How to Plan a “Fun-er-al”


Thirty years ago, when someone asked me, “Do you have a plot yet?,” they were inquiring about the progress of my latest book. Today, they mean have I made funeral arrangements.

The answer is NO! And I’m not alone.

The Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA), assures us that we can—and should—plan our funeral and start shopping around long before we think we will need it. There are some 22,000 funeral homes and 200,000 cemeteries in the US. Yet, the average consumer calls only one and pays the asking price.

This is not smart. According to a 2015 FCA survey, the very same funeral in the very same area costs from a low of $2,580 to $13,800, with very little difference between the two. Comparison-shopping is not difficult. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) mandates that funeral homes list a menu of their prices.

So why is this most permanent decision made with so little planning?

You know the answer as well as I do. It’s horrible to plan a funeral, so we leave it to our distraught loved ones to make last-minute arrangements after our last minute.

What if rather than burden our bereaved, we preplanned a celebration of our life, complete with cake and balloons? Let’s call it a Fun-er-al.

Fun-er-als leave lots of room for personal taste such that, just as Bar Mitzvahs have themes, so, too, can your funeral.

Do you prefer a choir, chorus or cover band of the Grateful Dead, just for irony’s sake? Or do you want to create your own New Orleans style jazz funeral? If you’ve always liked jazz but aren’t yet an expert, you could learn about it now by taking online lessons from The Smithsonian Institute. Inspired by Smithsonian’s Ella Fitzgerald lesson on making up new words to nursery rhymes, you could have a lyric-writing funeral. How about, ”A-tisket a-tasket, who’s buried in the casket?”

Film buffs can take inspiration from the National Funeral Directors Association (NFA) to create a legacy movie to be shown at the Fun-er-al. Popcorn sales can go to your favorite charity.

Or my personal favorite, hire the Rhinestone Grannies to tap their famous “Kick the Bucket Dance.” Listen to Adrienne Hart on my radio show, show #28, as she describes bringing the John James of the Platters to a Fun-er-al. It was a big hit.

Bury or Cremate? Ashes Around the Globe

According to the NFA, a surprising 50.2% of Americans choose cremation, up substantially versus the past. Price, property shortages and environmental concerns have impacted baby boomer preferences.

Besides, cremation promotes postmortem travel. Imagine, flying to Borneo to be kept in an earthen jar in a Long House…or being scattered in the Mediterranean…or thrown over the Alps. It is costly—and sometimes illegal—but you’ll have significant bragging rights in heaven.

Good news. The FTC assures us that ashes need no casket and makes it a violation for a cemetery or funeral home to insist that you buy one. Of course, if you don’t want to be scattered, you can buy a biodegradable urn on eBay for around $20 or a keepsake charm that holds a few of your ashes to be worn around your loved one’s neck ($12.99). Very Victorian.

How About a Backyard Picnic?

Do-it-yourselfers will appreciate the idea of the private burial, although it is not legal in all states. You will need a place to bury your body, often on your premises…a death certificate…a disposal permit…and a transportation permit. There are other things you need to know, like body-preparation rules, so read a copy of Caring for the Dead, Your Final Act of Love, by Lisa Carlson, which reveals the process of burial on private property.

Donate Your Body to Science

If you always wanted to go to medical school, here’s a way. The Society of Anatomists will show you the protocol on how to donate an intact body to your local medical school. Your cremated remains are buried or returned to the family upon request once the school is done with it.

Post-Fun-er-al Events Can be the Most Fun

Fun food. In most cultures, visitors bring flowers or food tributes, but in practice, they also expect the family to provide a spread. Here’s your chance to kick it up a notch by suggesting they serve your favorite foods…and setting a plate for you, too.

Party game. Gather your favorite trinkets so mourners can create an “eternal reef,” where they make handprints, select mementos and write thoughts about you, all to be embedded in a cement block along with your cremated remains. The block is then “buried at sea” where it becomes part of an eroding coral reef to help it survive.

Of course, all this fun is temporary and ceremonial. The headstone is a permanent statement for all to see

I plan to get sponsorship. I have always considered a graveyard a golden advertising opportunity, like the Olympics or the Grand Prix.

My headstone could say, “Have a Pepsi” or “Just do it.” Until a company bites, it will be inscribed, “If you’re reading this marker, your logo should be here.”

Oh…You Think Living Is More FUN?!?

Get frozen before you die so you can wait until they find a cure for what ails you. The Cryonics Society will freeze you for a cool $28,000 to $35,000. Not cheap, but cryonics may give you the chance to party when it’s 3019.

So many choices for before, during and after you die. Now that you are ready to plan your Fun-er-al, get a kit from the FCA for documenting your instructions. It’s designed to be stored in your refrigerator, so that it’s easy to find.

So far, I have chosen Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” for my song—it will cheer you up. It’s the least I can do.