How to get the funeral you want

When Fiona Hendry’s husband Raymond died, aged 61, of stomach cancer, one of her regrets was that they had not properly discussed arrangements for his funeral.

She even emailed Radio 4’s Women’s Hour suggesting that they devote some of their programme to the subject. They agreed and so it was, earlier this summer, that Fiona went on to talk to presenter Jenni Murray.

“I had an idea of what Raymond might have wanted (for his funeral) because we had been together for
33 years,” said Fiona. “We had small snatches of conversation but it was too, too difficult. Our days were filled in trying to look after him – getting him to eat, to drink. It was just too distressing to discuss [funeral arrangements].”

Since her husband’s death, Fiona has put forward the idea of Funeral Fairs, where people could find out more information about death. “It would be a good environment for people to come and talk about different sorts of burial, cremation, flowers, services, poetry, prose, memorial benches, anything like that,” said Fiona. “It would give them an idea of what they might like to create for their own death when the time came.”

Dominic Maguire, from the National Association of Funeral Directors, agreed. “Death is a subject that is a taboo for many people,” he said. “Regrettably, there are many families making funeral arrangements for people they have loved and lost and they are guessing what that person might have wished for. We would encourage people to lay down, in general terms what they would like before the time comes when it’s required.

“I have seen it so many times that someone arranges a funeral, they guess what the deceased would have wanted and they discover afterwards, perhaps when the will is read, that, rather than be cremated, the deceased wanted to be buried. It has left them emotionally distressed.”

One recent development which is proving increasingly popular is the so-called Death Café. Sue Barsky Reid, a qualified and experienced psychotherapist and counsellor from Chester, is a strong supporter. “At Death Cafés people drink tea, eat cake and discuss death,” she explains simply. “Our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives. To date we’ve had over 200 Death Cafés in nine countries. These have been consistently wonderful events with far more laughter than tears.”