Would you want to organise your own funeral?

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Is organising your own funeral as grim as it sounds? SBS Insight takes a look.

 

We are all going to die someday, so why not plan the send-off you want when you're still alive? Sounds morbid? Neil Betts doesn't think so.  

Before arriving in Australia, the 46-year-old was trying to help his terminally ill sister, who had cystic fibrosis, with arranging her funeral in the UK.

The plan was to have her coffin placed into light aircraft, similar to a tiger moth aeroplane, and then have her body flown in the air with the plane writing her name in smoke. This wasn't your average funeral idea and naturally, her proposal was deemed too difficult to accommodate.

"Of course with the traditional old-school funeral directors, nobody could even plan that for her, nobody could organise it. They all saw it outside the boundaries of what they do, it was almost like a box of things to do and work with but outside of that they don’t want to know about it," Neil said.

But just after planning it, she was called up for a double-lung transplant and is still alive today. Neil said that experience taught him the value of making arrangements for his death.  

"Having a daughter made me think about life differently," he said.

"[The] last thing you want is people having to think about and worrying about making the funeral right for me, or trying to think and work out what I might have wanted and then doing something that maybe it wasn't what I really wanted."

Now Neil has planned a "life celebration" which would combine his two passions - entertaining and giving to charity.

"I want it to be around my life and I want people to take something away from what I've done with my life," he says.

As a "crazy St Kilda AFL fan", he has instructed his wife Rachel to have a photo of him on display surrounded by his wig and jacket, and he wants his friends to arrive in Minis because he loves that model of car.

There will be a charity wishing well and an episode of his favourite UK comedy show Only Fools and Horses will be broadcast on a large screen, as well as a DJ booth so his favourite music will be played. And all of this would be happening in their Melbourne home.

Rachel said planning her husband's funeral was "quite confrontational" but she knows this is something he has been thinking about for a while.

"It is something I know that has been at the back of his mind for a number of years with a result of his sister coming very close to death, having problems trying to get the funeral arrangements she would want," she said.

Rachel concedes she would have planned a very traditional service at a local Anglican Church and wouldn't have given much thought to what happens after the ceremony part, let alone think about personalising it.

"A funeral plan is a bit like writing a will, you write it here and now and as circumstances progress you change things … I was pleased because it means that I won't have that guilty kind of thing: 'Is this what he wants, what would he have wanted, am I doing the right thing?'" she said.

"I like that when I would be really upset, I wouldn't have to make difficult choices and it would be to his wishes."

"I have no concept of how I will deal with the day, let alone any individualised aspects, especially when it is the love of your life. It will be incredibly difficult but better because I will know that is what he wanted. It is a lot easier to deal with now and I feel a lot better now."

For Neil, he believes a celebration can give closure for those left behind, and will be updating his plan throughout his life.

"This isn't a static plan; this is something that needs to change as you change in your life. You have to be able to pull the plan out and reflect on what you want."

 

Neil Betts is is a guest on this week's episode of Insight where we discuss one of the surest events in our lives - death - and how we mark it.

We look at the religious and cultural practices, discuss whether viewing the body is a good idea, and debate whether a "life celebration" still allows people to grieve.

Source SBS, World News Australia

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