I planned my own humanist funeral so that I could get on with living life to the fullest

I planned my own humanist funeral so that I could get on with living life to the fullest

Suzy is in her 70s, healthy, with a full and active life that she loves. So what made her decide to plan her own funeral? And how has a humanist celebrant helped her come up with the perfect thanksgiving ceremony for her life?

Planning your own funeral

“Funeral is a word that I detest!” says Suzy firmly. “For me, it’s a thanksgiving of life. We are all born, our lives take whatever direction they are going to take, and we are all going to die, so you might as well prepare yourself. I was gravely ill myself as a child, and I think that has made me savour life, and all the adventures it brings, even more.

“I have had to deal with a lot of death and funerals – first my step-father, then my mother, and later my father and my husband too. My father told me he wanted a humanist funeral. He was never a believer. This was the only guidance he gave me. He was always challenging me and this was his final challenge. His funeral was the first time I experienced a funeral with a humanist celebrant.

“It would have helped to have more guidance from him, but the experience opened a door for me and made me think that I could organise my own non-religious ceremony”

Finding a humanist celebrant

Suzy began the process by looking for a humanist celebrant. But not just any celebrant would do!

“I looked on the Humanists UK website to find a celebrant to help me. I speak French, Spanish and Russian, and I wanted to find someone who was a linguist like me and shared my love of European literature.

“I contacted two people, but from the first moment I spoke to Deborah, we just clicked. It’s so important to find a celebrant that you connect with.”

A ceremony that reflects me and my life

Once Suzy found her celebrant, the two of them started discussing the kind of funeral that Suzy wanted, as well as readings, music and who should be involved in the ceremony. Not an easy job for someone with so many diverse friendships and interests!

“I want to do something which reflects me and my life. Some of my friends have known me for a long time, they know me completely. Others know me as a travel companion, or from teaching Spanish, or because of my love of jazz and world music, or through the residents’ association that I chair.

“The music I have chosen is a real mix. I could have put in so much more! I had to be choosy, I started with such a long list of readings and music. My celebrant helped me to be sensible and get it down to about six of each.”

Choosing readings and music for a humanist funeral

Suzy has found planning her thanksgiving of life has been a cathartic and even joyful experience. Choosing music and readings has brought back happy memories for her.

“As I was going through the music, I thought about my childhood, or the time I spent in France and Spain,” she explains. “My husband and I used to dance Argentine tango, I still do, so I have included one of my favourite pieces, which I first danced to in Bueno Aires.

“In a religious service you are tied to a set format, but a humanist ceremony is totally personalised. It’s totally focused on the person, because there’s no dogma to fit in. Obviously there is still a structure, but there is flexibility within that.”

A celebration of life in a garden

It’s not just the content of the ceremony which Suzy has specified in advance. She also has recorded her other wishes – that everyone wears bright colours instead of black, for example – and has chosen the location for the ceremony. As with every element of the ceremony, Suzy thought about what would be right for her, and did not feel bound by tradition.

“I love gardening, so I want my celebration of life to take place in a garden, not in a crematorium. Church Gardens, a walled garden in three acres near where I live, is run by musicians who built it up from scratch, and it has wonderful tea rooms. They have agreed to host the ceremony.” After the ceremony, the funeral directors will take her body to the crematorium. “My ashes are going to be dropped from an aeroplane into the stratosphere so they go global as I am global.”

Suzy is clear that her celebration of life needs to express what she wants, but also be something that other people can enjoy. So, how have the people close to Suzy responded to her invitation to take part?

“I’ve had some positive responses and some negative ones,” she says. “But that’s fine, it doesn’t upset me however people respond. One friend told me that this was the greatest gift I could give to my children and said her family would be delighted to be involved. Another asked me, ‘Do you really want to think about all of this?’”

It’s obvious that Suzy does want to think about ‘all this’ and that planning ahead has set her mind at rest about the future.

‘I love life and I want to grab hold of it!’

“The great thing is that now I know that this plan is just sitting there,” she says. “There will be no extra upsets for my family after I’ve died. It makes me feel calm and peaceful – it’s done, and it’s there for people to enjoy whenever I go.”

But Suzy isn’t just waiting for the end. There’s plenty more life to be lived first!

“I am a great traveller, and there are so many places that I still want to see. I love life and I want to grab hold of it. I’m aware that it will come to an end. I want the end to be as good as it can be, for me and my family. While I am still alive, I want to enjoy life as much as I can!”

Funeral guides

We hope our guides will give you ideas about what you might like to include in a ceremony.

Your humanist celebrant will write a unique script.

Find thoughtful ways to create a unique ceremony.