While we will all have to face the reality of our own passing one day, planning our own funeral may seem like an upsetting task. Experience shows however, that this final act can be of great benefit, not only for the person facing their own mortality, but also for those left behind.
“Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it,” wrote Japanese author Haruki Murakami, and while we know this to be true, losing someone can still come as a shock, even when it’s expected. For those facing death, experts believe they can help mitigate the impact on loved ones by leaving clear instructions for how they would like to be remembered.
“Planning ahead for your own funeral has so many advantages,” says Chris Foote, owner and manager of The Natural Funeral Company in Eden Terrace. “It takes the pressure off family and any expectations they may have to ‘do the right thing’.”
Talking to a loved one about final wishes may also help with processing what is happening and great comfort can be found in reminiscing and bringing to realisation a final expression of one’s life. For example, personal touches can be added to a funeral or memorial service by selecting readings to be given, be they from a religious text, a favourite poet, or something you write yourself.
Leaving instructions can also help alleviate further stress if family members have different ideas about how things should be done. “Being very clear about what you want is helpful for those family and friends who really want to carry out your wishes,” says Chris. “It makes requirements clear if there is conflict in your family or if there is a dominant family member.”
As well as helping with the practical steps, planning a funeral in advance creates space for those left behind to mourn and reminisce in what can be an intensely busy and emotional time. “Even sorting photos can be helpful,” says Chris.
Once complete, it is important to leave your wishes where they can be easily found and accept that there may need to be some changes made, because in reality a funeral is in fact for the living. “As well as honouring the life of the person who has passed, it allows loved ones to really begin the grieving process,” says Chris.
And while planning a funeral can be a very sad occasion, Chris knows from 20 years of experience that it can also be a positive one. “A funeral is a time for people to come together and express their love and memories in an open and nurturing place, while articulating the essence of a person and what their life meant to them. Overall, funerals hold a whole lot of sadness but also potentially, a lot of joy,” she says.