Yes, I hold my hand up. Surprised that my dear old Dad, with his long history of over-enjoying life, could have left us – following a short illness – with so little time to prepare. Thankfully though, with enough time for a proper goodbye.
The surprises didn’t end there. As a family, we’ve been working through the process of deciding how best to pay tribute to Dad. Really, it’s made me question almost everything I thought I knew about grieving and remembrance.
First, the ceremony. Legacy Foresight’s new research with funeral directors has highlighted the growth of direct cremation as an important market trend. This is where the act of celebrating the person is completely separated from the ritual of the cremation itself (which is kept simple and perfunctory). The main benefit of direct cremation is the ultimate freedom to celebrate as you choose. Why be bound by restrictions of place, time and convention?
On the other hand, I thought the roots of Church and State ran pretty deep in parts of our family. Wouldn’t such a departure smack of dangerous blasphemy? Carry undertones of a pauper’s funeral?
In the event, a direct cremation seemed so much the right thing to do, we barely had to discuss it. Dad was more subversive than religious. He hated unnecessary expense, and we wanted to do our own thing to remember him. The funeral directors Legacy Foresight spoke to still maintain that, for many people, some sort of ceremony involving the deceased’s body (however rudimentary) still matters. They were right. On the day of the cremation, a few of us still gathered to say a quiet goodbye.
Meanwhile, I seem to be in the grip of uncharacteristic narcissism. My Dad might well be amused by the party I’ve planned for him. But I haven’t approached it as a meticulously personalised tribute, reflecting his every nuance of character and taste – far from it. I’m going to stand up in front of a large group of people and have my say about him because that’s what I want to do.
As charities, we take great pains to design in-memory fundraising products that help us to focus on the deceased and what made them special – rightly so. But might we have swung a little too far away from the immediate needs of those left behind? When the funeral directors we interviewed told us a funeral should be a transitional and transformative experience, they were talking about the living. For example, how do we as charities support a socially shy donor who’s faced with organising a tribute to someone who was the life and soul? Or someone desperate to have their say, being buffeted from pillar to post by everybody else’s vision of the perfect goodbye?
I’m planning a shindig in our village hall. There won’t be a charity collection, because there’ll be no funeral director to prompt the question, no pews involved, no collection box. Besides, my parents have never been particularly charity-minded. But there should be. A large crowd of affluent Baby boomers, all wanting to do something generous and supportive! Our direct-it-yourself set-up represents a new opportunity for charities. We’re almost shouting out to be inspired. There are no favourite causes jostling for position. But if a charity was to come along with a motivating new reason to organise a collection and a creative way of doing this, they could be pushing on an open door.
Back to the element of surprise. As a society, we can pre-plan our funerals and talk resolutely about the prospect of death to our hearts’ content. But if these sad, beautiful few weeks have taught me one thing, it’s that you genuinely don’t know how you’ll feel until it happens to you.
As in-memory fundraisers, we’re communicating on a daily basis by people who are surprised – not just by circumstances, but by themselves. How will we respond?