What is a Living Funeral? And 7 Steps to Planning One April 7, 2021

"What is a Living Funeral" - Guests cheers glasses of champagne

A living funeral—also sometimes called a celebration of life, a living wake, or a pre-death funeral party—is a ceremony held before a person dies. Living funerals are a popular option for several reasons. Some may want more freedom to choose the type of celebration they want, while others may want to pay their respects in person. They are also a good choice for people who is near death and hoping for closure.

What is the history of living funerals? 

Living funerals are a relatively new tradition. The modern living funerals we see today are largely inspired by a Japanese concept called seizensō (生前葬), which began in the 1990s. Many elders in Japan felt that the stress and expenses of a classic funeral tended to complicate matters and cause undue burden for younger generations. These elders began opting for a seizensō instead, which allowed them a chance to say goodbye to their families, order their affairs, and reduce costs. 

Why have a living funeral? 

Discussing death and funeral arrangements can be an uncomfortable topic, even for those who are aware that they are nearing end-of-life. However, discussing your thoughts, feelings, and wishes openly can be an empowering and cathartic experience. Being transparent with one another with such important information can allow loved ones to look beyond the stresses of today and plan for the future more peacefully.

To have a celebration of life.

Because the person is present at their living funeral, they have a chance to share happy memories and heartfelt words with the ones they love. This celebration of life can sometimes be helpful for children as well, as easing them into this eventual impact can help them understand and cope with the emotional, spiritual, and even physical challenges of dealing with death and grief. 

To provide comfort, peace, and closure. 

A living funeral provides the person near death with more control over their arrangements. In addition to providing comfort and closure to family and friends, it is also an opportunity to order your affairs. Some people will choose to read their will and explain the decisions behind its contents during a living funeral. This can provide clarity for those in charge of executing the will, and ultimately ease the process of execution.  

To save on the costs of a traditional funeral.

In some cases, a living funeral can be more affordable than a traditional one. With a traditional funeral, a loved one is typically responsible for the costs of the funeral until they can be reimbursed by the estate. But with the power to plan your own memorial service, you can be as budget-conscious or elaborate as you like without creating financial pressure for others. 

To reduce the stress of planning.

Coping with the loss of a loved one can be incredibly challenging, and planning a funeral on top of that stress can make things even harder. Following the tradition of seizensō, many elders and those nearing their end of life may choose to plan and fund the event themselves.

Even those who prefer a traditional funeral can still alleviate the stress and financial burden of funeral planning by pre-planning and pre-paying for their funeral. You can also view our guide to stress-free funeral planning for a deeper understanding of the link between grief and stress. 

Most people want their funeral to reflect their religion, lifestyle, and personality. Pre-planning a funeral or opting for a celebration of life can also ensure that the person nearing their end-of-life gets the service they want—from the type of service to the amount spent on the event. Rather than leaving the family to potentially disagree about “what mom or dad would have wanted,” they can focus on celebrating life, love, and memories together.

Is a living funeral right for me? 

While anyone can have a living funeral, they are normally selected by elderly or terminally ill people who are aware they are approaching death. This provides them with an opportunity to control to cost, tone, and contents of the event. 

A living funeral shifts the focus of the event from bereavement to a celebration of life. If you want a service that reflects your personal beliefs and passions, a living funeral may be a good choice for you. 

A living funeral, or pre-death funeral party, may also be a good choice if you would like a sense of closure with your loved ones. The event can offer a chance to share memories and feelings that may otherwise go unexpressed. 

Living funerals are a popular option for both religious and non-religious families. They can be held in a place of worship, outdoors, or in a person’s home. There is “right” way to hold a living funeral. You can be as unconventional and inventive as you like. If the freedom to plan your ceremony without restraint sounds appealing, a living funeral might be a good fit. 

How do I plan a living funeral? 

While there is no formula for a living funeral, there are some basic steps and creative ideas you may want to keep in mind. Whether you’re planning a service for yourself or for a loved one, the steps below can help guide you as you plan. 

Step 1: Set the tone and select an officiant. 

A living service can be as traditional or non-traditional as you like. You could opt for a somber tone or go host a vivacious bash. You may also want to incorporate traditional songs and poetry, or you may be inspired by funeral traditions around the globe. This is the time to truly tailor the event to the guest of honor’s personality and interests. 

You’ll also want to select a host to help you keep things running smoothly. Some people hire a celebrant to officiate the living funeral. Others may choose a close friend or loved one to fill this role. The important thing is to select someone you trust to lead guests through the night’s speeches, farewells, and festivities. Depending on your relationship with the officiant, you may want to include them in the rest of the planning process. 

Step 2: Plan a sequence of events.

Much like a traditional funeral, a living funeral might include several speakers, a slideshow or video, music, or readings from religious or spiritual texts. Some living funerals will follow a more open format and allow any of the guests to speak, while others may have a more formal sequence of events. The celebrant can help lead participants through the events of the evening.

One of the most special things about a living funeral is that the guest of honor will be able to participate. As the guest of honor, you can share stories from your own life, memories with your loved ones, and find a mutual sense of closure with the most important people in your life.

Step 3: Set a date for the living funeral. 

Setting a date for a living funeral can be tricky. If the event is held too early, you may feel the need to host another one several years down the line. However, you’ll also want to be healthy enough to participate in and enjoy the event. If you’re not sure, speak with your or your loved one’s doctor about what to expect. 

Step 4: Select a location.

A celebration of life can be held just about anywhere your typical party can. Some people will choose a local park, an event space, a church, a community center, a bar, or even their own homes. This is another opportunity to personalize the event, selecting a space that is of significance to the guest of honor. At Bateman Allen Funeral Home, we can support you in any extent of the celebration from catering to music, an open bar, and more.

Step 5: Send invitations. 

It is best to give attendees as much notice as possible so they can plan for their attendance. It is also nice to include some background about the concept of a living funeral, as well as what you plan to do during the event. This will help guests prepare appropriately, as many of them may not have attended a living funeral before. You can also ask guests to bring personal stories, photos, flowers, or other mementos to help celebrate the occasion. 

Step 6: Plan for food and drinks.

Food and drinks can add to the atmosphere of celebration, but they are certainly not required. Some may hire a caterer and others may stage a potluck. You could plan a four-course meal or simple snacks, or opt-out of dining altogether. However, many will use this as another opportunity for personalization by providing the guest of honor’s favorite foods. 

Step 7: Enjoy the celebration of life. 

Planning a living funeral can be an intense, emotional journey, but don’t forget that, above all, this is an opportunity to celebrate life on your own terms. Share stories and gifts, sing and imbibe, and hold each other close. Take this opportunity to feel more connected to the ones you love. 

If you would like to learn more about living funeral arrangements or funeral pre-planning, our professional staff can help answer your questions and meet your needs. Contact us today.