Adding Fun to FUNerals

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash

Person 1: What are you doing this weekend?

Person 2: Going to a funeral.

Person 1: Oh, how fun!

The above conversation never took place. Ever. Anywhere.

Everyone loves going to christenings, bar mitzvahs, and weddings, but the one life event that every faith and cultural tradition shares is pretty much universally dreaded. No one enjoys going to funerals, but let’s face it — we all have at least one in our future. So why not start planning now to make the most of it when the time arrives?

Maybe it’s because I’m Irish and therefore afraid neither of death nor of a good party, but I believe funerals should be enjoyed rather than endured.

I am on a mission to reduce our collective anxiety about death and dying, spark important conversations, and change the way we think about funerals.

So, I am here to tackle the nuts and bolts of planning a grand send-off party — whether for yourself or someone you love. In the same spirit that many little girls dream of their weddings, let’s start the conversation about how we can bring out the fun in FUNerals!

First, decide on your vibe. Do you want a traditional funeral and afterparty? There is nothing wrong with that — it can still be fun. Do you want a “celebration of life” or a “memorial”? How do you want people to feel? Upbeat, relaxed, friendly? Or maybe you want it to be a cry fest — that’s fine. It’s your funeral, so you get to call the shots.

Timing is important here. Do you want to have your celebration when you are still around to enjoy it? That may not be conventional, but it can certainly be an option you choose. If you prefer to have it after your death, how soon do you want to be celebrated after your passing?

If you are going for an upbeat vibe, it may be best to have your celebration a month or more after your death. Time heals broken hearts and calms nerves. Allowing some time to pass can help create a more cheerful vibe for everyone.

With your desired vibe in mind, designate a theme. Is there a particular era or location you want to celebrate? Maybe you love the ’60s or island vacations or your Italian heritage. The theme helps direct many other decisions and ties the celebration together. Plus, communicating dress code expectations — whether it be business casual, church formal, or tropical T-shirts and shorts — helps relieve some of the anxiety on the part of your guests.

Once you have identified the vibe and theme, it’s time to start thinking about all the elements that make up a great party. All good hosts know that an outstanding event depends on thoughtful planning. So, we will jump right in and start thinking about all of the elements that go into creating an extraordinary event for you and your guests.

Whom do you want to invite? It has been said that funerals are more for the living than the dead and while I cannot speak for the dead, although there is a lady on TV who can, I do agree. Make a guest list of everyone you want to invite. If you are an avid planner, you can even specify where everyone sits. Should there be a head table? Have you been dying (sorry, I couldn’t resist) to set up your niece with your accountant? Why not conveniently assign those two seats at the same table? Who says Cupid can’t hang around even after you’re gone?

Location, location, location. Are you going to be memorialized in a church? At a restaurant? On a beach or in a field? Scout out the location early so you can visualize the space and plan how you want it to be used.

Of course, décor is essential to any party. Do you want flowers? If so, what type? Do you prefer a natural, seasonal look or a bright tropical spray? What do you want your family and friends to do with the flowers after the party? Let them know.

floral arrangement

Dig up some fun and flattering photos. Funerals are often decorated with photos of the deceased. But why are these photos often outdated and unflattering? Do you want the fifteen-year-old photo from your church directory to be the last glimpse people catch of you? Wouldn’t it be nice to choose your own images? Find a fun, flattering one, or get some new photos taken to leave your loved ones with an image that genuinely looks like you.

What’s a party without music? Just because it’s a funeral does not mean the music has to be comprised purely of dirges. Are there particular songs that you would like to be sung at your celebration? What about live musicians? My son participates in a bell choir, and I have observed the mystical sound their music adds to a funeral. Maybe you want a harpist or rock and roll band to play at your celebration.

Decide on the menu. What food would you like your guests to enjoy at your event? Do you want it to be a seated meal, buffet, or potluck? Maybe it’s a picnic! You get to choose, so ask for precisely what you want.

Remember the libations. This may be the bartender in me, but I think thematic signature cocktails help make a party. What’s your favorite drink? Can you incorporate it with your name? Maybe you can tell them to serve “Martha-tinis” or “Jim and Tonics.” Or perhaps you are a wine or beer lover: specify the vintage or brew that you want to be raised for the toasts. Remember, the more questions you answer ahead of time, the fewer decisions your family and friends have to wrestle with later.

Photo by Helena Yankovska on Unsplash

Signature cocktails are sure to add to the FUN.

Who’s going to talk? Speeches are a part of most funerals. Who do you want to speak at yours? What do you want them to share? I recently attended a memorial for a young mother. Her death, after nineteen months of battling melanoma, was unquestionably sad. You would think the memorial would have been too. However, it turned out to be one of the most inspiring, life-affirming events I have ever had the privilege to attend. Her best friend read the deceased's letter for the occasion. It was poignant and touching and, oh, so memorable—what a gift to her family and friends. Thoughts do not have to remain unspoken; emotions can be expressed. If you want something said, write it down and designate the person you would like to read it to.

Favors are also customary. But who says your guests must go home with a memorial card bearing your photo, birth date, and death date? Most guests will put it in the pocket of the car door and feel pangs of guilt when they throw it away. Forget that nonsense. What kind of souvenir would you like your guests to have to remember you? A great cigar? Some wildflower seeds that they can plant? Tickets to a comedy club? Be creative and come up with a memorable, useful token of your affection.

Decide on your ultimate resting place. Besides the ceremony and celebration, there are other funeral decisions to consider. Think about your last vessel. Do you want to take your dirt nap in a casket or an urn? Or would you prefer to have your ashes scattered at a special place? Did you know you can buy your own casket or urn and avoid the funeral home markup? Since I read about Titan Caskets selling directly to consumers, I have been clicking around to see what is trending in caskets and urns. There are spectacular colors and finishes available, many of which are made in America. Do you want a shiny red box or a sleek platinum bier? Are you more of the natural wood type, or do you see yourself in a sparkly blue urn? Whatever aesthetic you prefer, you can find it or ask a manufacturer for precisely what you want.

Photo by The Good Funeral Guide on Unsplash

Your final vessel can incorporate the vibe of your FUNeral celebration.

What about your resting place? Choose the cemetery where you would like to end up. Or, if you are hoping to have your ashes scattered, it is best to specify where, when, and by whom. If you are a stickler for rule-following, do some homework to ensure that the place you choose is a legally sanctioned site for scattering ashes. (There are a lot of rules and regulations governing where ashes can be spread.) If you are a rule breaker, that’s okay too. I know someone whose cremains were surreptitiously scattered on the pitcher’s mound of his beloved MLB team!

The best thing to do is start planning today. If you need some extra motivation, remember the words of Ben Franklin:

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

End on a high note and start planning to add fun to your FUNeral while you still can!

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Roseann Galvan - LOVE a follow need 93 more to 100

Founder of The World Momming Federation, Roseann is obsessed with human connection, communication and bonding. Engaging speaker, podcaster, writer, personality.