As many of you know from reading my articles, I’ve been encouraging everyone to preplan their own funeral. Fortunately I had been discussing with my parents for many years, so I knew what they wanted.
Well, my funeral planning skills were tested this summer. My mother died on July 11. Like many of you who have already lost a parent, although it’s expected (my mother was 90), we really are never ready.
The service was exactly as we had discussed: A Celebration of Life at the Scandinavian Cultural Centre followed by a Danish lunch with full bar service (beer and akvavit (like a shot of tequila) are a must with a Danish lunch).
I fully admit, that the week leading up to the day of the service, with all the planning, organizing, following up, and getting ready, was very cathartic (therapeutic) for me. I had a sister in town visiting when Mom passed away, so I was very fortunate to have one of my closest siblings with me the whole time. But for me who is an “A-Type personality” (need to be in charge of everything), it was great that I was indeed organizing everything. I wouldn’t have felt good leaving it all to a funeral home to look after, but that’s just me.
Don’t get me wrong. Funeral homes provide excellent service for families who do not know what to do, or don’t have any plans or ideas of what the family member wanted. And there is nothing wrong with a more traditional service at a funeral home. We just knew that for Mom she wanted a personalized Celebration of Life at the Scandinavian Centre.
After quickly arranging for cremation (we knew which funeral home to use as they were friends of the family), the next step was the obituary. I had a quick one in the next day to let everyone know, but before all the dates and times were confirmed. Four days prior to the service, the longer obituary notice was in the paper.
I hope I start a new trend: in the obituary, we asked for confirmations (via voice mail on my parent’s home phone). I wanted to know exactly how many people would be there: only fair to the caterer to ensure enough food; and only fair to our family paying for it to not have too much either. It was a full lunch with alcohol. Why would we not want confirmations like any other celebration like a birthday party or anniversary? It worked great! The attendance was exactly what we had received confirmations from.
We had some great additions to the service that were not preplanned, but came about during the week prior to the service: we quickly found pictures (fortunately, many were already in digital format). My siblings and I have been scanning and sharing pictures of our parents during the past several years as we prepared for birthdays and anniversaries.
I went to iTunes to look for some music — guess what — they actually have albums of instrumental funeral music! Perfect! I selected several to play at the service (although didn’t hear many of them since everyone was quite talkative and socializing as everyone gathered — it wasn’t a somber event, it was truly a celebration of life — just as my mother wanted).
We had a “Memories” board at the service and encouraged those in attendance to write a short note if they wanted to, a memory of our mother. We had requested some from family in Denmark and I was able to translate them (Google translate is wonderful!). There were some great stories from family and friends that were there (and others later by email).
For that week, as I walked with the dogs every morning, I would think about what I would say for the Eulogy. Many stories and memories came to mind. The day before the service, I finally put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).
I’m glad I asked for additional presenters: it was a nice addition for the grandchildren to get up as a group and share some wonderful memories of their grandmother and yes, made us laugh a couple of times.
Following the service at the Scandinavian Centre, my entire family and some close family friends (Were we almost 35 adults and children?) came back to our home for the rest of the weekend (Saturday evening and most stayed till Sunday noonish, overnight camping in our yard). It was wonderful to stay together as a family for another 24 hours to continue to enjoy each other’s company and continue to reminisce of our mother. We kept the Memories board up and different family members had time to read them at their own leisure.
I had found some special liqueur last winter: rice pudding flavour. So during Sunday breakfast we had a special toast to our mother who made Danish Rice Pudding for Christmas Eve too many times to count.
My siblings headed back to BC in a day or two and then I think reality hit me. Back to the office and back to routines, except now without my mom.
I kept her picture and many sympathy cards at my office and it was good for me to hear from clients as they came into the office and gave condolences. It was good for me to talk about my mom (and her passing) every day: part of the grieving and healing.
Were there a few surprises? Yes, I was a bit surprised by the cost of the cremation only service provided by the funeral home. I will be shopping around now for an estimated cost for my father’s service (he is 93 and in declining health in a personal care home). I will share with you what my findings are.
But overall, it was great (if a funeral service can be great). It went as well or better than expected and we received many great comments from friends that were there: “I felt like I was meeting your Mom” or “It was great that every word of the service was about your Mom”. There were a few of my friends there that had never met my mother, but came away feeling like they knew her quite well.
That’s what made it a great funeral. Everything went well. And a lovely lady was remembered for the great life she had and shared.
Thanks Mom, for making me the caring person that I am.
I hope they say nice things about me too (hopefully in 40+ years!)
Anni Markmann is a tax professional working, living, and volunteering in our community. Contact her at 204-422-6631 or firstname.lastname@example.org or 36 Dawson Road in Ste Anne.