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How to Plan Your Dream Funeral

June 30, 2021
Linda Stuart, Life-Cycle Celebrant, weighs in on how to plan the funeral of your dreams (and that your loved ones will need.)
Written By Linda StuartJune 30, 2021

My mother’s voice was bursting with excitement when I answered the phone. “Linda, I had a wonderful dream about my funeral last night!” she said. “Okaaay…,” I responded, not sure what exactly to do with this information. She continued, “Everyone was having so much fun, dancing to the music I love and drinking the champagne I adore.” (Side note: It’s really just inexpensive sparkling wine, but she calls it champagne, so we go with it.)

A dream-worthy funeral may be a strange concept for many, but I spend a fair amount of time thinking and talking about creating meaningful funeral experiences as a celebrant. Still, my mother’s call caught me off-guard.

Sure, we had talked about what her funeral might look like, and I had gotten her approval on the “champagne ritual” I’d created in her honour. But it was gratifying to hear that my mother was enthusiastic about an event that she wouldn’t be attending. She had been absorbing what I’d been talking about passionately for years—so much that she was dreaming about it!

Starting to think about your own funeral

Without fail, every time I deliver a funeral ceremony, somebody approaches me afterward, says, “I want this!” and asks me to help create their funeral. “I want an uplifting ceremony that’s about my life, not my death,” they say. “I want people to laugh and cry and clap and hug. I want the people I love to feel how I feel right now.”

Lots of people have pre-planned the practical aspects of their funerals. They’ve worked with a trusted funeral home to choose products and explore options for the disposition of their body. And that’s a great start. But you shouldn’t stop there. Because what we do with someone’s body and how we celebrate a person’s life are two entirely different things.

What we do with someone’s body and how we celebrate a person’s life are two entirely different things

As a modern funeral celebrant, I have worked with countless families to create funerals that focus on connection, authenticity, and ceremonial storytelling. Here’s what I recommend for creating a dream-worthy funeral.

Ask yourself: “How do I want people to feel?”

As poet Maya Angelou famously said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Think about any funerals you’ve attended that were meaningful or that stood out in a positive way. What do you remember about them? What made them special? You may not remember the finer details— the colours of the flowers, the tree engraved on the urn, the opening and closing pieces of music—but I’ll bet you remember how you felt.

Once you can identify how you want people to feel at your funeral, you can start building from there.

If you have time, take it

When you think about it, many of the same elements we find in weddings also apply to funerals –ceremony, flowers, décor, reception–but most couples spend at least a year planning for their big day.

A funeral is most often planned after a death has occurred and the rushed pace doesn’t always allow time for families to create a truly meaningful, reflective, and colourful experience.

Do some soul searching

Your funeral is a gift you give to those who love you—so dig deep, explore your soul, and discovery what makes your life unique. Start by asking yourself some questions:

  • What am I most grateful for?
  • How do I define happiness?
  • What’s the most courageous thing I’ve ever done?
  • What are my top 3 core values?
  • Who in my life has inspired and influenced me the most?
  • What disappointment taught me the greatest lesson?
  • What lights me up?

Download your free SoulScape Discovery Guide to help you uncover the deeper truths of who you really are, the meaning of your life and the legacy you want to leave behind.)

Plan for a ceremony

It’s worth distinguishing between a celebratory event and a ceremony. A celebratory event alone can leave behind a “something’s missing” kind of feeling. A ceremony is rich in storytelling, rituals, and symbols and can capture your essence in a joyful and inspiring way with the potential to transform everyone in attendance and lift your dream funeral to a new level. You may want only a party, but your loved ones may need a ceremony.

Today, there really are NO rules when it comes to planning a ceremony. Want something non-religious? No problem! Ceremony and religion CAN be exclusive of one another and as our secular society expands, there are many officiant options to choose from including Life-Cycle Celebrants (like me), clergy, and celebrants.

  • Life-Cycle Celebrants are professional officiants rigorously trained in the history of ritual and ceremonies. Collaborating with families to create one-of-a-kind ceremonies that reflect each client’s preferences, beliefs, cultural background, and values, they are experts in ceremony design and creation and the art of ceremonial public speaking.
  • Celebrants may be religion-based, secular-trained, or untrained and self-declared. There may be a great difference in the ceremonies they provide. Ask about training, certification, religious affiliation, and experience to be sure they will provide the ceremony you desire.
  • Clergy have been trained and approved for religious service. Because they provide a faith-based ceremony according to the tenets of their denominations, you may wish to verify that their approach aligns with your beliefs and confirm that the clergy member will support any ideas you may have to personalize the ceremony.

Location, location, location

The sky is truly the limit so think about what works and what makes sense given your lifestyle, passions, and taste.

It could be at your local funeral home, a park, a racing track, a dance hall, a golf club, a marina, your backyard, your front yard…you get the idea. Make some preliminary inquiries and have a few choices in mind that your family can choose from when the time comes.

Create a blueprint and stay flexible

Your favourite song today may not be your favourite song tomorrow so while you design your dream funeral blueprint, stay flexible and leave lots of wiggle-room for your loved ones to incorporate how they’ll want to honour your life.

Remember, your funeral is ABOUT you but it’s not FOR you so it’s really important to consider what the people you love are going to need when you’re gone. Keep in mind they may not even have any idea what that is until you’re not around. So think of your blueprint as a “living document” and change it as your thoughts, desires and wishes evolve.

Remember, your funeral is ABOUT you but it’s not FOR you.

Part of this blueprint can include a funeral and burial wishes document that can be stored with your Will and other estate planning documents. A funeral and burial wishes document gives your loved ones a high-level idea of what you want. When you make your Will with Epilogue, you get one of these documents for free.

It doesn’t have to cost a lot to mean a lot

It’s the thought that counts, right? And when it comes to funerals, it’s especially true.

We’ve all been to funerals; you may have experienced some that were expensive but not terribly memorable and others not terribly expensive but extremely memorable.

Regardless of budget–whether you’re popping vintage champagne or serving up your famous pink lemonade–with a little creativity and thought, your loved ones can experience a meaningful, healing, and authentic funeral that has your name written all over it.

Talk to your loved ones

Oh, the dreaded “talk.” What I’ve come to realize is that you can’t talk about death without also talking about life. However you see it, these are the important conversations we need to have with the people we love.

The first time is the hardest but really, it’s all in the approach. So, in the beginning, keep it light and don’t try to cover everything all in one sitting. Maybe start by sharing a story about a funeral you attended or an article you read (hint hint) that inspired you to think about how you want your family to feel on the day they devote to celebrating your life.

From there, you can slowly move on to sharing more details and having more conversations as time goes by.

Live your best legacy

One of the most meaningful gifts you can give your loved ones is the knowledge that you have lived your life to the fullest. Celebrating the highs with unabashed joy, surviving the lows with honour and grace, and fully experiencing the miracle of life.

As the saying goes, “It’s not the years in your life but the life in your years that matters.” So if you’re not already, get clear on what matters and start living your best legacy today.

Written By Linda Stuart
Linda Stuart is a Life-Cycle Celebrant who creates and performs one-of-a-kind ceremonies for life’s big and small moments. Specializing in funerals, Linda has always been a Celebrant at heart, organizing celebrations, designing ceremonies, and reinventing rituals for as long as she can remember. She was inspired by the Death Café movement to found “Toronto Talks Death,” which illuminates her belief that we as humans can’t come close to understanding the meaning of life without exploring the reality of death. Linda frequently gives talks on the value of funerals and the importance of creating authentic, meaningful and relevant experiences for families. Linda lives with her husband in Toronto and loves spending time at the cottage with their four grown children and sweet bichon, Bailey.