• A small number of Australians choose to take funeral planning into their own hands before they die. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
We dedicate hours to planning the details of our birthdays, weddings and other events, yet when it comes to celebrating our lives at the end, we tend to leave it to our loved ones.
By
Kimberly Gillan

9 Aug 2019 - 9:30 AM  UPDATED 20 Aug 2019 - 8:53 AM

Funerals are emotional subjects at the best of times, let alone considering our own. Not only can it lead to a lot of life reflection and potential grief, but there can also be sadness about planning an event that we won’t actually be attending.

But if we can put some thought into our funerals ahead of time, funeral directors say we could be giving an incredible gift to our grieving loved ones. 

“If I ruled the world, everyone would pre-arrange their funeral – it takes the pressure off everyone who is left behind,” says Dale Moroney, managing director of Walter Carter Funerals who features in documentary The Secret Life of Death on SBS. 

“Nobody is going to avoid [having a funeral], everybody is going to pass away, yet so few people actually take that step of contemplating what the options are and even potentially how they are going to finance it.”

In The Secret Life of Death, viewers follow the experience of terminal cancer patient Odette who spent almost a year planning her funeral in extraordinary detail.

She worked with funeral director Richard Gosling, outlining a vision that included her casket arriving in a horse-drawn carriage, having white doves released and having her favourite heels placed on the end of her white casket.

"[By] taking control of this, it became a project for her and gave her something positive to focus on when everything else was quite miserable."

"[By] taking control of this, it became a project for her and gave her something positive to focus on when everything else was quite miserable," Moroney explains.

"She had a vision and she had the right team around her so nobody was inappropriately pressured."

Moroney says Australians rarely speak to a funeral director while they are still alive and put in place some funeral plans.

In some cases the person is terminally ill; other times it might be pre-paying when they reach retirement so relatives aren’t left with a bill; and other times it might be something sparked by an event or another person’s death that has them considering their own mortality.

Generally Moroney says the extent of plans people leave is a note in their will with wishes for cremation or burial, but she says if people could leave more detail it can really help with creating a fitting event.

“It becomes a pressured arrangement because [the loved ones] haven’t had a long lead time to think things through,” she says.

“You don’t have the opportunity to ask, ‘What do you think is going to most symbolise your life story?’ [Once] the person has passed away, you have got to second guess what it was that represented them and [what] the right sort of funeral is. Having said that, a funeral is also for the people who are left behind and mourning – it’s a blend of both.”

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Funeral factors to consider

With funeral directors asking about 60 questions in the process of planning a funeral, there’s no end to the options you could consider if you want to plan your own event.

“There’s no right or wrong and no standard funeral,” Moroney says.

“A funeral is pretty well what you want to make it.”

The first thing funeral directors want to know is whether you would like to be cremated or buried, however Moroney says clients’ first thought is usually the elements that will make the service fitting and unique, such as the playlist. 

“Clients might say, ‘I want ‘My Way’ [by Frank Sinatra] played at my funeral’ or, ‘I want Fred and Uncle Merv to be the pallbearers’,” she says.

“Other things you might consider are the location of the gathering if you’re having a gathering; whether somebody will be officiating; whether it will be a secular or religious [event]; what elements are going to enhance the service; whether you want to choose the casket or have other elements, such as helium balloons. [The options] are endless.”

The first thing funeral directors want to know is whether you would like to be cremated or buried, however Moroney says clients’ first thought is usually the elements that will make the service fitting and unique, such as the playlist.

Some people will go to the effort of making a personalised video to share at the funeral, although Moroney says that’s not particularly common.

“I spoke to my mum about her life story on video a couple of years before she passed away and we were able to use that as her own eulogy and it was amazing,” Moroney says.

“Slideshows are another great way of catching a person’s story and adding a personal element to a service. It can be something young people get involved in, which gives them an element to focus on and contribute towards saying goodbye.”

But whether you leave a few requests or a detailed itinerary, Moroney says your loved ones will likely be grateful and you might even find the process rewarding.

“When it comes to planning their funeral – it’s a tough subject,” she acknowledges. 

"I can totally understand why it doesn’t happen [but by having everything] locked in, you don't have to worry about it afterwards. There's the kindness side of it and the financial advantages of it too."

Untold Australia Episode 3: The Secret Life of Death screens Wednesday, 21 August, 8.30pm on SBS and Monday, 26 August, 9.30pm on SBS VICELAND.

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