What Happened When I Planned my Own Funeral

loving couple on a bench

For my final semester in college, I enrolled in a class called “Grief, Loss and Trauma: Ethnic and Individual Variations.” It’s a nursing class that a lot of non-majors also take, because it deals with life skills such as understanding how and why people grieve. The major course project is to plan your own funeral. At 21 years old, that was my task.

My “Death Packet,” as we called our funeral plans, was very flexible, according to what we wanted. Death Packets contain the following:

  • Obituary
  • Eulogy
  • Funeral Plans (this is where most of the details came in)
  • Last Will and Testament
  • 2 Letters of Goodbye or Reconciliation
  • Organ Donor Form
  • Durable Power of Attorney Form
  • Advance Directive

When I first heard about this course from my friend, I thought it sounded morbid. Now that I’ve taken it, I’ve realized that as morbid as planning your own funeral may seem, it is beneficial for my family that I’ve made these end of life decisions. Five things happened as I planned my own funeral:

1. Questions were brought up that I’d never thought about
I had never decided whether I’d want to be cremated or buried, but I was required to decide this, and many other things for the project. As I filled out my advance directive form, I had to answer whether I’d want life support if I were in a coma. Since I had never made decisions about these things before, they took time to consider. I ended up doing a lot of research.

2. It started important conversations with my family
I had barely talked about my own funeral plans with my family before the project, but how would they know what I want if I never said anything? Since beginning funeral planning, I’ve not only made my end of life decisions known to them, but opened a bigger conversation as well. By telling my family my plans, it also let me ask what they might want for a funeral, and get opinions on my plans.

3. It reminded me to appreciate life and the people important to me
As I wrote my will with special explanations as to why I was leaving things to certain people, I started to cry, envisioning how they might feel reading my will and realizing that I wasn’t coming back. I wanted to call everyone in my family and tell them that I loved them. I cried again as I imagined my husband moving on in life without me. We recently married, and to imagine the lives we planned to spend together coming to a sharp halt made me appreciate our time together so much more. As I wrote my letter of goodbye to him, I was thankful it wasn’t real, but I will hold the experience as a reminder to appreciate those I love every day.

4. It gave me the opportunity to evaluate who I am and how I will be remembered
Writing my own eulogy and obituary made me consider my life up to this point. I’m very happy with my life so far, but as I wrote my obituary, I kept wanting to write what would have happened if I had lived just a little bit longer. It made me think, why am I not doing these things already? As I was forced to write my major life milestones and accomplishments, I realized that I still have a lot of goals that I want to see written into my obituary. And I want to change some of the ways people will remember me. As I wrote about myself in my eulogy, I realized ways that I want to improve and shape my life. It was a great push to help me be the person I want to be remembered as, and to achieve my life goals.

5. I found that personalizing the funeral was enjoyable:

I chose my favorite flowers to decorate the church, planned out my favorite meal to be served at the wake, and asked that my favorite worship songs be played during the service. I even planned for a floating lantern release at the end of the graveside service, and more. Planning was both fun and emotional, but most of all, I know it will be a special day for my family to remember me.

It was sad at times when planning my own funeral, but not all of it was negative. I found that making end of life decisions in advance is very beneficial. Even if you are young, it’s a good idea to be prepared and let people know your wishes, rather than leave it up to them. It’s not something to stress about, but it is worth planning, so the people left behind won’t have to make so many choices and decisions while grieving.

At the very least, if you don’t make an official, detailed packet with all your funeral plans, consider discussing your end of life decisions with your family. Talk especially to the ones who will be making legal decisions for you. For example, if you don’t mind who speaks at your funeral, but cremation is important to you, let your family know. I had fun planning my funeral, and I recommend that others do it too. There are infinite ways for you to tailor the funeral to suit your personality. Planning your own funeral means that you have time to make it special and meaningful, so take advantage of that.

Overall, planning my own funeral was a great reminder that nothing in life should be taken for granted: I am thankful for everything. I have a sense of peace that everything is planned, personalized, and ready to guide the people who will one day need it.

 Interested in starting a conversation about your funeral planning? Leave a comment or Tweet us. We want to hear.

About Catherine Powell

Catherine Powell, BA, loves to write and edit, especially with a cup of espresso on hand. Her English degree with a psych minor means she studies the rapidly-changing digital world and the workings of the human mind. Born in Germany, Catherine is inspired by the language, the culture, and her travels. She and her husband live in Tallahassee, Florida, with their Labrador-mix dog.

One Comment

  1. zzhzhou@gmail.com'
    Nick Zhou

    I think it is very important to talk about our own deaths with our family. It is not that we expect tragic things to happen to ourselves. But we should make sure that when tragic does happen, our family know what we want. That’s why there is a new movement called Death Over Dinner where the organizer encourages everyone to talk about death over a meal. It’s not morbid. It’s necessary.

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