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Celebrate your life, your wayCreated by Verity in Being You, Retirement
Planning your own funeral can be an uplifting experience, medicine as Madeline McGill discovered when she chose her perfect ceremony two years ago. Madeline McGill is a social and occupational psychologist with a career spanning 30 years. She is a trustee of Esther Benjamin’s Trust, a charity in Nepal which works with trafficked children. She is also a member of McCarthy & Stone’s Greater Life AdvisoryBoard (GLAB).
When I was a child, every Sunday morning after attending church, we visited the cemetery where my grandparents, great-grandparents and great-aunts and great-uncles were buried. We laid flowers and tidied their graves, and it was clear that my father felt this to be his solemn duty.
I recalled those visits when, in April this year, my husband and I decided to visit the Woodland Burial Park where, two years ago, we had reserved our joint burial plot. It was an exquisitely beautiful morning, the sun was shining and birds were singing to celebrate Spring. We had been impressed by the team who took us on a leisurely tour of the park so that we could choose a location which we particularly liked. We both enjoy reading poetry and hence it was an easy decision that, in due course, we would rest in a double plot at No. 6 Milton Avenue – unembalmed and in cardboard coffins (I have been passionate about recycling since I was ten years old). When we completed our arrangements, the team gave us a book for each of our grandchildren telling the story of an ancient oak tree which befriended a young hazel tree. When the oak tree died, the young hazel was deeply distressed until a friendly bird drew her attention to a sapling sprouting from an acorn. The children loved the story and it was a good way to introduce them to the natural cycle of life and death. We have specified that there be no memorial — for us, the primroses and violets will suffice.
We have attended many funeral services where one group of mourners was leaving the chapel by one door while another group entered at the opposite end. At the Woodland Burial Park, two hours is allocated for each service. Mourners have tea and coffee on arrival and are able to meet and greet each other in a pleasant environment before walking a few yards to a beautiful wooden building with a high glass roof and full-length windows where the committal service takes place. The ceremony may be a conventional religious service or follow a format of your own choosing (which was our choice). We have been able to plan in advance by taking out individual funeral plans through which the entire payment is fully insured, regardless of when we eventually die.
My message is that funeral planning doesn’t have to be a sad time; it can be as uplifting as you choose to make it. It is as much a celebration of life as it is a mourning of its passing.
That, of course, leads me on to emphasise the importance of making a well drafted Last Will and Testament. Dying ‘intestate’ — where no will has been drawn up — means that your wishes may not be honoured. Anyone who has assumed responsibility for overseeing the implementation of a Will following the death of a relative or friend will be aware of how much is involved even when the deceased has made an effort to put his or her affairs in order. There are key tasks to be undertaken immediately after a person dies and prior to the burial or cremation. And there are a number of different ways of drawing up a will. You can purchase a ‘do-it-yourself’ form, but unless you have some legal training, this is not recommended, particularly if the estate is complex and/or there’s a chance it might be contested.
Should you wish to establish a Trust or Trusts, you need skilled advice from a lawyer with specialist qualifications. A list of Trust Solicitors can be obtained from the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). While some firms have a fixed fee, many charge by the hour so make sure you understand the fee structure of your chosen firm of solicitors before they are engaged and any contract signed.
Preparing your will and funeral should be viewed as a respectful and sanctifying experience that ensures your wishes are met. It also helps to remove worries that your loved ones might otherwise experience, allowing them to focus on remembering a life well lived. Whatever your religion or beliefs, your passing is part of life’s cycle, and it can be immensely reassuring to know that all these arrangements are in place, simply because of good planning. And once they’re satisfactorily completed, you can stop worrying and get on with living every precious day to the full.