In this article:

Living funerals - sometimes called a living wake or a pre-funeral - are becoming more popular as a way to celebrate someone's life while they're still alive. Although they’re often held for people who are terminally ill, anyone can choose to have a living funeral ceremony.

How does a living funeral work?

A living funeral is much like any other kind of funeral service. The main difference is that the person who is being remembered is still alive. Usually, they'll attend the living funeral service too.

There are no set rules about living funerals – they can follow any structure and include anything you want. Sometimes they're serious occasions where people wear dark clothes and share memories of the person as if they had already died. Other times, they're like a big party, where friends and family gather to celebrate the person's life.

Why do people choose living funerals?

Often, people choose to have a living funeral because they know they're going to die soon. They may have been diagnosed with a terminal illness – or they might simply have a feeling that they don't have long left.

For these people, a living funeral is a chance for one last celebration with friends and family. They can listen to their favourite songs, share treasured memories and reflect on the life they've lived. This can provide a valuable sense of closure, both for the person who is dying and the other people at the funeral.

You don't have to be old or unwell to have a living funeral, though. Maybe you feel it's more meaningful to celebrate your life while you're still alive – no matter your age or health status. Or perhaps you'd like to pay for your own funeral service so your family don't have to worry about it later. When you do eventually die, you could save money by choosing an unattended funeral rather than holding another big ceremony.

When did living funerals become popular?

The idea of having a funeral while alive isn't new. Lots of old films and novels include scenes where characters go to their own funerals. For example, in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the title character sneaks into his funeral service as a prank after being declared dead by mistake.

Many of these stories used living funerals as a plot twist or joke – they weren’t taken seriously. That all changed in 1997 with the publication of Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie. One of the characters in the book holds a living funeral ceremony while dying from an incurable illness. Tuesdays with Morrie became a bestseller and popularised the idea of living funerals in the United States.

They're not just popular in America, though. More and more people are choosing living funerals in the UK as a way to save money or enjoy their own send-off.

How to organise a living funeral

If you feel like a living funeral is the right choice for you, here are the steps you can take to plan it.

Decide whether to use a funeral director

Are you interested in arranging a living funeral? You may want to ask a funeral director for help. There are funeral directors in the UK who specialise in organising funerals for people who are still alive.

It all depends on what you want to include in the service. Do you want it to feel like a traditional funeral with a celebrant, flowers and a procession? Funeral directors have lots of experience with these kinds of ceremonies, so they could provide valuable assistance. Or would you prefer a simpler service with a party atmosphere? You may be able to save money by arranging it yourself.

Choose a venue

Living funerals can take place in almost any kind of venue.

Some people choose a quiet, relaxed space like their own home or garden. This is good for people who are ill because it gives them a chance to rest if they need to.

Others choose venues such as pubs, hotel function rooms and crematorium chapels. You could even splash out and take a few friends on holiday or enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience like a hot air balloon ride.

Would you like to use a religious venue like a church or gurdwara? Keep in mind that this might not be possible. Some faith leaders are uncomfortable with living funerals, so they might refuse to lead the ceremony or let you use the venue. It all depends on the person and their beliefs.

Start planning the pre-funeral service

Now it's time to choose a date and decide on the details. If you're ill, you’ll probably want to choose a date in the near future. This way, you can be sure you'll be well enough to attend.

What should you include in the service? That's completely up to you. Here are some living funeral ideas to get you started:

  • Perform readings: many people will be unsure what to say at a living funeral. Tell them to treat it like a normal funeral service – they could read out some of your favourite poems or deliver a heartfelt eulogy. You could even speak at your own funeral if you feel up to it.
  • Listen to music: you might want to choose traditional funeral music like hymns or classical music. Or you could use it as an excuse to listen to some of your favourite pop music in the company of friends.
  • Make a memory table: this is a place where people can reminisce about your life and share their own memories. You could include some treasured photos and a memory book where people can write messages to you.
  • Hire a videographer: it's a special day, so why not ask someone to record it? This way, you and your family can watch and enjoy it again.

Send out invitations

The last step is to let people know about the funeral.

If you want the occasion to feel laid-back and informal, you could send your living funeral invitation by email or even create a social media event. If you’d prefer a traditional feel, you could have your invitations professionally printed and send them by post.

What should you write on the invites? That depends on the kind of event you’re planning too.

For an informal get-together, you could start by writing something like, ‘join us as we celebrate the life of ’. If it’s a more formal funeral, you could use wording like ‘you’re cordially invited to honour the life of at a living funeral ceremony’.

Remember to explain what a living funeral is because many people will be unfamiliar with the idea. Be sure to include the location, date and a request to RSVP too.

Visit our advice hub

Funeral Choice helps people find local funeral directors and compare prices. For funeral planning help and ideas, visit our funeral planning advice hub.

Photo by Al Elmes on Unsplash.