Let’s face it. Death isn’t as taboo as it once was. People have grown more comfortable talking about death and dying. And as they do, they open the door for more meaningful rituals.
There are death-positive movements popping up everywhere. We’ve seen the rise of death cafes, death festivals, and even death-oriented dinner parties.
More and more people don’t mind discussing death, and it’s not a bad thing. It gets people thinking about how they want to be remembered. Which leads to people taking the initiative and preplanning their own memorial ceremonies.
In this death-positive era, there’s a new movement on the horizon — funerals for the living.
The Rise of Living Funerals
In the February 2018 issue of The Director, editor Edward Defort wrote about the rise of living funerals. The article, titled R.S.V.P I’ll See You at My Living Funeral, explored the basics of living funerals, who is having them, the importance of them, and how they could go mainstream in the future.
Defort discusses a recent presentation given by NFDA Director of Member Development, Lacy Robinson, in which she shared the stories of three brave, terminally-ill people. In each instance, the three people chose to have their funeral while they were still alive — surrounded by friends and family. They would share stories, pictures, and cycle between laughter and tears. One of the patients described it as more of a party than a funeral.
Robinson went on to describe another one of the living funerals for a man from Manitoba. After receiving his diagnoses, the patient wanted to use his living funeral as a way to be more open about death. According to the article, his funeral involved “lots of champagne, lots of glitter, and the hope of changing the conversation around death and dying.”
These are just a few examples of a growing movement.
“As that acceptance grows, and as the concept of death with dignity grows over the next several years, we’re going to see families and patients wanting to have living funerals,” Robinson said during her presentation.
While living funerals are just gaining ground in North America, they’ve been a popular tradition in Japan for a few years. There they are called a seizensō. They were popularized by Junko Yamada, a famous actress. In the 1990s she televised her living funeral — which included a paper effigy of herself and a purposefully upbeat celebration of her life’s work.
But now we are seeing more and more living funerals in America.
We did a simple Google search, and we had no trouble finding a plethora of stories about people choosing to celebrate their final chapter with the ones they love. Below are just a few of the interesting stories we found about the living funeral movement.
- Living Funerals Offer Way To Say Goodbye — Before Someone’s Gone
- My Friend’s ‘Living Wake’
- Strange, But True: Some Now Hold Their Funerals Before Dying
So why are more people choosing to hold their funeral while they are still alive? Part of it has to do with the Baby Boomers. They’ve disrupted the traditional funeral service, bucking tradition for personalization. They want unique funerals that capture who they were, what they accomplished, and the legacy they’ve left behind.
They’ve even opted for using “celebration of life” instead of the term funeral. And as more people have taken an active role in planning their funeral, they are realizing they want to be there for it. They want to spend their final moments surrounded by those they love. Just like a traditional funeral, a living funeral offers a powerful healing experience, bringing family and friends together and giving them a chance to say goodbye.
Funeral Directors Role
Even if a family chooses to have a living funeral, there is still a need for funeral directors. After all, living funerals are very similar to funerals. The Director article outlines the ways in which funeral directors can help plan living funeral services.
- Living funerals require a venue. Whether it be a church center, community century, hotel, resort, or even your funeral home reception hall, families need a place to gather. Funeral directors can help coordinate a venue for families to use.
- A living funeral also needs a master of ceremony or celebrant to guide the family.
- Some families choose to have a video montage or collection of photographs. Funeral directors can help collect photos and piece them together to tell a story.
- Families also like to take home keepsakes after the ceremony. Funeral directors can put together special gifts for each family to remember the living funeral by.
These are just a few of the several roles a funeral director has in organizing a living funeral ceremony. As Defort says in The Director, “funeral directors have evolved to some degree as event planners and, better than anyone, they understand the details that go into planning a small tribute or a grand one. Directors also understand logistics and working with caterers, venues, masters of ceremony, celebrants, and A/V equipment.”
Living funerals are just one of the many ways a funeral director can help create a unique healing ritual for today’s families.
Would you have a living funeral? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!
For more ways to start preplanning, download our free end-of-life arrangement guide for ideas, tips, and ways to get the conversation started.