Whispering behind their hands, the ladies walked through the room, their black dresses swishing against their legs. One of them paused for a moment and, bending down, switched off the television. I opened my mouth to protest and a white-gloved hand closed on my shoulder, stopped my words and gently pulled me up from my spot on the sofa. Aunt Sudie needed to lie down. She needed to be quiet. The heat and emotion of the day were proving too much for her to bear.

Gravel crunched in the driveway and there was a stir in the house. Women gathered up paper fans and the men unwillingly shrugged into their suit coats. The children stayed behind, watching as dust followed the cars out onto the road. The adults were going somewhere private, to a place where they cried, a place they wouldn’t talk about, a place that made Aunt Sudie pass out on the sofa before she even got there. A funeral!

Dark, grim, foreboding, spoken about only in whispers, those are my childhood memories of funerals. The thought of going to one of those scared me half to death. I didn’t want to wind up on the sofa like poor Aunt Sudie.

Fast-forward some thirty odd years. I’m sitting in Kathie’s house, sucking down my third gin and tonic, roaring with laughter over stories about my friend whom we had just buried. Rock-n-roll is blasting through the speakers, Randy is getting ready to read his tribute to Robert, champagne is being poured for the toast and if there is any passing out on the sofa, it sure won’t be done by Aunt Sudie.

Why a Celebration Is Important 

Whether it’s  drinking margaritas at someone’s home or singing hymns at a High Episcopal service, you are participating in a celebration of a person’s  life, a ritual that is not only proper, it is necessary. Don’t  look at me that way. A celebration is too necessary and you are going to use this chapter to plan your own so your family and friends won’t go berserk trying to figure out what you would have wanted.

Think about it for a moment. Here is your final – pun intended –  chance to get the last word in. You can tell everyone how much they meant to you, you can ask them to please donate to your favorite cause, you can let everyone and God know that you harbored a secret love for your cousin, you can even come out of the closet posthumously. What ever would Aunt Sudie say? Personally, I intend to let everyone know that, despite my parents’  threats to cut off my tuition and their subsequent forty years of bragging that I caved in to their demands, I really did march on Washington D.C. to protest the Vietnam War.

See? That’s not so bad. Planning can be a good thing. You can do this and you should. Not only to leave a game plan for those left behind holding the bag, but for closure. And closure is very important. A service can help your friends and family reach that final, important stage of acceptance where they can get on with their lives. What? Did you want them to hang around forever mourning you? People only do that in Shakespeare. Let’s  get going and figure out what you want for your final hurrah.        

The Celebration

The celebration ceremony you will have depends on several things:

  •    The type of service you want: funeral, memorial, committal, or alternative.
  •    The format of the service: religious, nonreligious, family gathering, private.
  •    The disposition of your body you have chosen: body bequeathing, direct disposition, self-service, or traditional care by a funeral home.
  •    The type of cemetery you have chosen: national, public, nonprofit, religious, commercial, green, or family.
  •    The type of burial you have chosen in Chapters Two or Three: full body, cremation, in-ground, green, sea, at home, alternative, scattering of ashes.
  •    Practical considerations such as location.
  •    Religious considerations
  •    Financial circumstances.
  •    How you want to be remembered.

The choices you have made using the information in previous chapters will indicate what type of celebration might be appropriate. You might read this chapter, decide on just the right celebration and have to go back and change your other choices. That’s why pencils were invented. This can be mix and match so let’s get started figuring it out.

Type of Service

The four basic types of services are funeral, memorial, committal, and alternative. Your service should reflect how you see yourself and how you want to be remembered. If you are traditional in style and form, then by all means, plan the traditional funeral. If you have been a bit of a rebel, then a memorial service held in your favorite bar before opening time (or after closing time)  might be just the thing. If you are a nature lover and an environmentalist, then a service out in the woods with people being asked to donate money to one of your causes would be fine. You might be like Paul Newman who said, ” The trick to living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster.” A small service would suit. Me? I’m choosing champagne on the beach.

Traditional Funeral Service

A traditional service is the full-tilt-boogie ceremony, the time-honored event you always see in the movies, and the type we remember from our childhoods. Characteristics of a traditional funeral:

  •   There is a formal viewing and/or visitation in the funeral home a day or two before the service.
  •    This type of ceremony is usually held with either a standard cemetery burial or cremation.
  •    The service itself is usually lengthy and presided over by clergy.
  •    The body is present in a casket or the cremation urn is present.
  •    There are one or two eulogies and a formal reading or two.
  •    The casket or urn is transported to the cemetery for burial or the casket is transported to the crematorium after the service.
  •       If you are a member of a church or have another religious affiliation, the type of ceremony may be dictated by this affiliation.

Location of Service

  •    You can choose anyplace that will suit the logistics. The ceremony is usually held in a church or funeral home.
  •    If you use a funeral director, he will likely want a say about this.

Type of Cemetery

  •    Burial is usually in a traditional cemetery.

Pros & Cons

  •    If you or your loved ones enjoy long-established rituals, this is the way to go.
  •    This is an always acceptable choice that will offend the fewest people.
  •    Often provides closure for your loved ones.
  •    This can be a very expensive choice to make.


Chapter Two lists costs associated with a full body, in-ground burial and traditional funeral service. The Cremation Association of North America and the National Funeral Directors Association projects that the average cost of an adult funeral will soon be $7,323. The national median cost for calendar year 2006 was $6,195. And that does not include costs for the plot, marker, flowers or obituary. This is about thirteen percent of the median American family’s annual income.

Good to Know

  •    Even if the service is going to be traditional, you can add personal touches that make it speak of how you want to be remembered. You might not be able to have Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and Stevie Wonder sing Amazing Grace like they did for Stevie Ray Vaughn, but you can include a personal music selection, flower arrangement, and items for the memorial table.
  •    Traditional music choices include Handel’s  Dead March, Bach’s  Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Chopin’s Funeral March.