I’ve been talking and writing for a while now about organizing for your legacy. This involves doing things to make it easier on your grieving loved ones when the time comes, by preparing for your own death. Activities can range from writing your own obituary and planning your own funeral; to preserving your memorabilia and organizing your family history; to creating a virtual will and downsizing and decluttering now so they don’t have to later.
So, when I announced to my dad and brother, at a recent breakfast together, “Let’s talk about funerals!” they didn’t even flinch, replying in unison: “Whose? Yours?”
I had an idea I wanted to run past them that I wasn’t sure they’d like. It wasn’t a terrible risk, though, based on previous conversations we’ve had about things such as Dad’s Kick-The-Bucket Flow Chart, with which he surprised us one day several years ago. It amused me to note that he had based it (loosely) on my own Clutter Flow Charts!
Funerals are for the living
I’d attended a memorial service just the day before, for a lovely library co-volunteer whom we all miss now. The service was fine, I guess. Rather long, as I gather Catholic masses generally are. And comforting to the family, it seems. I have attended so few memorial services in my life that I have little to compare it to. But I did sit there thinking, “This is not what I want.”
I’ve heard that funerals aren’t for the dead; they are for the living. For those left behind. And I wondered – would my friends and family mind terribly if I didn’t have a funeral at all? Like, for real? Is it just because I’m an introvert, or worried that no one will come to my party, that I don’t want to plan a funeral? (Mine, or anyone else’s, I might add.) Would it be selfish to insist that I don’t want one? Or… would it be a stroke of genius, and a relief to them, too? Would they do what I have in mind, instead, if I planned it? Turns out my dad and brother were all in.
The problem: far-flung survivors
I know a lot of people. And most of them don’t know each other or live near me. They fall into too many categories to count: current, childhood, and college friends; former phone company co-workers; professional organizing colleagues (local, national, and international); organizing and genealogy clients; Menendez supporters; current and former book club members; current and former neighbors; business and networking associates; library co-volunteers; and former lovers that no one else remembers, much less knows how to contact. (I’m just sayin’!)
Which begs the question: If funerals are for the living, how would a traditional funeral benefit more than a handful of these people? I don’t have a church community to support my family in executing such an event. I’ve moved around in my life — IN, ID, CO, CA, NM — as have most of us these days. I’ve made true friends through social media, some of which I met in person at a conference and got to know better afterwards by staying in touch virtually. Even my closest “real life” friends and family are far-flung, scattered across the US and abroad.
I can’t be the only one in this position…can I?
But… I DO want to be remembered.
And, I want those who will miss me to have a source of comfort.
Funeral, virtual funeral, memorial service, rosary, mass, viewing, etc.
What’s the difference between a funeral and a memorial service? The mortuary industry on the internet seems to agree: “A funeral service typically takes place with the body of the departed present, whereas a memorial service takes place without the actual body present.” It’s also a memorial service when the person’s ashes, or “cremains” are present.
It seems that these terms, and what they involve, and when and where they take place, are subject to interpretation through the filters of era, religion, region, and family tradition.
But it doesn’t really matter what they’re called if I don’t want any of them, does it?
If you Google “virtual funeral” what you get is information about streaming videos, with a real funeral happening live on one end, and people elsewhere watching it remotely. That’s not what I’m talking about here, the title of this blog post notwithstanding.
What I really want is NEITHER funeral, NOR memorial service.
The solution: a virtual wake
I want a virtual social-media-style wake in the Urban Dictionary sense:
An Irish wake is basically a party after the death of a family member or friend. Usually used…to get drunk and tell stories…about the deceased.
So, it was with relief that I discovered Ancestry’s We Remember memory pages at the 2018 Before I Die New Mexico Festival. (I was invited to participate in a panel discussion called “Downsizing and Keeping Your Family Legacy”, which you can view here in its entirety.) We Remember is a place in cyberspace where people can grab a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine, or the beverage of their choice) and sit down, at their leisure — alone, or in small groups — to share stories and photos about the dearly departed. Just like on social media, they can also read and comment on each other’s posts.
Click here to view a short video about We Remember, and view a sample memory page.
We Remember looks and feels Pinterest-esque. It seems interactive, touching, and — dare I say it? — fun. I think my family would enjoy seeing photos, and reading stories, from my friends and associates they’ve never met, and vice versa. It isn’t a static memorial such as many mortuary websites, and Find A Grave, offer these days. And it’s not like a Facebook profile (either intentionally memorialized, or sadly and unintentionally neglected) that will come back to haunt you every year on my birthday. Besides, some of the most important people in my life are not on Facebook. (Crazy, I know!)
Where and when will I be buried, then?
Good question! I have ¼ of a plot set aside for me (my urn, that is) at Sunset Memorial here in Albuquerque. The genealogist in me wants a physical location, with a marker, where people can come visit “me” if they want to. And I hope my family will continue our luminarias at the cemetery Christmas Eve tradition, at least for a while. (The story I’ve linked to involves my mom’s ashes, which were not buried until a year and a half after her death, which set a precedent for unorthodox burials in my family.)
At the same time, I have always wanted my ashes scattered in Yosemite Valley, one of the most beautiful places on earth, and one where I have many happy memories. I always thought it was illegal, and that I would have to coach my family to do it surreptitiously. But it turns out it’s perfectly legal if you have a permit and follow park guidelines!
So, for me, when the time comes, we don’t need a physical venue, or flowers, or food. I do still need to give my family a list of contacts — one contact person to spread the word in each social circle mentioned above — to keep in a safe place, along with my social media logins and everything else contained in my virtual will.
Here is my personal favorite non-profit (in lieu of flowers):
(I donate to the favorite non-profits of my own departed loved ones on their birthdays, as described in Organized Charitable Giving.)
Or, donate to your own favorite charity, I don’t really care that much. Maybe you’ll have your own unique way to remember me that I’ll never know about!
Here are a couple of songs I like for the occasion (maybe I can upload them to We Remember?):
Alleluia, The Great Storm is Over (the John McCutcheon autoharp version of Bob Franke’s song)
I’ll Fly Away (the Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch version from “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”)
(Hmmm…both songs use birds-taking-flight imagery….giving my egret-taking-flight business logo new meaning… Less clutter. More life. …um… Fewer loose ends on earth, more eternal life?… Less clutter left behind, more peace of mind in the hereafter?)
Here’s a favorite poem:
Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there.
I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there.
I did not die.
— Mary Frye
And here’s a last request:
Please don’t let them put ‘Miss’ on my tombstone.
I haven’t missed as much as they think.
(I’m just sayin’!)
So….what do you think? Has this post reminded you of anything you want to take care of before you die, to ease the burden of those you leave behind? Want my help planning your virtual funeral (or real-live one)?
Would you attend a virtual social-media-style wake?
Would you want one for yourself?
I’m “dying” to know!
Copyright 2019 by Hazel Thornton, Organized for Life.
I welcome social media links directly to this page!
Please contact me for other types of reprint permission.
Hazel, this is brilliant! My husband has often said he doesn’t want a funeral, and I’ve tried to explain that the funeral wouldn’t be for HIM but for those left behind. At the same time, I don’t know anyone who likes to attend funerals. I think this could be a great solution for everyone!
I’m glad you like it! Maybe it will catch on? Also maybe a good Introvert Retreat topic? (Planning a funeral your introverted friends won’t mind attending….LOL? )
Oh yes! Are you a member of the Introvert Retreat discussion group? You could share a link to your post there and ask the other members what they think of the idea!
You have me cracking up with your “Miss” comment, Hazel:) I think this industry will be finding ways to take advantage of technology like so many others. I believe that funerals & memorial services will continue to draw local people, but having options to include those who are far flung is wonderful. There are people who don’t want to or are unable to invest in traditional scenarios, so I believe the more options, the better.
Ha ha! Yes, this idea of mine is not meant to discourage those who want traditional funerals for themselves and their loved ones. But (so far) my own family members have expressed nothing but approval.
Absolutely I would “attend” a virtual funeral/wake. It’s a fabulous way to include everybody whether they can travel or not. I just watched a TV the other day about a drive through visitation window at a funeral home. Interesting concept but it’s all about ways to include more people in the ceremony and celebration of life.
I’ve never heard of the We Remember pages on Ancestry. I’m going to have to look into those.
Sorry for the belated reply, but did you ever go check out We Remember?
Brilliant idea! It’s practical, flexible, and potentially more meaningful. It would be easy to attend and enjoy your funeral on my own time and remember you in my own way.
For out of town friends and family, the virtual option might lessen the guilt of not attending an in-person service AND they would save travel money and vacation time. Send that airfare or gas and hotel money to your charity and save that vacation time for mental health!
Candice, I like your points so much I might edit them into my post! Thanks for chiming in!
Wow, Hazel! You’ve thought this out so well. It’s impressive. I think the bottom line is that you deserve to have the parting that you want. And the fact that you’ve made it so specific is a blessing for your family and friends. When our loved ones depart, we are grieving. Having to make all of the end-of-life decisions makes it that much harder.
I’ve attended many funerals and memorial services in my life. They’ve all been different. My favorite part is hearing the stories about the person. So often I learn things that I never knew. I’ve always received a lot of comfort from the gathering while grieving. But as you so beautifully described, this can be done in yet another way. It’s brilliant, and I appreciate you putting it out there.
Also, I know you’re prepared to go, but please don’t go yet. We need you in this world.
Thanks, Linda, for your comments and for wanting to keep me around for awhile! You’ve pinpointed one of the problems with this particular service that I attended — there were no eulogies, per se. Instead, the audience was invited to stand up and tell stories, which sounds good, and a few did, but I know for a fact that there were library stories that none of the introverted library volunteers felt like getting up and telling.
I would attend a virtual end of life celebration/event. I make time for virtual webinars and presentations so I am likely to join a streaming “send off” event albeit a sad one.
I haven’t really thought about whether I would want one myself but I suspect my family and friends would want an IRL get-together. You’ve given me something to think about.
Excellent ideas! I’m still giggling about this:
And here’s a last request:
Please don’t let them put ‘Miss’ on my tombstone.
I haven’t missed as much as they think.
(I’m just sayin’!)
Hazel, this is such a good idea. I know you didn’t invent it, but I considering I have never seen it mentioned before I hope you send it to Huffington Post.
I like this for you, but worry about this catching on more widely. We already are so stuck in our screens. Funerals and weddings are some of the only times that families and communities unite together in-person. I’d hate for us to lose more of those few real in person moments with each other. Great idea—just worried about the larger context.
I hear ya — and I wouldn’t worry too much about my ideas spreading too far! 😉
Oh I think you underestimate your influence 😉
Yes! My dad just passed away Monday and he did not want a service. He was a truck driver and most of his friends are all over the country so it would be difficult to get everyone to one spot. My sister and I were trying to figure out just how to do this very thing, so I googled it and here you are! I love the idea! We will get started on our virtual Coffee with Dad. Thanks so much for the tips and links!
Oh, Misty……I’m very sorry you need this information right now. But I’m delighted to have been able to provide it. Will you report back later how it went for you?
I just attended my aunt’s memorial. There were between thirty and fifty people there. Everyone spoke so wonderfully of her. It made me envious. (Yes, I am envious of a dead person.) I would love to have that for myself. (Yes, I am aware that I would be dead and wouldn’t know, but I still want it.)
Except, who would come to my wake? Linda lived in one place her entire life. My friends are scattered and few. And I can’t bear the thought of a virtual wake that shows no postings. (Yes, I know I would be dead!)
I would like to have an obituary in Lesbian Connection. I would like to have someone who loves me write it. But, in case that doesn’t happen, I’m going to write my own. I’ve done some things I’m proud of.
I’m going to have a box ready for the Lesbian Archives. Because I’m a foremother as much as anyone. That’s what I’ll have instead of a gravestone.
And if someone does put up a page or pull together a memorial, I would like to hear Spirit in the Sky (Yes, I know I’ll be dead!) and Is the Grass Any Bluer on the Other Side?
And now I am crying because it was a hard day and death is hard.
Jane, I’m so sorry about your aunt, whom I have met and liked a lot. This is a good start in documenting your own wishes. You are correct that no one will come to your memorial (physical or virtual) if they don’t know about it, so it’s important to leave instructions (in a place that can be easily found) about your contacts as well as your wishes. And I think everyone should write their own obituary. I know it’s not the norm, but I think it should be. No one in their grief is going to want to write it, or remember what to include. I hope things are looking up for you now that the memorial service is over.
I have been running the same idea through my head and want to do a video where I leave a comment to each and everyone that touched my life. I want my family to do like I did when my parents passed. I spent the time off work doing things my parents liked to do. I golfed for three days when my father passed and I played two balls on each round. And as if he was truly with me he beat me. lol I traveled when my mother passed. They were aware prior to their passing that I was not going to funerals and both picked what they wanted me to do. I totally want my family to spend that time enjoying the day and not stressing about a funeral service.
What interesting ideas, Debbie — personalized videos, and customized activities that your loved ones chose and approved of. Thanks for sharing! And let me know what else you come up with!
I really appreciate you talking about the differences between a memorial service and a funeral. My mom is getting older and wants to plan out her funeral while she is still pretty healthy. I think it’s a great idea, so we need to contact a funeral service because she wants people to be there with her for the service.