Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy funerals. "I don't want them mourning - I want them laughing."

It may be the only thing that's inevitable in life. But death is changing. Now it's a time to be joyful.
Instead of looking ahead to the afterlife, British funerals increasingly rejoice in memories of the deceased's triumphs, relationships and their favourite songs. There's a phrase for ceremonies like this - "a celebration of life".

The tone is happy rather than mournful, celebratory instead of sombre. Wearing black is commonly discouraged. You're more likely to hear Monty Python's Always Look On The Bright Side of Life - according to a 2014 survey, the most popular song played at UK funerals - than Verdi's Requiem.

A survey of 2,000 people by ICM suggested that 54% wanted their funeral to be a "celebration of life". Some 48% said they wanted it to incorporate their favourite "hobby, colour, football team or music".
Crematoriums - where nearly three-quarters of British funerals now end - are virtually always equipped with audio visual systems that allow video clips to be played.

There are thousands of web pages devoted to planning a "celebration of life service", tailored with memories and mementos of the deceased taking centre stage, and the funeral industry has not been slow to keep pace with demand.

In the US, ceremonies of this kind are well established, with some members of the baby boomer generation having planned their own such send-offs as far back as the the 1970s. This is perhaps not surprising in a nation with a large new age movement, a tradition of upbeat New Orleans jazz funerals and a large Hispanic population that celebrates the Mexican Day of the Dead festival.

In the UK, it's somewhat more of a departure. It's not for everyone. There are plenty of others who prefer the sober dignity of a traditional church funeral, or indeed a secular service that is solemn rather than celebratory.

But despite being being the great leveller, death is increasingly seen as an occasion to express one's individuality.

This is a radically different vision of the death ritual from the Christian rites that until recently predominated across the UK.
Though church services include eulogies, their focus has always been on the future - the promise of everlasting life. "He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live", says the Book of Common Prayer. Catholics pray for the deceased's immortal soul.
For traditionalists, the "celebration of life" misses the point of a funeral ritual.

Funeral music and camper vans
• Monty Python's Always Look on the Bright Side of Life is the most requested funeral song in the last six months
• Queen is the most popular group with nine tracks requested, including Who Wants to Live Forever and Don't Stop Me Now
• The theme tunes to Coronation Street, Downton Abbey and Strictly Come Dancing also feature
• JCBs, camper vans, pickup trucks, skip lorries and double-decker buses are among the vehicles that have headed funeral processions

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