‘It was great talking to my mum about her funeral’: why one family threw a funeral planning party

A group of woman looking at a coffin.

Poppy’s funeral director Amy Szott and her mum Joy sat down with a group of close friends and lots of Prosecco to talk about funerals. They explain why they wanted to plan Joy’s funeral far in advance and share their advice on how to throw your own funeral planning party.

Why did you decide to plan Joy’s funeral together?

Joy

Amy had told me how important it is for families that the person who has died has planned a funeral. It makes it so much better for the people who are left behind.

So we invited seven friends round to have a glass of Prosecco and plan our funerals. It was actually really jolly. There was a lot of laughter and nobody was miserable or upset in any way. It was a good evening.

Amy

I think people turned up a little bit giggly with the novelty factor of it. Like, are we all really here doing this? But that slight nervousness evaporated quite quickly. It was in a familiar environment and everyone was together as friends so people calmed down.

Once we started the conversation it was really interesting. It was like, ‘oh, I can't believe you're going to have that coffin, I want this coffin.’ It was fun.

Joy

I think people didn't realise that you could choose things like whether or not to be embalmed. That wasn’t presented as a choice [when my husband died] but I think if I'd been asked, I probably would have said no.

Amy

People were amazed by how many choices they had — about the hearse, the coffin, the kinds of burial grounds. It’s such a personal thing.

Amy, were you surprised by what your mum wanted?

Amy

I was surprised that you didn't just say 'just put me in the simple cardboard coffin.' And that you just wanted to be dressed in your old jeans.

Joy

She wanted to make me up in my best dress that I wore to her wedding. I said I want my oldest scrappiest jeans with the holes in - which are incredibly comfortable.

Amy

Also, you wanted the simple wooden coffin, didn't you? I realised, actually I have no idea what she flippin' wants. So, I’d better ask her.

How did it feel to talk to your mum about her funeral?

Amy

Great! Because mum's always been quite frank about most things. She’s spoken about when she dies and how she’s made sure everything is in place. We just hadn't spoken about what she’d like from a funeral.

Why plan your funeral now?

Joy

We're all fit and healthy and death is hopefully not imminent. That made it easier to think about. If you're going to die tomorrow that's a different kettle of fish altogether. You can't think straight then, it's just too difficult.

Amy

I agree with mum. If someone is really close to death, it's so raw and painful to talk about. So it’s helpful to have a time where we can relax and think things through.

It’s not a house party, there is a serious undertone to it. But I think it adds an element of accessibility and familiarity to a topic that can seem quite distant.

Joy

We need to realise that we are going to die — all of us. It's the only thing that's definite. I think as we progress socially, it will become more common to talk about.

A group of women sitting at a table.

If someone else wanted to do something similar, what advice would you give them?

Joy

Do some investigation online about the choices available. You can make your own little list of things that you'd like. You don't even need to have a discussion with anybody.

And write it down! Make sure your family knows what your wishes are or where you've left your list. When somebody dies you're not going to start turning the house up to find the list. It needs to be there.

Amy

It depends on the level of detail people want to think about as well. They might just want to make some really light choices because that’s what they're capable of at the time.

But even one or two choices can make such a huge difference. You know, just choosing the music or if you want to be cremated. Then, if you've got the time and ability to think of more, absolutely go for it!

What would you say to someone who feels a little bit nervous or uncomfortable about having this conversation?

Joy

That it's just another decision, like choosing what you want to eat tonight. You can put that amount of effort into thinking about what you'd like for your own funeral.

Amy

I think that there’s never going to be a perfect time. You're probably going to feel like you’ve got 1,000 other priorities, but if you want to do this then you’ve got to make the time. You can gently go into the conversation, the kind of music you’d like is nice to start with.

Joy

Maybe even go to visit a funeral director’s. Ask to be shown around or if they have an open day. Because the mortuary here [at Poppy’s] was just not what I imagined a mortuary to be. I thought it would be a dark, dingy, cold place not beautiful, open and light.

Amy

That's a good point, do call around different funeral directors and ask what options are available. Definitely go and visit them if you've got time. You don't have to just go to the funeral director on your High Street.

Joy

Just get everybody talking about it, that's the main thing. I was surprised that my friends agreed to come, I thought they'd all say 'absolutely not'. But it was good fun. And the people they've told about it said ‘how fantastic, we want to do it as well.’

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