This article is the second of a series of three based on my personal experience of a death in the family and explores some of the choices that need to be made when arranging a funeral.
Started with my stepfather and I trying to decide who needed to be made aware of my mum’s funeral. This probably sounds quite straight forward on the face of it but once again memory plays its part and my stepfather, due to his medical condition, struggled to remember who should be there and often where they lived.
We had decided on a venue for the after funeral lunch and my stepfather wanted to invite these people to attend personally. The funeral director specifically advised us not to mention the location on any notices in the paper or in the retirement home where he lived as “gatecrashers” are quite common at funerals apparently!
We also gave more thought to the subject of flowers. In the end we made it clear that only family members would send flowers, anybody else who wanted to make such a gesture we would prefer to make a donation to the Alzheimers Society.
After the meeting I called the Alzheimers Society and asked them to let me have collection boxes and donation forms which could me made available at the funeral service.
On my way home I attended the Register Office in Preston. I was advised to take a means of identification for my mum, passport for example, plus a utility bill to prove her address.
The people at the Register Office were very helpful indeed. The meeting was very thorough and lasted about an hour. i was introduced to the Tell Me Once Service which lets you report a death to most government organisations in one go. This saves a lot of time and works very well from my experience https://www.gov.uk/after-a-death/organisations-you-need-to-contact-and-tell-us-once
Initial call with the Humanist Celebrant who was to lead the service. We finalised the choice of music for entry and departure from the crematorium, plus a piece for a period of reflection. All chosen pieces would be sourced by the funeral director.
We were asked if any friends or family members would like to speak and I was asked to provide around 1500 words to celebrate my mother’s life. From start to finish the time allocated at the crematorium was to be 30 minutes. Accurate timings were essential! Please could he have my first draft the following day.
30 minutes to summarise the life of a person who had lived a very full and active 88 years!
My mother had been married before, I was the product of her first marriage, she married her second husband; my stepfather, when she was 42 so it seemed logical for me to write the first half of her life, and my stepfather to write the second half.
My contribution came to 800 words, my stepfather’s came to 1500 words, and my daughter, who really wanted to speak at her grandmother’s funeral, had another 800 words!
The humanist called me to ask for me to try and edit it down! In the end let’s say we had the edited hightlights of my mum’s life!
The whole experience does raise the complications of trying to cover the full life of somebody who has had many episodes to their life, often with many different participants and often including family members with whom relationships have become quite distant over the years.
This is very sad in my view, especially with older relatives, the detail of a very happy childhood can be overlooked and previous marriages and experiences which would have had a major impact on the lives of the person being celebrated can be also be omitted.
After at least 3 days of re-writes and several conversations the final service and content was finally agreed. There was going to be less time for music than originally envisaged and the period of reflection would also need to be reduced.
Notice of my mum’s funeral appeared in the local paper, another tradition but I do wonder how many people actually read these publications. We decided that we wanted the day to be an upbeat celebration of my mum’s life, with no black ties or dark clothes if possible. Family flowers were all ordered to be delivered to the funeral director.
Other details which cropped up which I was not ready for, included, did anyone want to “view ” my mum, did we have a preference on make-up for her? What clothes would we prefer her to wear? Three quick no’s followed, without the first option, options two and three did not apply, but this may be important to some families and may be something to discuss .
Lessons learnt :-
- Conversations about their final wishes with the family are essential well before death and ideally before memory deteriorates.
- The standard length of service for a cremation is totally inadequate to do justice the life of anybody who has lived for over 80 years. Some crematoria may let you book additional slots.
- The service for a Cremation does not need to happen in a crematorium. It can be in a more relaxed location without the restrictive timetable of a public crematorium
- Most basic funeral plans will cover only the basics.
- Flowers are very expensive.
- Elderley relatives are often not on email or social media; you will need old technology to let them know the funeral arrangements.
- Do you really want to rely on a total stranger who has not even met your mum to conduct a celebration of her life?
To help you start the conversation with your family about their final wishes, why not download our free checklists to help document their decisions.