Apparently, millenials are increasingly planning their own funerals, at a session a Maggies Manchester we talked about the fact that although death may seem (a lot) closer after a cancer diagnosis, the only certainty in life is that we all die! It’s a conversation that has come up other places too, such as the #YouMeBigC podcast, the UCLAN event, a previous blog on here, and this excellent book:
This book came recommended by the #YouMeBigC podcast, within their episode on ‘death’ (not passing on, etc), and also in Instagram @thecancerchrons reckoned it was one of the best books she’d ever read, so I downloaded it from the library!
I found it powerful, gentle, hard at times, and comedic at others. Considering I finished reading it the day before I was having a spinal biopsy to check for mets, a particularly challenging read, but within society we think that we can evade death, whereas, as people joke ‘death and taxes – can’t be avoided’ … and the more we avoid talking about it, the harder it gets – especially for those panicking about dying, and the family/friends around them who don’t know the wishes.
I’m part of a FB group on death and dying, tied to Uni Of Winchester MSc – having spoken at the conference about representations of death in WW2 propaganda posters – very limited on the home front, more drastic for the armed forces – and stayed in the group as I’m interested in how the digital (especially our footprint online) impacts our notions of death – I’m still Facebook friends with people who have died – some of whom have undertaken the official FB process of memorialisation, and others where family maintain access (or the account just lies dormant – except for birthday reminders) …
I may also look further at Death Cafe, and https://www.deathlife.org.uk/. I prepared my will a couple of years ago, and I’m planning on talking to a vicar friend about what I can do to sort for funeral, etc. Hopefully I won’t need them for many years, but hearing how another friend has been left trying to sort out a relatives muddled effects – being prepared does not equate with giving up!
I had already sorted out my will before I got my cancer diagnosis, and had been thinking about preparing for a funeral (it’s definitely going to happen at some point). Those who’ve had to arrange funerals for others say this is one the best things that you can do for your friends/family, and are planning funerals in their 20s. Using Sarah Jones’ Funerals Your Way, and a bit of info from the government and the Church of England, plus chats with some friends, and keeping on an eye on how to organise a funeral without spending ridiculous amounts of money (see also avoid the funeral sting), I’ve made some progress. I’m not saying I’m finished, but so far here’s what I’ve got (TBH, I’ll be dead so it’s more for other people!):
Tone: A celebration of my life, but space to grieve (especially if it’s ‘way too early’)
Songs: Maybe influenced somewhat by the odd mix of having been brought up in a Brethren church, and ‘Beer and Hymns’ at Greenbelt!
- Harry Potter Prologue (Hedwig’s Theme) – Entrance to church
- Thine Be the Glory
- This Is Amazing Grace
- Crown him with many crowns
- Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
- Oh Lord My God (How Great Thou Art)
- This Is Me – leaving church (still thinking about that one – also love a bit of Trumpet Voluntary)
A couple of songs we had a laugh saying “I’ll get bored of lying there if there’s too many verses,” a few others we listened to the lyrics (on Alexa) and e.g. Evanescence ‘Bring me to life‘, which I love, maybe not appropriate… although that could start off a playlist for the reception.
I have a lot of friends who can play music, I wonder if they’d provide it.
Service lead/speakers: I know a lot more vicars and speaking-orientated people than average, so I need to sound people out who would find this a privilege rather than wanting to be ‘just a guest’ at the funeral – I don’t know how people feel about this!
Technology: Obviously I would encourage the use of digital/technology – it could include a Twitterfall (what’s the hashtag?), there’s an option for live streaming (I watched a friend’s funeral online), should I pre-prepare photos/a video message or is that just weird?
On the Coffin: My books stacked up (too narcissistic? my gift to the world…)
Flowers: Gerberas (bright pink, purple, red, white) – guests could throw these on the coffin/weave them
- Cheese (obviously)
- Port (and equivalent soft drinks)
- Friends to make cake
- Bring and share food (how very ‘church’ of me)
- Photo frames
- Photo books for people to look at
- My badge blankets of places I’ve been on display
Burial: Woodland burial – emailed these local arrangers, although they’ve never replied, which is not a great start!
Coffin: Something that’s pretty eco-friendly, probably a wicker coffin (I did debate a cardboard coffin that people could write on, like a school shirt, but not sure I (and people there) are 100% comfortable with that)
Headstone: “She made a difference”
I’ve scribbled a few more things into the Funerals Your Way book… I may be back with more ideas, or write another blog in future times, but at least some of the information that might help people is here…
Oh, and I’m not a fan of the term ‘fly high with the angels’ …
I still need to sort out power of attorney, and think about managing digital assets.
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.