How to Attend Your Own Funeral

In Diana Gabaldon’s book, “A Breath of Snow and Ashes,” one of the character’s mothers awoke at her own wake. She took notice of her uncomfortable coffin, lack of brooch that she hoped to wear when she was buried, and lack of food for guests. She sat up and admonished her son who was scared stiff, and then she died once again, for real this time. Her son promptly made the situation more comfortable for his mother and their guests.

This does not typically happen in real life, unless you count the innumerable reports (from psychics and mediums) of spirits attending their own funerals. However, it truly is possible to attend your own funeral / memorial service / celebration of life. What Next Avenue calls a “living funeral,” perhaps better called a “living tribute,” is becoming more common every day.

In a modern-day example, Laurie describes attending her friend Jessica’s funeral a month before Jessica died of cancer. She explains how it was a glorious, sunlit afternoon full of friends and music. The “party” included a crowd of all of her best friends and family. There were her favorite brownies, cakes, and drinks for the guests to enjoy, as well as an IV drip for her. Jessica’s daughter read the emails from the people who couldn’t be there in person. Her husband gave a speech about their life together and the trips they took. The crowd gathered around a piano and sang “Piano Man,” her favorite song by her favorite artist, Billy Joel. Her doctor said he’d never had a patient who’d done anything like it, and that he hopes he has more.

When Jessica passed away, her friends and family found themselves devastated, as can be imagined. However, everyone was at peace because they had taken the time to tell each other everything there was to say before she died, and because they were able to say goodbye to her. Laurie strongly believes that if she has the chance to host the same kind of party someday, she absolutely will.

Experiencing Your Own Funeral

Most people don’t know their date of departure. Often when someone dies, however, friends and family not only grieve for that person, but often feel sad and blame themselves for all the things they hadn’t said in their final conversation, when they presumed there would be others to follow. When a person is facing a certain fate, this issue can be resolved by throwing a “living funeral” — a memorial service while the person is still alive to experience it.

We live in a death-denying culture. We often describe the natural and inevitable end of life as “losing a battle.” Death and dying doesn’t have to be that way though. This is one way to say goodbye on your own terms.

Benefits of Celebrating the Life of a Loved One – Before Death

In recent times, there has been a noticeable shift in modern-day funerals, from the somber to the celebratory. The terminology used over the years has changed from funeral to memorial service to celebration of life. The format for both religious and secular funerals is also changing to become more personalized, and we are seeing a growing trend for living funerals. Here’s why:

  • Meaningful goodbyes: Living funerals fulfill an important need to say a meaningful goodbye to a loved one who knows that their life is drawing to a close.
  • Sharing positive and meaningful moments: Often initiated by individuals who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and may be in rapid decline, a living funeral presents the perfect opportunity to share positive and meaningful moments with their loved ones – entirely on their own terms.
  • Getting emotional affairs in order: A living funeral is an ideal way for the person who is dying and for their loved ones to get their emotional affairs in order, and to pay tribute to the person who is approaching death. It’s also a good way to gain closure on the emotional baggage inevitably accumulated during one’s lifetime.
  • A way to speak from the heart: A living funeral gives everyone an opportunity to speak from the heart, relate favorite anecdotes, enjoy a good laugh, indulge in favorite prose and poetry readings, listen to significant music – the possibilities are endless.
  • Sharing precious time: A living funeral ultimately enables the dying person to pass on, peacefully, having had the opportunity to share a wonderfully meaningful and precious time with those who really matter. Living funerals often occur in an upbeat, appropriate way, with a relaxed ambiance, resonating with the person who is dying, and all friends and loved ones present.
  • Sharing messages to read after the event: Some people who hold such living funerals place a guest book or a private letter box in a prominent position at the event, so everyone present can write a personal message. You could also set up a memory table where guests can leave significant items such as photographs. These personal tributes can help provide immeasurable solace for the person who is dying and comfort them in the remaining days of their life.

Is There a Downside?

The only possible downside to hosting or attending a living funeral is the huge emotional impact that such an event can have on the participants, but it is exactly this emotional impact that makes these events so special.

Provided that the event has been carefully considered and planned with a significant attention to details and sensitivity, there’s no reason whatsoever why such an event could have a downside.

Make Your Burial Desires Known Ahead of Time

What if you want to have a funeral while you are still alive, to celebrate life and say goodbye to loved ones, but you’re unable to communicate, perhaps because of a stroke? How would your loved ones know what you desire if you haven’t indicated your wishes in your Advance Medical Directive?

Our proprietary 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive® enables you to set forth your preferences with regard to organ donation, funeral arrangements, and disposition of remains. The document also accomplishes several essential things. In your 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive®, you can appoint an agent and give that person the power to consent to medical and health care decisions on your behalf. This person can decide whether to withhold or withdraw a specific medical treatment or course of treatment when you are incapable of making or communicating an informed decision yourself. Our 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive® also contains a proprietary Long-Term Care Directive® that allows you to address numerous issues that arise if and when long-term care is needed and you’re unable to communicate your wishes. You can also indicate your wishes concerning the use of artificial or extraordinary measures to prolong your life in the event of a terminal illness or injury.

If you have not done Incapacity Planning (including our 4-Needs Advance Medical Directive® and Financial Power of Attorney), Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact us to schedule your appointment for our initial consultation:

Estate Planning Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Estate Planning Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Estate Planning Rockville: 301-519-8041
Estate Planning DC: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.