This Is What 106 Funerals Taught Me About Life & Digital Legacy #3

Western funerals: black hearses, and black horses, and fast-fading flowers. Why should black be the colour of death? Why not the colours of a sunset?
— Daniele Varè, The Maker of Heavenly Trousers


"Talking about sex will not get you pregnant, neither will talking about a funeral kill you."

Said Gail Rubin, founder of A Good Goodbye

She is right. From my experience, people rarely speak of death. In 106 funerals conducted in the last six months, only a handful of families knew the wishes of their loved one. When they did, it made such a difference. Sometimes elaborate and discussed in detail when expecting death. Sometimes a scrap of paper between the pages of a book found on a bedside table. Leaving your wishes regardless of your health and age is a kind and a gift to your family. It does not matter how old you are, plan your funeral. 

I am a funeral celebrant. I plan, write a life tribute and then deliver those words on the sad day when families have to say goodbye to a loved one. In the last six months, I have written 106 funeral services. Wrapped up in the mystery of those unwelcome days, are four valuable lessons I have learned. Lessons about life and how you can leave a digital legacy for your family. Helping 106 families face death teaches you about life. 

This series of posts are about those four lessons. 

Lesson Three - Plan Your Funeral

Justin Bieber has planned his.
Muhammed Ali organised his in a notebook.
David Bowie designed his.
Why wouldn't you plan yours?

Here is something we do not like to hear. Deep down we know it is true. You will die. Death is a fact of life. Every culture has their ways of saying goodbye to loved ones. Western culture and traditions are undergoing an incredible transition because of digital disruption. New methods are available to answer the question and communicate your final wishes. We sometimes avoid the subject because we do not want to face the truth of our mortality. Taking a little time to consider your wishes now, will ease the situation later. 

How do you want to celebrate your life? 

Do you want burial or cremation? 
Are you particular about a choice of a coffin?
If cremated, where do want your ashes scattered?
What music is important? 
Do you want a church service or non-religious celebration? 
Did you want someone particular to say something?
Was there an individual poem or piece of prose that you liked?
Do you want to say anything by leaving a message read out?
What about flowers and donations in memory of you? 

These are some of the questions that you do not want to ask or answer. I understand that. Someday, though, someone will have to make a calculated guess. I have seen first-hand the stress those difficult decisions cause. Making these emotional choices is stressful in the extreme. You may not want to spend, or you may not have the money needed to fund a costly funeral. For a family to go into debt, which they often do, is not what most people would want as a legacy. Without communicating your choices, emotions can take over the decision-making process. You can avoid that for your family. Eradicating the stress of your funeral choices for your family takes a single piece of paper. 

A Cardboard Box Will Be Fine

"I do not care what happens to me after I am gone! Put me in a cardboard box if you like, I am not concerned with what will happen to me," so say some. While you may not have concerns about a funeral, what if your loved ones do? What if that last goodbye would mean something to them, even if it seems meaningless to you?" Writes Jessica Hanson in the Huffing Post Blog. She is right. Making decisions for your funeral will be stressful for your family. Without you leaving information your family will try to make what they feel is the best decision. This unknowing can cause conflict between siblings and leave relationships fractured. I have seen it happen. 

John Matthews from Nottingham, England, is terminally ill. In a report in the Nottingham Post John said: "As soon as I knew I was terminal, I spoke to my sister and we arranged the funeral. I want to do family flowers only, then donations. "I've chosen what I will be wearing - my Forest football shirt. I call it my 'going away' outfit. I will be buried in a plot with my mum - it's a family plot. It doesn't upset me, talking about it. Whatever happens, will happen." Taking those brave steps to talk about his wishes will help his family deal with his loss. Fulfilling those requests does not remove the hurt and pain of loss, but it brings a kind of salve to soothe and heal.

The important truth of lesson three - plan your funeral. It could save unnecessary emotional and financial hardship.

It will bring some peace into what will be an emotional time for every family. Fulfilling those final wishes helped them say goodbye. 

Final Wish is a digital legacy platform created for storing this information. In a secure online vault, you can leave your final wishes for your funeral. It stores this precise information for trustees and executors. Here you can leave the answers to those questions above about your last wishes. Remember to tell people what you want to have done with your social media accounts. Even leave special instructions about your pets. There is even a way of creating a photo slideshow for your funeral. Also, write down your wishes. Put them with your life assurance policies, will and relevant documents. 

Planning your funeral can take an amount of time. It will challenge your feelings about your life and the legacy your leave. I've learned that if you do this, it will save your loved ones enormous stress and heartache down the line. 

This is the third lesson that I have learned from 106 funerals. 

If you would like to buy a copy of an e-Book of the whole series of 4 lessons, please vist the Death Goes Digital shop or click on the image below. 

Want to know more about Final Wish? Have a listen the podcast episode with its founder Andrew Smith