What would you like your funeral to be like?

Have you thought about your funeral? Which music you’d like? Which readings? How you might arrive? It all might seem a little morbid. As Dying Matters awareness week draws to a close I’d like to spend a little time considering funerals. The hash tag for this year’s campaign has been #BeReady and as part of this Dying Matters have suggested 5 steps we could all take to prepare for our own mortality. One of these is making a funeral plan…

I’ve planned my funeral. I sat and wrote down my ideas the day after I discovered the metastatic nature of my cancer. I have added to and edited this rough outline as the months have gone by inspired by my life experiences since. The music is probably the most important aspect of a funeral in my eyes. I have chosen a mixture of uplifting and reflective pieces from classical to pop illustrating my eclectic taste and to allow both joyful and sad moments during the ceremony. I have agonised over the readings and have hopefully found some that will give people comfort. I would like a weaved willow coffin and I would like everyone to decorate it with colourful butterflies at the start of the service. I want to wear my favourite Monsoon maxi dress and I definitely need plenty of makeup on. The after show party I would like if possible to be a joyful event. I have already booked the DJ. Everyone needs to get tipsy and have a really good dance. I will be looking down and scowling if the dance floor is ever empty. I would like the room to be decorated with hundreds of photos. I envisage it as a real celebration of my life – lived to the full and with a sense of purpose. And definitely putting a little fun into funeral…

I have been to 2 funerals recently. Firstly my Grandma. She had written a plan. We read this plan after she died and it really made us smile in parts. She wanted her funeral to happen at Huddersfield Crematorium where he beloved Charlie also made his final journey. She wanted her favourite hymns ‘Praise my soul the King of Heaven’ and ‘Abide with me’. She wanted to enter to ‘The dance of the little swans’ from Swan Lake and to leave to ‘Moon River’ by Frank Sinatra. She made sure there was a free bar at the gathering afterwards and that she was toasted with her favourite tipple of sherry. She was also very specific that the sandwiches should be dainty with the crusts cut off. I gave the eulogy. It was incredibly difficult to condense 90 years into just a few pages with history, humour and reflection all combined. One of my pet hates in life is when the funeral celebrant who has usually never met the person gives the eulogy. It feels so impersonal somehow. I was proud to lead Gran’s tribute and I hope she was looking down and pleased with how I portrayed her.

The second funeral was for my dear friend Katie. She was the one person from the cancer world that I had really connected with. She had sarcoma too and when we first got to know each other my prognosis was deemed to be worse than hers. Unfortunately her cancer turned out to be more aggressive than the Oncologists had first thought and she deteriorated fairly rapidly with no further treatment options. Katie’s funeral was beautiful. It really was. She arrived in a horse drawn carriage pulled by two white horses with huge feathers in their headdresses. She had a beautiful white coffin. She entered the historic Crematorium chapel in Leeds on the shoulders of the pallbearers to ‘Diamonds in the Sky’ by Rihanna. Her friends and family led tributes which were both happy and sad. Becca, Katie’s sister-in-law bravely read aloud a letter Katie had written to everyone:

“My dearest friends and family. I will be where you want me to be, in your hearts, your bumble bee, your angel, your star in the sky, a smell, a flower, a feather, a bird. I’m safe, at peace…” As you can imagine there was not a dry eye in the house.

Both these funerals reflected the people they were celebrating so perfectly. And why? Because they were planned by those people. So please no matter what stage you are in your life make a little time to give your funeral some thought. No-one can ever know what is around the corner…



16 thoughts on “What would you like your funeral to be like?

  1. You have really made me think about my funeral. Am just about to start chemo and this was the push I needed. In the past it has always seemed so morbid to even think about my funeral but I now have a very different outlook on life and I know this will be much easier for all my family. Thank you so much.

  2. Beautiful – thanks for sharing your thoughts and memories Kate. X
    Marion Edwards, Sittingbourne Kent.

  3. I had to smile when I read your thoughts and preparations. I have had my funeral scripted for many years – with every detail attended to. ‘Get off of my Cloud’ (just in case I do get to sit on my cloud with a harp) by the Rolling Stones to be played full blast in the crem whilst family and friends dance past my coffin on the way out……

    Having stared death in the face a couple of times (cancer) but survived so far, I have a very pragmatic (and Dutch?) view on these matters….. My (grown-up) kids call it morbid!

    We will all die at some time ………… Most of us plan for life. So why not for death? I want my last farewell to be something to smile fondly about as time goes by for those I leave behind.

    Wishing you strength!

  4. Hi Kate. , I read your first book in a few hours yesterday it was an amazing read, it was truly inspirational. I ‘m 45 , have been working as a trained nurse in a hospice for 16 years and prior to that in a haematology and bone marrow transplant unit. I thought your book was brilliant, witty, honest, and very educational. I have taken so much from it professionally and personally. Thank you. Take care of yourself and make time for yourself too. Xx Sent from my iPad

  5. Hi Kate. I found you after seeing your interview in The Times. I am not a medic and I am very fortunate to be in good health (at the moment), but I’m in my mid-forties and many of my friends and family have been affected by serious illness, so my mind has become much more focused on the ‘what ifs’ lately. Especially as I have young children.

    Albert Espinosa also advocates taking control of death (in so far as that’s possible) by making positive and practical preparations, and his words and yours have spurred me into action, so that planning is going to get done! Your writing is brave and inspirational, and you’re touching the lives of thousands of people. Thank you.

  6. This post brought tears to my eyes…at 21 I’ve never really considered my funeral – but who knows what tomorrow holds? I’d like to be remembered in a way that fits me and that will grow and change as I do. You have a wonderful way with words x

  7. I received this morning your Times article from a dear friend in Dorset who knew I’d love it. A few years back I ran a group on ‘The Art of Dying’ after visiting a ‘Festival for Dying’ held in a small Dorset town. I was so inspired by the work going on by many unsung heroes in this field I promptly offered up the subject for discussion in a group. It was the most amazing experience from the outset and was as though it had a life of its own. People booked in so fast I ran out of room quickly. I had various folk contact me and offer presentations on the subject from many different angles. For six weeks it was a fully subscribed resounding success with everyone in agreement that death is a part of life and as such should be discussed openly. What you are offering with such grace and understanding is the opportunity for things to change, as of course they must. I have many contacts as a result of that group, I am also an ordained interfaith minister who delights in writing and creating amazing funerals for folks. Because of this I also have contacts through my association of interfaith ministers all over the country. Please do get in touch if I can be of help to anyone. Kate you are truly a remarkable woman, thank you for all of the blessings and love that you share. x

  8. Thank you Kate. Katie was my niece and so I have heard of you through my family. Katie’s funeral was indeed very special, as Katie had given indications which the family were then able to translate into reality without having to make big decisions ‘out of the blue’ in such a difficult time. Please know that what you are doing is going to live on after your own death and that many people will be grateful to you for this.

  9. What a beautiful woman you are Kate….and what a massive loss to the Medical profession you will be.
    My heart bleeds though, for your poor husband. How very sore he must feel,about the prospect of not having you in his life!
    I am praying for both of you, and I hope that the time you have left together, will be as delightful as it is poignant.
    I am nursing a heavy heart myself…..but reading your extraordinary words, makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside….until of course, I leave the computer screen, and reality bites once again.
    Thank you from the bottom of my soul, dear Kate, for helping me through these difficult times.
    God bless and keep you both safe.
    All my love
    Sahara Rose Cavalleri.

  10. I was not fortunate enough to be able to talk my wife’s funeral through with her as her mental faculties were slowly eroded by her brain tumour. But recently someone sent me a wonderful text by Aaron Freeman, called “Why you want a physicist speaking at your funeral”. I found it profoundly moving:

    “And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives….”

    (You can read the entire text here: http://emergencybunny.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/aaron-freeman-on-planning-your-funeral.html)

  11. I admire your courage and candor going through the process of dying like it’s no big deal. My blog today is also about it as I virtually keep watch over a friend who’s in the other side of the world trying to fend off the tumors all over her body to stay alive.

  12. Hey Dr Kate, I too read about you in the times and loved your irreverence and dark sense of humour. This is a great idea. My dad has been giving me snippets over the years of what he would like and I always found it morbid until my son died and I realised that giving someone a cracking send off is really important. When my friend Marg died she was carried out of the church to ‘always look on the bright side of life’ – it really captured the way she lived and fought with her cancer. It also made everyone laugh. I like the idea of a weaved willow coffin…I never thought of details like that!

  13. I have been planning my funeral, too. Selecting readings, a poem, music. Thinking about where I want it to be held (not a funeral home.) I recently enlisted the help of a close friend, Eileen, to be my funeral planning assistant. She has already started writing my eulogy. Her husband died of cancer two years ago, and his memorial service was the best (and most fun) funeral I have ever been to. Unfortunately, my husband was out of town and unable to attend, so he has no idea what I am talking about when I say I want my service to be like Dale’s. while doing this planning I will have to be tactful – Eileen can be forceful – I have to make sure she doesn’t step on my husband’s toes. But she seems to totally get what I want, and I know with her help the service will be meaningful and memorable.

  14. Hi Kate, Some how I only came across this article today . I agree with you that one should prepare as much as possible for the big day to ensure that ones wishes are followed through. When asked I often say to people mine shall be happy day with lot’s of fun & laughter . You cry if you want to as long as it’s with laughter I would like that ! Then I step back and watch their faces and I smile.

  15. I really do not want one, I would like to be disposed of quietly with my powdery bits chucked where ever it is possible, and I am not kidding when I say I want a cardboard box or similar not be cause I am tight, I intend Macmillan or Marie Curie, Cancer wards and my family to benefit from money rather than the crematorium or undertakers. I have drawn all these matters up in a will. Family can have a party if they like, might leave them a free bar if they are good.. As long as they are not bloody miserable!

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