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Grave Expectations: There’s More to Funeral Planning Than Sourcing Free Funeral Program Templates Online. Have You Already Begun Planning Your Own Unique Memorial Service?

January 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Anne Holmes, Blog, Living, Spirit & Faith

Grave Expectations: There's More to Funeral Planning Than Sourcing Free Funeral Program Templates Online. Have You Already Begun Planning Your Own Unique Memorial Service?

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 20:  Funeral director Pete...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

A recent article in the AARP Bulletin, titled “The High Cost of Dying,” discussed how easily funeral costs can spin out of control. The article noted that this happens primarily because your surviving relatives — faced with unexpectedly having to quickly put together a funeral while simultaneously grieving your demise  — just don’t have the time or energy to price shop or bargain.

Hey, you can understand: They’re grieving for you, right?

Besides which, it’s human nature to want to provide a loved one with the best funeral possible, as a show of respect, right? This classic skit by Nichols and May really exemplifies the dilemmas grieving relatives experience. You’ll find yourself laughing out loud as you squirm at the man’s discomfort with the sales pitch he’s receiving. After all, she’s not even offering him the option of free funeral program templates!

Sadly, if you’ve recently found yourself planning a funeral, you may believe that not much has changed in the years since they first created it:

The AARP article also points out many people have the impression that the magnitude of the casket is an indicator of socioeconomic status. No doubt that accounts for all those solid bronze caskets still offered in most funeral homes.  (After all, who wouldn’t want to be packaged for death like an ancient Egyptian pharoah, right?)

How about you?

Do you want to exit the world in a solid bronze casket? Or would you rather have a deeply meaningful service that you’ve planned in advance — and the opportunity to leave the money that could have gone for that fancy casket to your grandchildren or a worthy cause?

If you’re more into benefiting family or charitable causes with your worldly goods, they now is the time for you to take action to assure your wishes are met. Why not plan your funeral now — or at least discuss it with your family?

Think of funeral planning as being just as important as the plans families make for a birth, a wedding or a graduation. That you can both enjoy the funeral you’d really like, as well as save your family a lot of future pain. (After all, you’ll be there, both in body and spirit.)

  • Don’t you agree that now — when you’re still hale, healthy and able to speak your mind — is really the best time for you to give some thought to what you’d like to have transpire at your personal memorial service?
  • That way your surviving family members will be saved from the pressure tactics and indecision many currently encounter when talking to a funeral director while trying to give you the send-off they think you’d prefer.
  • After all, you hate to waste money, and you’re well aware that the “traditional funeral” — complete with embalming, viewing in that expensive casket, funeral ceremony and graveside service — is not the only option.

If You Just Want to “Dip Your Toe” Into the Concept of Personalized Funeral Planning, Here Are Some Small – But Extremely Helpful – Things You Can Do:

For starters, how about writing up your obituary now – except for the specifics of when, where and how?

After all,  if you can provide all the “nitty gritty” specifics – such as what high school you attended, or the names of all relevant survivors, this is a real help for whoever is managing your final arrangements.  If you’re famous, the newspapers already have an obit on file for you. Thankfully, for the rest of us, there are readily available fill-in-the blank forms, which will help get you started.

Here are a few you can review. Keep in mind that in addition to the specifics of your death –  which you obviously don’t know at this time – the obituary gives you a chance to tell your story, to create your legacy statement, and get it out there the way you’d like it told:

OK, That Was Easy:

So Why Not Take a Figurative Deep Breath and Jump Into the Deep End of the Memorial Pool? You Know, Spend a Little Time to Plan Your Funeral – EXACTLY the Way You’d Like It?

After all, unless you take the time to write up your plans – and keep them somewhere where they can be found in time – only you know that you’d always secretly wanted something special and personally meaningful, like:

  • To have your funeral procession led by your high school’s marching band
  • A real Irish wake
  • A Viking funeral, complete with a burning pyre floating off to sea
  • A huge send-off party at your country club, with all your friends toasting your life – and maybe you’d like to sign off by treating them to a “hootenanny” and a hot air balloon ride
  • A quiet memorial service after you’ve donated your body to science
  • A service with full military honors. Perhaps you’ve even wondered whether – since you are a war veteran —  you might even qualify to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery?
  • Then again, maybe your dream is to have your ashes scattered over place that holds special meaning for you. Perhaps your dream is to be:

Now’s the time to think about what really appeals to you.

Assuming you’ll want some sort of memorial service involved, you can even pre-determine the specifics including:

  • What sort of coffin you desire. After all, not all coffins are made of solid wood anymore.
    • There are “green” coffins made of cardboard, for example, which can be decorated to suit your personal style.
    • Or you may prefer something natural and recyclable, such as bamboo or wicker.
    • Or – can you imagine – there’s an “ecopod,” that’s actually made of recycled newspaper?
    • And, then there are all sorts of caskets, urns, body bags and shrouds. You could have a unique clay pot specially commissioned, for example. Eco Urns are made from completely natural materials and are fully bio-degradable and are suitable for either burial or cremation.
  • Your funeral budget. Funeral expenses can quickly add up.
    • Few relatives want to worry that they didn’t provide you with the send-off you deserve, so they often spend money on things which might mean nothing to you.
    • Currently you’d need to budget $10,000 for an average funeral in the United States. More if you’re really intrigued with the special events and party planners…
    • If you’re determined to have your money go elsewhere, you may want to join the Funeral Consumers Alliance in your area.
  • Any special poems or readings you’d like shared with your friends and family
  • Your preferred music and songs so that you can set the tone for the ceremony.For example:
    • Do you want your favorite rock music blasting out triumphantly as people enter the service?
    • Or would you prefer a simple flute – or maybe a throbbing drumbeat?
    • Or maybe some Cajun zydeco that merrily sets everyone’s feet a-tapping?
  • Your preferred pallbearers – and you’d like to have offer your eulogy?
  • The funeral venue is important too.
    • Do you feel that a traditional church or funeral home chapel is where you’d like people to assemble?
    • Or maybe you’re an outdoors-y kind of gal, and you’d rather people gather in a lovely bower in the woods.
    • Then again, perhaps you feel drawn to the sea, and you’d like your service to be held on the water, or overlooking your favorite beach.
  • You’ll even have the opportunity to dictate what sort of catering and transport you’d prefer. Here’s where you can let your family know that you’d love it if everyone:
    • Finished off the ceremony by feasting on BBQ ribs and toasting your memory with your favorite micro-brew beer
    • Enjoyed a campfire meal at your favorite national park, complete with hot dogs roasted on a stick and s’mores, or
    • Toasted your memory with your favorite vintage champagne before riding off to the opera in a fleet of white limos
    • Hey, it’s your funeral, as they say… And it’s your last chance to tell your loved ones where you’d like them to go!

One easy way to assemble this information for posterity would be to plan your service and even create the program for it now. Again, there are planning forms available online – and even free funeral program templates.

Heck, you can even order the stock for the funeral programs in advance, selecting your photo, the cover image, etc.

Alternately, you can create a video of your life story, and make it permanently available online or on your headstone. Or, perhaps hand out  CD copies of your video as funeral keepsakes.

Recently Carmen Flowers and Sue Bailey, authors of the recently published book, “Grave Expectations,”  Were Featured on NBC’s “Today” show.

Here’s their take on funeral planning:

Need Even More Help and Ideas? Here’s a Handful of Additional Sources For Funeral Planning  Services:

And Here Are Several Other Great Funeral and Memorial Resources:

Final thoughts on Pre-Planning Your Funeral

As the cliche points out, no one can escape death or taxes. So why not take some time when you are healthy and pre-plan your own funeral? It is a surprisingly simple thing to do and really don’t cost much.

  • If you’re at a loss for ideas, not really sure how you want to be memorialized, the links are great starting points. The book “Grave Expectations” is actually subtitled “Planning The End Like There’s No Tomorrow,” and it’s a fantastic resource for idea starters.
  • Or if you’re not into reading, you can start your planning efforts by contacting a funeral home in your community and ask them to come to your home and discuss what you’d prefer. Once you’ve decided on your arrangements, the company will provide you with a quote, and you can choose to pay for it in monthly installments.
  • As you can see, pre-planning allows you to the peace of mind of knowing that your funeral will be exactly what you want — and the price will be locked in and will not change – no matter how long you live.
  • Given that, you have to agree that pre-planning your funeral is not a bit morbid – especially since it means that when your time comes, your family will be freed from having to make arrangements in the midst of their grief.

Based on personal experience, you know they’ll appreciate the fact that they can focus completely on celebrating your life with friends and family – and of course, their grief! Given that we all have to go eventually, isn’t that really the way you’d like to leave this world?

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With the Michael Jackson Funeral and Other Celeb Deaths Behind Us, Boomers Are Having Grave Expectations: Have You Begun Planning Your Own Unique Memorial Service?

July 15, 2009 by  
Filed under Anne Holmes, Blog, Living, Relationships & Family

Will Michael Jackson Funeral Change Your Plans?

It’s been over a week since Michael Jackson’s amazing public memorial service at the Staples Center, and more than two weeks since the King of Pop died. While he’s still in the news, hopefully his family will be allowed to return to life as usual fairly soon.

Jackson’s untimely death at age 50 —  just as he was launching a comeback – not to mention the very public global mourning that ensued — confirms that in the world’s eyes he WAS truly revered as a king, a sort of internationally claimed musical royal who also worked in his own way, for global peace and harmony…

In many way ways, the mysterious death itself — which seems to have probably been related to misuse of prescription drugs — and the worldwide attention to it, is somewhat reminiscent of the untimely death of another musical king, Elvis Presley.  But that is a story for another day.

Given the parallels, it’s no wonder the televised coverage of the very unique Michael Jackson funeral was the second most-watched memorial service ever measured, ranking up there with former US Presidents,  European royalty and popes.

Apparently the US televised audience for his service was slightly more than 31 million viewers, according to the Neilsen Ratings Service. And millions of additional mourners watched online and overseas.

Believe it or not, the US television audience for Jackson’s service was:

  • Second only to Princess Diana‘s funeral, which drew an estimated 33.25 million viewers spread across eight networks – way back on Sept. 6, 1997. (Yep, as a Boomer you probably remember watching, right?)
  • Larger than former President Ronald Reagan’s mid-day funeral service broadcast, which drew 20.8 million people in June 2004
  • Not quite as large as the audience for a prime-time program on Reagan’s burial that same evening, which drew an estimated 35.07 million viewers
  • Significantly larger than the 8.8 million people who are estimated to have watched Pope John Paul II’s televised funeral in 2005

Those who know these things say that given the steep increase in Internet viewing each year, if all forms of viewing were tallied, it’s likely that overall, more U.S. citizens watched Jackson’s memorial than watched coverage of the funeral events for President Reagan or Princess Diana. Which is pretty astounding when you think about it…

Of Course, Death Was in the News, As Michael Jackson Was Not the Only Celebrity to Die Recently

We’ve also recently mourned the unfortunate death of several other celebrity Boomers – including Farrah Fawcett and Billy Mays. Not to mention several high profile people who aren’t technically Boomers, but who meant something to Boomers. Among them:

  • Ed McMahon
  • David Carradine
  • Karl Malden
  • Heath Ledger
  • Steve McNair

As a result of these recent newsworthy deaths, there’s a good chance the concept of death and its aftermath has recently made it to the forefront of your brain. Perhaps you’ve even begun to think a little bit about your desired end game.

That is, your funeral and what you want to have happen – how you want to be remembered – after you die…

Have You Already Formulated Your Own Personal Funeral Plans?

Even if you’re not a much-videotaped superstar, the format for funerals is not so cut and dried anymore… These days, Baby Boomers are into creating memorable memorial services, that not only celebrate the life you or your loved ones have lived, but offer mourners a memorable funeral experience, while often setting in place the opportunity to leave a legacy.

Beyond that, though not necessarily related to it, there’s a growing concern for finding opportunities to save money on funeral expenses. And a trend toward greener, more ecologically minded memorial services and activities.

This Is Actually a Global Trend

It’s not just Boomers in the US who are looking for a more meaningful funeral experience. According to a recent study by Australia’s National Funeral Directors Association:

  • Only 13%  of adults surveyed report a desire for a very traditional funeral service
  • Of those who report a desire for a funeral service of some type, 68% report that they’d like to personalize the event
  • Nearly 75% say they would prefer to prearrange their own service

While in the United Kingdom:

  • The “green movement” has lead to rapid growth in the number of natural burial sites. In 1993, there was only one ground, now there are more than 220 sites operating, with more planned to open in the future.
  • In 1993 only a handful of crematoria and cemeteries would accept cardboard coffins, but now almost every crematorium accepts them.
  • Cardboard coffins? Yep, there are even “green” coffins made of recycled newspapers…

Why Shouldn’t Baby Boomers — And Not Just Boomer Celebrities — Be the Ones to Change Funeral Traditions? After All, As a Baby Boomer You Have Been Bucking Tradition Your Whole Life:

  • It started with rewriting educational experiences, due to overcrowding in grade schools
  • Moved on as you passed through life’s milestones:  revising wedding vows, birthing ceremonies, retirement expectations
  • Once you and other Boomers became accustomed to working with financial advisers, travel consultants, business coaches, personal shoppers and personal trainers, it only seems logical to employ an events planner to orchestrate your perfect funeral service, right?
  • Obviously, challenging the culture of death just HAS to be a “Boomer Thing”

Which Means That While You Might Not Want to Host a Clone to the “Michael Jackson Funeral,” Who Says Your Own Funeral Service Has to Be Generic, Somber, Grave, or Humorless?

After all, isn’t the purpose of the event to remember a life well-lived? And help those left behind begin the healing process?

Certainly we saw this with Michael Jackson’s memorial program at the Staples Center.

After all, this event brought together not only his family, but also a magnificent cadre of musicians, politicians, sports figures, movie stars – not to mention the lucky lottery winners who represented his fan-dom. In the process we learned a lot about Jackson’s impact on those who knew him. Just to recap and give you some ideas, remember that

In the eulogy portion of Jackson’s service we heard:

  • Singer and actress Queen Latifah deliver a very personal eulogy before reading a poem Angelou wrote for Jackson titled “We Had Him.”
  • “Magic” Johnson tell a funny story about  sharing Kentucky Fried Chicken with Jackson while sitting on the floor
  • Brooke Shields remember Jackson’s love of laughter as she fought back tears and told of his favorite song: Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”
  • Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee speak on behalf of the United States Congress and the Congressional Black Caucus. She makes the point of Jackson’s  innocence in legal matters, and talks about how he called the world into public service with his music.
  • Motown Records founder Berry Gordy share stories of softball games between the Gordy and Jackson families and explain why Jackson’s nickname, “King of Pop,” didn’t do him justice
  • Civil rights activists Bernice King and Martin Luther King III tell tales of Jackson’s humanitarianism, saying he epitomized the words of their father.
  • Rev. Al Sharpton recall that “In the music world, he put on one glove, pulled his pants up and brought down the color curtain.”
  • Daughter Paris, 11, humanize the event and bring tears to everyone as she choked back her own sobs to lament that  “Ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine. And I just want to say I love him so much.”

Of course, you also recall that the musical portion of the event was  as star-studded and magnificent as if you were attending a concert event.

Among the highlights:

  • Stevie Wonder sang his song, “I Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer,” originally written for his wife
  • A very pregnant Jennifer Hudson soulfully delivered Jackson’s own “Will You Be There”
  • Usher broke into tears after singing Jackson’s “Gone Too Soon”
  • Brother Jermaine delivered a balletic falsetto of a song Michael loved, the previously mentioned “Smile”
  • An emotional Mariah Carey covered the famous The Jackson 5 hit, “I’ll Be There” along with Trey Lorenz
  • And who could forget the “We Are the World” production number, which seemed to include everyone who’d taken the stage

So Like It Or Not, Given Your Top of Mind Awareness, Now’s A Good Time For You to Think About YOUR Funeral:

You’ve got the very public Michael Jackson funeral event fresh in your mind. And you know what you liked and didn’t like about it.

So why not consider taking a page from his memorial service and making plans to turn your funeral or memorial service from an occasion of loss into an opportunity to celebrate your life, a celebration that supports the healing and growth of those who are going to be burdened by your loss?

You wouldn’t be the first to do this…

The Last Decade Has Seen Funerals Become as Personalized as Weddings

And in Fact, Many Are Now Orchestrated by Party Planners. For Example, Here Are a Handful Of Other Recent Funeral Services That Also Epitomize Boomer Creativity:

  • Robert Tisch, who ran the Loews Corporation, had a marching band at his memorial service and a packed house at Avery Fisher Hall
  • Guests at the reception after Estée Lauder’s funeral were treated to chocolate-covered marshmallows served by waiters bearing silver trays
  • Socialite Nan Kempner – who was perhaps best known for her charitable activities, having raised  $75,000,000 (USD) for the Memorical Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center – planned for her memorial to be held at Christie’s auction house. She also arranged for each of her 500 guests to receive a CD of Mozart’s Requiem. (She’d originally wanted her guests to enjoy  a live performance of the Requiem, but the logistics — full orchestra, chorus and soloists — were apparently more than could be arranged in a timely manner.)
  • Sarah, a client of Britain’s Fantastic Funeral Company wanted her life to celebrated with the same enthusiasm with which she had lived. She began by requesting that her funeral guests dress as if for a wedding. Her service ended with guests dancing and singing along with Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky. Following that, they were treated to a meal at her favorite hotel, which ended with her guests toasting her memory with cake and champagne.
  • Ian Turnbull wants his family and friends to toast him with beer. The dying brewer has created what he calls a “dangerously strong” beer he’s dubbed Brewer’s Swansong, to be served at his funeral. The toffee apple flavored beer will be served in souvenir bottles whose labels declare that it is “a beer to die for.” According to Turnbull, “It is the last beer I will brew.” He plans that all attending his funeral will get a bottle ” of the brew which is currently being matured in a whiskey cask, ready to be bottled and served “when I am toasted in whatever crematorium I am treated to.” Turnball, who has pancreatic cancer, also plans that his brew will help raise funds for cancer research.
  • And then there’s one of my favorite unique funerals: Harry Ewell’s 2003 funeral in Rockland, Massachusetts. Harry was known for the fact that he had driven an ice cream truck for many years. At his funeral, his ice cream truck led the procession to the burial site, and mourners were treated to popsicles at graveside. (That’s his truck in the photo above.)

Personally, I suspect many Baby Boomers want a unique funeral and memorial service because they identify with the sentiment expressed in the lines below, which have been posted online in dozens of places over the past few years, though no one seems to know who originally said it:

“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, But rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, WOW!!!! What a ride!”

You may, of course,  prefer the alternate versions which incorporate chocolate, champagne or other consumable goodies… But the point is, most Boomers, if asked, will express an intent to live life to the fullest, or as some poet put it, to “suck the marrow from life,” before succumbing to the inevitable. (As in death, not taxes…)

Regardless, If You’ve Celebrated Your Life As You Like It, It Would Be a Shame Not to Celebrate Death With an Equal Measure of Brio and Panache, Don’t You Agree?

So what can you do to help assure that your funeral is exactly what you’d like it to be? Or that you can provide these same assurances of a personalized service for a loved one?

Your celebratory  solution can be a much more simple one, as long as it’s meaningful for you and your loved ones.

Think about it. What can you arrange in advance that will make your service unique?

  • Michael Jackson’s brothers wore his signature sequined glove on their right hand, and sported bright yellow ties, for remembrance
  • Billy Mays’ pallbearers dressed in blue work shirts and khaki slacks, the “pitchman uniform” we always saw Mays wearing
  • Harry Ewell incorporated his ice cream truck
  • Ian Turnbull has his special beer with the unique keepsake bottles

No, it’s not morbid to think this way:

  • By planning ahead you’re making things easier for your loved ones. It is very reassuring for family and friends to have the knowledge that they are carrying out your wishes exactly.
  • After all, there are a lot of decisions that have to be made. And generally very little time in which to make them. If you’ve ever had to plan a funeral for a loved one, you already know how hard this can be.
  • Besides, there’s so much emotion related to the time of death.  You want your family to be able to grieve without having to worry about what songs you’d like played at the service, or whether you really meant it when you said you were going to donate your body to science…
  • Beyond that, planning your funeral in advance means that you will be assured of having the service you’d like to have…
  • And admit it: Haven’t you attended funerals where you came home wondering “What were her children thinking? I’m sure my friend would never have wanted a service like THAT…”

In closing, think about this: You certainly recall those memorable death-defying lyrics from the musical, “Fame.” In fact, you can probably belt out the lyrics yourself whenever you hear the tune, right? After all, that anthem ended so memorably:

“I’m gonna live forever Baby, remember my name Remember, remember, remember, remember, Remember, remember, remember, remember.”

So what are your “Grave Expectations?” How do you want to be remembered?