What is a living funeral?

The way we talk about death and dying, historically something of a taboo, is ever-changing as we adapt the ways in which we celebrate and grieve the lives and deaths of those we love the most.

As more people begin to discuss their plans for their own deaths more openly, funerals are beginning to change too. People are becoming as likely to choose a non-religious celebration of life or even an environmentally friendly ‘eco’ funeral as they are a traditional funeral service, reflecting their personal beliefs and passions.

Some people are even choosing to attend their own funerals in a trend for ‘living funerals’ - services held before someone actually passes away.

Living funerals are usually held close to the end of a person’s life. Some families are arranging them for a loved one suffering from a terminal illness, but while they are well enough to take part in the event honouring them.

A Celebration of Life

With funerals increasingly seen as a celebration of the life of the deceased, living funerals give a fresh perspective on these celebrations. They actually allow the person themselves to join the celebration and see the impact of their life as friends and family honour them.

Traditionally funerals are a time to remember, give thanks and say goodbye. This is true of a living funeral, but it works both ways. Not only can family and friends celebrate the life of their loved one, but that person can thank and celebrate the people that made their life special. So, as much as a living funeral is a celebration of one person’s life, it can also be a celebration for all that has been done for them over the years.

A Worldwide Trend

Living funerals started in Japan during the mid-nineties, where they are known as seizensō. It was born out of the feeling that many elders experienced; that they were burdening younger generations with their old age and only complicating matters with the stress of a classic funeral.

Nowadays, living funerals remain popular in Japan but are also now common in the United States and are beginning to be seen in the United Kingdom, according to celebrant Amanda Waring. “More people in the UK are now holding services in which the soon-to-be deceased person speaks about their life and who has affected it,” she wrote on the i website.

Helping Say Goodbye

Possibly the biggest benefit of a living funeral is that it gives family and friends a chance to say goodbye directly to their loved ones. With the person present at their own funeral, loved ones can express how they impacted their life and share all the happy memories they have.

It can often be hard on children to attend the funerals of elderly relatives but living funerals can help them cope with death and grief. At some, children are invited to create special gift bags or baskets full of photographs and other memories. This can help children to feel more involved in the process and can help ease the eventual impact of their death.

Speaking about why the trend is growing in popularity, David Williamson, the Spiritual Care Lead at St. Leonards Hospice in York said that, “I've always been amazed at the tributes that friends and relatives give to the person who's died and I often ask them, ‘Did you ever say that to the person when they were alive?’. And quite often they'll say no. So I've always wondered, is there a better way we can express what we think and feel about people when they are alive?”

Following the same rules as normal funerals, living funerals do not have to be held in a traditional place of worship; they can be held anywhere that carries a special meaning to the funeral subject.

In all, living funerals are an interesting alternative to traditional funerals. They can help ease the grieving process for family and friends, giving them the opportunity to celebrate the life of and say goodbye to a loved one, whilst also allowing the person to hear just how their life has positively impacted the lives of many others.

Golden Charter has one of the largest networks of independent funeral directors in the UK1. Many are long-standing, family-run businesses and all provide a compassionate and professional service. Find out more about how you can plan for your funeral with one of the funeral directors in our network. Request a free, no obligation information pack below or call 0800 111 4514.

1Based on recent market share of funeral plans sold. For details please see Funeral Planning Authority statistics 2018 at funeralplanningauthority.co.uk/statistics and Golden Charter Annual Review 2018/19 at goldencharter.co.uk