A time for happy funerals?

Getting to 80 doesn’t necessarily mean the end, but for some, sadly, it might. Joyce Williams muses on funerals

by Joyce Williams


Grandma Williams (GM) now, and in her younger (JW) days.

Last time I wrote about the fun of 80th birthdays. Let's move on to that other regular social gathering when you are 80+: funerals.

Rather a lot of them lately. Of course. At 80 you are expecting to die, so are all your friends if they haven’t already done so. It has become part of everyday life. You become surprisingly relaxed about it.

You find that funerals of your oldies cohort begin to have a similar feel to birthdays. Certainly, all the same people will be there. It is the same really isn't it? All the contacts you have made in a long life being pulled together around you and the whole occasion focusing on the years you have shared. A good gathering of your crowd, more eating, drinking, reminiscing. Pity to miss it really.

We are pleased to hear that you slipped away as you would have wished and are sad if it was hard. And yes, of course we are sorry to say goodbye, but the inevitability has sort of settled in. It all seems natural and very different from the loss of a young life.

By the way, we are unanimous about the right of old people to die when you choose and how we would wish to go.

I told you being 80 is weird…..

What is good nowadays is that funerals of older people are almost always a celebration of a life. And they are so interesting! I love the bit in the ceremony when someone gets up to pay tribute. You knew John as a co-professional. It turns out he was the life and soul of the local operatic society, who sing at his funeral. Not only that, he was a war time pilot with a Victoria Cross and when he married Vivian they had eloped. Her parents didn't approve the marriage ... they could be like that in those days.

We are all beginning to get around to planning what we would like when it is our turn: a woodland ceremony, solemn high church or the crematorium with your favourite Sinatra? A friend of mine with terminal cancer had his funeral party before he died! He organised it and it was a great occasion. Everyone telling stories and jokes about him. We all enjoyed it. When it came to his actual funeral we found he had arranged it as a theme around his favourite hobby, cricket. Final innings etc.

Arranging your own funeral is a surprisingly positive thing to do. You can insist they sing all your favourite hymns although a whole generation will be there who haven't a clue. You can imagine them trying to pretend ... I like the idea of still having control. My Grandad said there were to be no flowers and no wailing women at his. He was a strong minded ex policeman, so we didn't dare disobey!

Sad really that we have let old age and death become such miserable and taboo subjects. I love to imagine the gales of laughter in a care home if residents were encouraged to think of the most outrageous ideas for their funeral. How much better to be able to chat to patients about both dying and funerals? Takes the fear away I find, begins to feel a natural part of life. And, like making a will and clearing your house, makes life easier for whoever has to cope with it. We should do it.

Maybe we can think of ways our profession and others working with elderly patients might begin introducing a positive mindset to these issues. I suspect, seen from the viewpoint of already being ancient, that openness would lead to a far more helpful feeling of tranquility and serenity than the opposite.

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