How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

Planning Your Memorial

Even if you’re young, planning your funeral can be a rewarding experience.

The time to decide what sort of funeral or memorial you want is now. You can always change it but at least you have something in writing. Of course, you can plan for yourself as well as for a loved one who is no longer able to make his or her wishes known.

I'll start by describing what I’d want for myself (hopefully 30 years from now) and then ask you some questions to help you decide what you’d like for yourself or for your loved one.

What I’d want

No funeral home — I’d want the ceremony to occur at the gravesite. I don’t feel the need for two ceremonies.  

As an atheist, I’d want the ceremony officiated by a secular person, ideally someone who both knew me well and was comfortable crafting and leading a brief ceremony that, without invoking a deity, might help the attendees to both mourn the loss of me but more important, inspire the living. There are many resources for creating a memorial service. HERE is one.

Afterwards, the attendees would be invited to my home for a meal and to share stories and life lessons from having interacted with me. I’d probably write an honest good-bye letter and ask that it be read aloud. After a couple hours, it would be over. End of story.

Questions to help you decide what you want.

1. How important is tradition to you? Most people get conservative around death and so they do the traditional thing: contact a funeral home associated with their faith and let them handle everything. But would that be what would most reflect who you were and, more important, what would best serve your funeral's attendees?

2. How much do you want to spend? The funeral industry has become sophisticated in getting you to spend a lot. Love and respect is not conveyed by the funeral’s cost but by its emotional and perhaps intellectual richness, and, more important, by the extent to which the attendees are moved to incorporate the deceased's life lessons into their own lives.

Last-minute funeral decisionmaking can be painful and unnecessarily expensive so I encourage you to pre-plan.

3. What kind of monument? Large monuments strike me as garish, the cemetery equivalent of wearing thick gold chains. Death, it seems to me, is a reminder of what’s important, and I don’t believe ostentatiousness qualifies.

4. How many people do you want invited? Many people feel that the deceased’s worthiness is measured in part by how many people attend the funeral. I don’t agree with that but do appreciate the argument that the more people that attend an inspiring service, the more people that benefit. On the other hand, there’s something deeper about a funeral attended only by the people that truly loved the deceased rather than an assemblage of people liberally laced with those who came mainly out of obligation.

5. What kind of after-event do you want? After the sadness of a burial, many people need a transition before returning to regular activities. Perhaps you might want a quiet get-together at a home with simple food and drink. Or opt for an upbeat celebration of your life. My wife said she’d like ‘50s music and dancing at her post-burial get-together.

So, do you want to make known your desires for your memorial? I invite you to post them as a comment on this article.

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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