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How to arrange a funeral with a difference.

Updated on September 11, 2012

Death ... the taboo subject.

I make no apologies for the subject matter of this piece, it is too important to be squeamish, prissy and needlessly limp-wristed about.

Despite deaths of all sorts being the subject matter of so much of our cinematic entertainment in the present age, we rarely truly engage with it.

Instead we push it to the backs of our minds and tell ourselves we will deal with the deaths of those we love when the time comes.

But Death never happens at some convenient time. It rarely waits until we think we might be ready. Death happens for real and not just safely sanitised on a screen.

We need not only to face this fact but to also acknowledge that the way we deal with the mortal remains of our loved ones in the confusing aftermath is usually both lazy and hypocritical.

Grief is no excuse for lack of respect.

So when that time comes, that time we have not wanted to think about, what do we do for our loved ones? We hand over responsibility to a religion in which we and, more often than not, the deceased, have no real belief.

This means we usually have to give the reverend person conducting the funeral service some sort of briefing sheet about the deceased, otherwise they would have no knowledge of them whatsoever.

For me this is a cop out. It is facile, dishonourable and vastly disrespectful of the person you are releasing into whatever afterlife there may be.

Planning a funeral with love ... and imagination.

Before I continue I would like to state here that I do not mean to disrespect any religion, anyone's true belief in the religion of their choice or anyone whose funeral practises bring them genuine comfort and succour in their time of distress.

However, I am becoming accustomed to funerals now (as with all of us, they come with the territory of age) and I am more and more aware that many of the Christian funerals I attend are merely 'going through the form' when instead they should be occasions for tribute paying and the gentle closure that brings comfort.

After all, their funeral is the final chance you will have to honour that person. It should be planned not just with love but also with imagination. It should show due respect but it should also be a celebration of all they have been, of all they have meant to those gathered to say goodbye.

Communication is the key ...

Your undertaker is the key to arranging a meaningful funeral for your loved one.Talk to him, tell him what you would like to do and he will help you achieve it. Realise that this is his realm of expertise.

It is even possible to hold a completely secular service without the clergy altogether at a crematorium. You may wish to have beautiful music played at certain times rather than to sing hymns and that too can be arranged with crematorium staff.

... meaningful ritual is the solace.

I used the music on the video above at my husband's funeral as his coffin was carried in to rest beneath an enormous stained glass window showing a Viking ship with bellying sail and waving pennant.

The crematorium was on the Yorkshire Wolds, an area settled by Vikings in the dim distant past, and my husband, whose family had lived there since the mists of time, was most likely a descendant of those early settlers.

So I felt he was coming home and I believed his spirit knew that. The Viking ship helped me see he was just setting sail on a new adventure.

A lighted candle was set on either side of a beautiful photograph of him in his prime at the end of the coffin and a single wreath of white rose buds, the symbol of Yorkshire, rested on the top of it.

Then, one by one, friends came up and either recited a poem or read out a little piece they had written about him. Everything they offered so willingly gave a flavour of who he was. Most of us wore bright colours ... this was a day to celebrate all that he had been.

The comfort of a personalised funeral.

Even I stood up and managed to share with them what he had meant to me.

As a hypnotherapist I could achieve this without crying after a great deal of self-hypnosis. It also helped to keep in mind that this was the last tribute I could pay him and it should be done with dignity rather than hysterics.

Finally I read out this moving and ecstatic poem, written by Second World War Pilot Officer Gillespie Magee of No 412 squadron, RCAF who was killed on 11 December 1941.

High Flight.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long delirious, burning blue,
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew -
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

It was what I hoped my husband was doing as we were holding this service in his memory.

Finally, the crematorium played the following piece of music to describe what our life together had been like and with which I acknowledged the debt I owed him.

It is a song which is now, forever, inextricably linked with him and I am unable to listen to it without both tears and memories.

Celebrating a life ...

Then we all joined together to eat, drink and remember him to one another. There were tears and laughter, love and warmth ... all created by the memory of him.

And it was easy to imagine him lounging in his graceful way in the doorway. He would have loved the get-together of family and friends and it was sad that it took his premature death to create it.

It was a lesson to us all to connect more often with those we love.

Letting go ...

It was over a year later that I finally felt able to give up his ashes.

Climbing alone to the top of the tumulus, a Viking burial mound, on the Wold outside his childhood village I scattered them on its top one snowy Boxing Day with a few soft words of love to send him on his way.

I was returning him to the land of his ancestors. I had only borrowed him. He had at last come home to sleep.

Planning your own funeral.

This is not as macabre as it sounds. It is no more macabre than organising your will, which seems like basic common sense to all but the most superstitious of us.

The instructions for your funeral can also be incorporated into your will which will help lift the burden from your grieving family at a difficult time.

I have a friend who regularly selects and changes the hymns he is going to have at his funeral. He, like me, plans on going out in style.

So, in case you’re wondering, the music below is what I have chosen for my funeral, simply because it is beautiful.


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