Your funeral … the ultimate party?

Your funeral … the ultimate party?
Ivy Hill Executive Director Lucy Goddin stands in front of the cemetery's iconic 19th-century vault (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

By Lucy B. Goddin

Whether you want an all-out bash of a send-off, or just want to be quietly sprinkled at sea, pre-planning for your funeral is important.

You might find this an uncomfortable topic or figure you’ll just leave it to someone else to handle, but you don’t want to leave your loved ones having to make difficult decisions at the worst time of their lives.

In the funeral business, we see it all the time, relatives wondering “Why didn’t Dad tell us what he wanted?” or “Did Mom want to be cremated or not?”

You may feel it is selfish to turn all the attention on you, but it’s going to be on you, like it or not. Let’s make people’s final words about you positive.

Who should pre-plan?

Everyone should preplan, whether you have abundant wealth or are very limited in resources.

While you can still think rationally, at least write it down. If you can, make a plan to set aside funds for your final wishes. Your loved ones need to know what you want. Do not assume people already know.

What does pre-planning mean?

This is a big conversation to have with yourself. In making plans for the end of life, you’ll have to make a lot of decisions.

Do you want a funeral? Will you need a casket or will you be cremated? Do you live near your “forever home,” or will you need to be shipped from out of state? How will you pay for it? Do you want to be buried in a cemetery, scattered some place special or placed on the mantle until the cat knocks you off?

Pre-planning means asking uncomfortable questions and getting your affairs in order. Find a fun funeral home director or a friendly cemeterian who can make this discussion easier.

How do I start?

Did you know you can prepay your funeral expenses at the funeral home? This is a great place to start and to find out what is involved in order to help you decide on your final details. Do your homework. Explore the costs, the necessities. Don’t assume that by telling one person, you have taken care of things.

Many people who want to be in a cemetery buy their sites ahead of time. You can brag to people about the big rock your husband bought you.

Some reserve their space in the family lot by buying a headstone, leaving room for the “move-in” date. If you have ancestors in a cemetery, check to see if there is room for you. Direct descendants of families in Ivy Hill are able to use family sites on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you are not ready for this step, at least do some research. The more you know, the more comfortable you will be with the conversation when the time is right. Bring it up over Thanksgiving dinner for a rousing conversation. Or, if your family doesn’t want to talk about it, at least write it down for them.

Why plan ahead?

Rituals are important, whether it’s a wedding, farewell party, confirmation of faith or funeral. They allow people to cope with changes in life.

When it comes to losing a loved one, those left behind need closure, and some need a place to grieve and a chance to say goodbye. You may say, “Just scatter me in the back yard,” but it really isn’t about you at that point.

Sometimes funerals are the only occasion for people to get back together and talk about old times. We often hear people say, “The only time we get together is at weddings and funerals.” Well, thank goodness for weddings and funerals.

There’s often frustration, emotional suffering or family division when end-of-life decisions are left to those who are not prepared. It can cause irreparable damage among siblings when each has a vastly different opinion on what mom wanted, usually stemming from some deep-rooted childhood issue.

Unless your goal is to sit in the clouds laughing as your children tear each other apart, get this done. If you don’t want a lavish funeral, now is the time to say so. If you do want a lavish funeral, but are afraid your little wretches are going to short-change you and run off with your fortune, now is the time to plan.

When should I get this done?

Now. Tomorrow is too unpredictable. You don’t need to start with a complete plan, but at least start jotting down thoughts on what you want or don’t want. Do you want a quiet, somber service with only family? Do you want champagne and confetti, laughter and stories? Put it in writing.

Meet with several funeral homes and cemeteries. Do your homework, and explore the costs and necessities.

Where should I choose?

Where do you want to be buried? How do you want that to go? Will you need to be shipped long distance? How will that be done?

If these thoughts seem overwhelming, start simple. Ask friends what they are planning to do. There are plenty of free resources to help you through this process.

Picture two scenarios

Your family is falling apart, lost at the funeral home making decisions under emotional distress. Your kids are asking, “What would Mom have wanted? Why didn’t she plan or discuss this? What a burden she left us.”

Or, your family is laughing through its time of grief, reminiscing on the time Mom lay down and tried out different sites, how she thought of leaving space for dad’s next wife because she knows he will remarry.

End of life can be a scary, emotional time for you and those who you leave behind. Be responsible and take as much care as you can to ease this transition for everyone.

Lucy B. Goddin, a native Alexandrian, is the general manager of Ivy Hill Cemetery. Contact her at