake, music and dancing?

I went to my Italian friend’s funeral where there was a sumptuous banquet with tables groaning from the weight of vast platters and serving bowls of Italian foods. There was much merriment and hearty feasting, photos of my friend were displayed around the restaurant and memories recounted and shared. I recall feeling distinctly angry about people enjoying themselves when I was consumed with sadness and grief so elected to boycott the food. Looking back this was not solely a public declaration of my grief but also my discomfort at such frivolity at a funeral. There exists programming within us that means we have expectations of funerals being sombre.

As someone who has experience of having a child with an acute, life-threatening illness I have unfortunately bore witness to the deaths of several children. People say “It’s not the natural order…” It certainly isn’t but it happens. Death does not distinguish between young or old, good or bad. Premature death or the death of a child is counter-intuitive and generally accepted as the worst thing that can happen. Not only is it all shades of wrong but it robs us and the young person of a future. I have seen loved ones initiate support groups or charities in the name of their child. This maintains the memory of the young person and ensures their ongoing place in daily life.

There is no other life event that exists that warrants the trotting out of platitudes and clichés, the sympathy card excels at this. I want a card to be invented that says on the front, “It’s not a blessing, It’s heartbreaking but you won’t always feel this raw.”

I have already made some loose funeral plans, I have my three songs to be played at specific points during the ceremony to incite an appropriately, cathartic amount of weeping. Attire will be formal, suits, ball gowns and tiaras. The shindig to follow will have a banquet of my favourite foods, great tunes, I also insist upon a glitter ball, party bags and cake!

While I’m not up for knitting my own shroud I quite like the idea of my ashes being put inside a firework.

I reckon the best funerals are the kind of event that the absent guest would have loved to have been there.