Brian and I were talking the other day about his final wishes.
It’s likely that Brian, my life partner/care partner who lives with Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, will not be coherent or communicative as the end draws near. We’ve made peace with that. But, no matter what, he’d like to be surrounded by his family and friends to enjoy a good celebration of his life … while he’s living. A living memorial service â€¦ a living celebration of life.
Of course, that got my mind working. We could really pull that off. That’s something he would love. It’s something family and friends would love. Regardless of his capacity to enjoy it at the time — whenever that time will be — it suits his nature perfectly. He’s a life-of-the-party guy. He would enjoy working with me to plan his living funeral, so to speak, from putting together a guest list to ensuring “I’m Feeling Good” by Michael Buble makes the musical playlist.
Now, being a life-care planner and Board-certified patient advocate, it was far from the first time I had heard of something like this. Most people usually think of celebrations of life or funerals as events that happen after death. But celebrating a loved one before their death is increasing in popularity.
6 Keys to Planning a Successful ‘Living Memorial Service’
Just ask Joan Paal-Fridley, who was featured in a People Magazine article in 2015 for hosting a “premortem funeral” for her mom, Jean Paal. Jean’s cognitive ability had been declining from Alzheimer’s, and Joan thought it would be wonderful for her mother to enjoy this celebration while she still can.
“I have no idea how long she may live,” Joan told People, “but her energy is fading, along with her memory, and I want her to know she made a difference in people’s lives while she can still recall memories.”
A living wake can be a great gift to those with dementia and their care partners, those who may (or may not) have a terminal illness, and their loved ones. Here are six things to consider as you begin to plan a living funeral for your loved one.
1. When Should You Hold It?
This can be a difficult decision. It would be best to hold a living memorial while your loved one can still enjoy it, but you don’t want to do it so early that you find yourself considering another event in five years. Allow this to be an event where your loved one can say goodbye.
But don’t get so hung up on setting a date it prevents you from planning and holding the event. It may be helpful to talk with your loved one’s doctor to get a strong sense of life expectancy — or how many of those “golden years” left will likely be “golden” and pleasant.
After you set a date, send out invitations early enough for people to make plans. The idea of a living memorial service may be unfamiliar to many, so be sure to tell people why you’re holding this event. Explain that it’s being held before your loved one’s death, so people don’t get the wrong idea. Give attendees ideas how they can participate — like preparing stories or bringing cherished pictures to share.
2. How Should You Celebrate?
This is completely up to your loved one. It’s their day. It can be a traditional ceremony that resembles a religious service complete with songs and sacred readings. It can be a banquet akin to a retirement celebration. It can be a simple backyard barbecue. It can be a mix of traditional and non-traditional events. Let your loved one choose the way they’d like to celebrate.
Set up a time to allow people to share stories and parting words with your loved one. Be sure people know this isn’t a time for roasting or for sharing old grudges. This is a celebration that honors your loved one. You can include note cards where people can write memories and messages to be put in a box that your loved one can read later. Consider hiring a videographer to cover the event for your loved one to watch later.
3. How Much Should It Cost?
Again, this is your loved one’s party, so there is no right or wrong amount. Consider your budget and also whether or not there will be a formal funeral service after your loved one dies. Traditional funerals can cost several thousand dollars — or more.
A living life celebration can cost a fraction of that amount. You could then consider having a small and informal gathering for the family after death, which may relieve some financial burden later. Whatever you decide is up to you, your loved one and the care-partner team.
4. Who Should Lead the Ceremony?
Consider having someone guide the event, like a master of ceremonies. This may be a religious leader if the event is more of a religious ceremony. But this celebration doesn’t have to be religious, if that’s not your loved one’s preference, and can be led by anyone who can lead with care, grace and attention to the guest of honor. The emcee can be a family member, close friend or a professional celebrant.
5. Where Should You Hold the Celebration?
Again, there is no right answer to this question. The venue will depend on the scale and style of event you plan. It could be a simple gathering at home or in a park. You could hold a service in a house of worship and then hold a reception in the facility’s fellowship hall, if one is available. A banquet hall or a community center would easily accommodate large gatherings. A restaurant or bar could work well for smaller, less-formal gatherings. Consider the amount of guests you will invite, as well as places that may carry special memories for your loved one.
6. What Food Should Be Served?
The type of venue and event you choose will be a factor in choosing food, or if food should be served at all. Some religious ceremonies, no matter the faith, may prescribe a certain meal or perhaps a style of Holy Communion.
An at-home gathering can involve simple snacks, a good home-cooked meal, or a pot-luck dinner. A gathering at a restaurant will most likely involve food from that restaurant. A banquet hall will probably involve catering. Consider your venue, your budget, and perhaps your loved one’s favorite meal.
Ready to Plan Your Loved One’s Living Memorial?
No two living memorials will be the same, nor should they be. Your loved one is an individual — one with a life story, favorite stories, favorite songs, favorite people. How you celebrate should be personal to your loved one. It’s their day. Honor them and help them to enjoy the day.
If you need help, Caregiver Support and Resources, LLC, has over 25 years of experience with all aspects of life-care planning. We’re happy to provide referrals and guide the process in a caring and compassionate way.