to be a growing interest in the concept of a ‘living funeral’, that is
holding a goodbye life celebration BEFORE a death occurs. Funerals
have traditionally been somber events that occur once a person has died,
an event for surviving family and friends to pay their last respects.
Funerals often tend to be more about what the living (surviving family)
want, rather than what the deceased would have preferred, especially if
no funeral provision or will was in place.
So, why not host an event
as a pre-funeral and have the chance to say goodbyes and have the exact
kind of tribute celebration you would choose for yourself?
approach to the conventional,
always being on the forefront of challenging the norms as they have moved
through life events.
Why would someone choose to
hold a living funeral?
There are several reasons why
more folks are opting to host a living funeral. The funeral industry
is moving through an epoch now. We are moving away from an era of
tradition and beginning to embrace the unconventional. Baby boomers
and Generation X’s are beginning to make their own funeral plans, or help
plan the funerals of their parents. As generations, these both have
The significance of religion
as part of a funeral ritual is potentially diminishing for some Americans,
and more are opting for personalized rituals. In this way, a living
funeral, can be unconventional and creative. It does not have to
be a formal affair with black suits and sad faces. We have already
witnessed a trend towards life celebration funeral events over the last
decade, and conducting a living funeral, is just taking this one step further.
Now a person can choose to
host their own life celebration living funeral by gathering family and
friends together, and having a final chance to see, and share, with loved
ones. The reason for holding a living funeral is typically for a
person who is elderly or terminally ill with knowledge that their death
is approaching. He or she feels that, with the knowledge of their
death impending, they would prefer to host a living funeral to have an
opportunity to say goodbye to those they love before they pass.
What format does a living funeral
A living funeral can take whatever
format you choose. It is generally organized as a social gathering
for families and friends, and does not have to be formal, or take place
in a ‘usual’ funeral location. It can be held in any location and
be as creative as required.
Examples of living funerals
One of the most famous living
funerals in popular culture is that depicted by the book and movie Tuesdays
with Morrie. The book topped the New York Times Best Sellers in 2000,
and is a memoir of Mitch Albom’s time spent with his 78-year old sociology
professor who was dying from ALS. The book explores the transcendence
of experiencing the acceptance of death and attempts to challenge the reader
that “dying and death are natural processes and need to be acknowledged
for what they are—natural events.” 
In Japan, it became popularized
during the 1990’s to hold living funerals, known as seizenso, it was a
way that elders could remove the burden from their children. They
wanted to take away the stress for their family and could typically feel
ashamed of their failing body. The notion of the living funeral meant
that they expected nothing from their family when they passed…including
holding (and paying for) a funeral.
In January this year, The
Nikkei  featured the story of Japanese businessman Satoru Anzaki, who
with a terminal condition at 80 years old, decided to host his own living
funeral before his death to be able to see, and thank, all those who had
played a role in his life.
Similarly, in February a
story from the UK  reported about a 93-year old grandmother, Ethel Leather
(photo below), who opted to host her own funeral as a chance to have a
grand party with her family and friends as she wanted not to miss her funeral.
Get Low (2009) is the movie
that depicts the folklore and mythology around Tennessee hermit, Felix
Bush, and his plan to host his own funeral as he realizes his health is
failing. His initial notion for hosting his funeral is that he wants
to hear all the stories that the local folks would tell about him at his
funeral. But then it emerges that he has a burdening secret he has
held for 40 years and desires to gather everyone together to disclose his
secret and ask forgiveness.
What is the etiquette for a
There is no formal etiquette
for a living funeral. Opting to hold a living funeral is challenging
the norm in culture today, and therefore there is no stereotypical notion
of what a living funeral should be. Satoru Anzaki, choose to host
his pre-funeral as a typical life event function, inviting all his guests
and greeting all as they arrived, almost similar to a wedding event function.
Guests were invited to bring photos of their experiences with Anzaki, and
tell stories of their memories of him. Anzaki was known to “value
human relationships more than anything else”, and this was his final chance
to honor this.
What about the role of the funeral
A funeral home does not necessarily
have a role to play in a pre-funeral or living funeral. No death
has yet occurred, no sanitary services are required or no legal permits
or paperwork pertaining to a dead body. A pre-funeral is merely the
hosting of a life event, and like other life events such as births, baptisms
and marriages, a living funeral can be held at a function location or at
The funeral industry is already
being challenged in its role in death care in society right now, with some
people moving away from traditional funerals and the need to utilize a
funeral director to host the memorialization. As the cremation rate
continues to increase, we are witnessing more families opting to conduct
a simple cremation at death, and then arrange their own memorialization
event at a later date. It is considered by some the division of the
funeral profession into 2 schisms: disposition and memorialization.
Maybe the notion of the pre-funeral
takes this one step further by allowing the family to control the memorialization
aspect before utilizing the funeral home for the disposition of the deceased?
How much does a living funeral
As much as you would want to
spend, but certainly a lot less than holding a full traditional funeral
service. For those that are aware of their own mortality and wish
to reduce the financial burden on their family, but still wish to host
a gathering of family and friends, it can be arranged simply and for little
For now, the living funeral
remains a concept that exists on the fringes of culture. It is perceived
as unconventional and breaking with the accepted life rituals that structure
our society. But will this change? Aside from the examples
depicted here, more of my friends, acquaintances and peers talk about an
acceptance that our attitudes to death care, and how we live our lives
today, our changing.
||Expert Author: Sara
Sara is the Editor in Chief
for US Funerals Online and has been researching and writing about the death
care industry in the US for the last 5 years.
J. L. (2003). THURSDAYS WITH MORRIE: THE USE OF CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE
IN A DEATH AND DYING COURSE. Omega: Journal of Death & Dying, 47(3),