By: Marni Blank

Have you ever wondered what people would say about you at your funeral? For many, there is an inherent (and dare one say morbid) curiosity about who would attend, what the eulogies would capture, and how the occasion looks or feels. What if you could be there? What would that shift for you?

Memorials and funerals can be a beautiful way to celebrate the life of the deceased and provide comfort to those left behind. It can, however, feel like a missed opportunity when you don’t share the sentiments and feelings with those you love when they are still here and with you. That is why more folks are opting to create a personalized living funeral or memorial experience in which you can attend and participate in your own send off. Living memorials allow the sick or elderly person to be part of this ancient ritual of saying goodbye, offering a sense of an ending for both the living and the dying.

The trend to create living memorials or “pre-funerals” can be for those wishing to feel empowered and in control of how they say goodbye to loved ones before death. This was memorialized in the classic book “Tuesdays With Morrie”.  It is not just reserved for those close to death. Most recently, Larry David eulogized the very much alive Albert Brooks on Curb Your Enthusiasm (who live-streamed the part-roast part-sentimental occasion from his bedroom upstairs). It can be powerful and heartwarming to hear how you’re seen by those who know and care about you. It can also be a way in which you take control of your circumstance, connect to family and friends and let them know how you feel. Ultimately, it is about saying a final goodbye. Creating a dedicated and intentional gathering can serve to honor your relationships. It can be a sacred time to give and receive comfort in a time of grief and for some, allows a sense of closure.

Here are some ideas on how to get started on planning a living memorial of your own or for a loved one:

For Those Feeling Shy:

If you’re not ready to be the center of attention at a gathering but still want to create an experience to feel connected, consider having a friend or family member send a questionnaire to a select group of close loved ones to fill out and present to the honoree.

Some sample questions can include:

I know [honoree] from _____

I would call  [honoree] if I needed help with ___

What does  [honoree] not know about themselves that they should know____

My favorite memory of [honoree]  is ____

How has  [honoree] impacted your life?

Create a private website where these answers can live and where friends/family can upload photos and video messages. There are also websites that help collect messages from loved ones like Tribute or Lifeweb360. You can couple this with inviting people to drop in on a specific day(s) to say private goodbyes and share moments and memories with loved ones.

For Those Wanting to Connect Long Distance: A Virtual Memorial:  

Modern technology has created opportunities for connecting virtually for occasions big and small.  Many have experienced attending a virtual memorial or funeral online. This can be a great option for those wanting to invite dear ones who live far away and are unable to travel.  This setup can be as simple as a zoom meeting or more elaborate with a service like Gathering Us or Keeper.

Here are a few tips for hosting a virtual living memorial:

  • Initiate a trusted person to host the event and keep the flow.  Consider asking who will be speaking ahead of time so that they can determine how long everyone has to speak and the order in which they’re speaking.
  • Give the honoree time to share their thoughts and feelings with the group.
  • If the honoree feels overwhelmed by the idea of a large zoom gathering, you can set up different times for different groups to join and connect without the pressure of a large audience.
  • Allow time for one-on-one moments for people to connect and say their private thoughts or goodbyes.
  • Request photos from those invited and put them together into a virtual or physical memory book.

Tips For Those Wanting an In-Person Gathering: 

  • Create a guest list that feels supportive and loving and enlist a loved one to help execute.
  • Make it personal to you – do you want a low key gathering at your home or backyard, at your favorite restaurant with your favorite food, at a public garden surrounded by blooming flowers?  If the honoree is ill, it can be at an assisted living/nursing home or other easily accessible space.
  • Flow of the event – arrive, mingle, hear words or “eulogies” from loved ones, listen to meaningful readings, poems or songs. Do you want the event to be funny and celebratory or would you prefer everyone come in character and arrive somber and contemplative? This is about what feels right for you. Give the person of honor the opportunity to give a speech, enjoy food/drinks and any other activities that make it feel personal and special.
  • Share photos and memories with each other.
  • Have a dedicated space to carve out little moments to say goodbye to loved ones in a quiet and private way.
  • If you want a less formal experience, you can have a dedicated day where people can drop by to spend time with you and have smaller, more intimate moments, akin to the Jewish tradition of sitting Shiva.
  • Have a guest book and encourage guests to bring a letter expressing their feelings.

Celebrating the lives of those close to you gives everyone a chance to feel and give love and to say goodbye. A living memorial experience can be empowering and joyful, but also a chance for healing. Especially now, amongst all of the worries in the world, it’s important to come together and honor our loved ones and acknowledge what they mean to us. Tell people how you feel about them now while they’re here. No need to wait.

Marni is a death doula, lawyer, trained mediator, and a female founded small business owner. She offers holistic end-of-life planning and death doula services.