Why I decided to plan my own funeral - aged 33

Why I decided to plan my own funeral – aged 33

Suzanne Bearne has planned her own funeral, aged 33
Suzanne Bearne has planned her own funeral, aged 33 Credit:

The plan is this. Beautifully scented candles will flicker as I make my grand entrance into the stylish venue. and family, dressed in their best attire, will make heart-warming and hilarious of speeches.

Later, with the Champagne flowing and the DJ playing funky soul, everyone will get trashed and dance until the early hours. You see, I want my big day to play out in a certain way – even if I am lying in my coffin.

Ever since I was a teenager I’ve sporadically dreamt about my fantasy funeral: the songs that might be played, the inspiring eulogies from admirers, and the long-lost ex who declares his undying love at the most inopportune moment. I’ve spent more time curating my dream funeral than my future wedding, which probably speaks volumes about my personality.

I’ve long contemplated sharing my funeral requests with my family, who without guidance, would probably fail in meeting my high expectations. An environmentally-friendly and creative send-off is unlikely to be organised by one of those funeral directors hidden behind black curtains on the high street, and admittedly I do like things with a certain pizzazz. I’d be spinning in my coffin if Westlife’s ‘You Raise Me Up’ was played.

I know inviting my family for an evening of talking about my funeral wouldn’t exactly have them knocking on my front door, holding a bottle of red. They’d just brush it off. After all, the end doesn’t appear to be nigh just yet. I’m just 33-years-old.

But what most people don’t appreciate is just how life-affirming thinking about your own funeral can be

In a modern office block in Seoul, staff from a recruitment company are staging their own funerals 
In a modern office block in Seoul, staff from a recruitment company stage their own funerals

That’s why I can well understand why some companies in South Korea – which has the world’s highest suicide rate, with about 40 every day – are making staff attend their own mock funerals.

Employees write ‘farewell letters’ to loved one, before lying down in their own wooden coffin, hugging a picture of themselves and draped in black ribbons. Finally, an ‘angel of death’ (dressed in black with a tall hat) closes the coffin lid, so those inside can reflect on how they’ve spent their time on earth. The idea is to help people overcome their own obstacles.

I came across my own ‘angel of death’ very recently. Louise de Winter is the owner of Poetic Endings, a bespoke funeral planning service designed to make people think creatively about the style of ceremony they’d like.

I was intrigued and thrilled that I could create my dream funeral with someone so artistic, progressive and knowledgeable (de Winter has clocked up experience working with funeral directors, is a trained a celebrant, and hosts Death Cafes – where people come together to chat all matters deathly, over a cuppa).

So, on a chilly afternoon we meet at the House of St Barnabas, a members’ club in a Georgian townhouse in Soho.

In a corner of one of its cosy rooms and over a pot of green tea, we get down to business.

The quietly spoken de Winter asks about my own experience of funerals (black limousines, very traditional) before we discuss the practical arrangements and the tone of my own (bloody good fun). It’s a long and thoughtful process – taking about three-and-a-half hours – and it’s peppered with tears and laughter.

So what does my funeral look like?

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There’s a an eco-friendly theme running throughout (bamboo coffin, no embalming) and a balance between affordability (with attendees requested to make a donation to one of my favourite charities in favour of bringing flowers, and my family advised to travel in their own cars rather than forking out for limos) and style.

Rather than taking place in a church, the ceremony will be held in a beautiful, tasteful venue filled with candles.

It should be fun. Following the ceremony, Prosecco and Champagne will be served. From there, a party with a vegetarian buffet created by the attendees will follow – either at the same venue or a local pub – with a DJ playing and the backdrop referencing my love of festivals.

I’ve requested a natural woodland burial, with friends and family raising a toast as my body goes under.

Far from being an anomaly, De Winter says more and more people are interested in pre-planning their own funerals.

“So many people get in touch with me because they have attended funerals and thought ‘Oh God that was awful. I don’t want my family to have that, and I most certainly don’t want to pay £4,000 for the privilege – what are my options?’ Others come to me with an awareness that life is finite, and will one day be over,” she explains.

Isabel Russo, head of ceremonies at the British Humanist Association, says she’s noticed a “real sea change” in British attitudes towards death.

“People are becoming more comfortable with having conversations around death and there’s now a whole sense of ownership when it comes to funerals.”

Louise de Winter
Louise de Winter

It might appear narcissistic, but I feel happy in the knowledge that my funeral plan (a document that’s not legally-binding but there for my family to fulfil my wishes) will be helpful to my nearest and dearest as they’re dealing with grief.

Of course, not everyone sees it that way – my partner finds it morbid and doesn’t want to discuss it.

But for me, the whole experience was pretty life-affirming – as I’m sure those workers in Korea will find out, too.

I’ve masterminded a ceremony and burial that’s truly personal and exactly how I wish to be remembered. After all, death is our only inevitability. Why not go out with a funeral that truly resonates?

Eleanore

Eleanore

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