The living funeral

A few months ago I left this comment on Robin Hanson's funeral post on Overcoming Bias:
I understand that the point of funerals is to help people grieve, and to affirm shared values, as you mention above, but my biggest wish for funerals is that more of them were held while people were still alive. They’re not too much different from comedy roasts.
For most people death is a scary event. As far as I know, the patient's mindset is also incredibly important; the tougher and happier the patient is the more likely that they are to throw off the disease. So I always thought it was a waste to wait until after someone dies to hold a funeral and cherish their life; aren't those complements something that the deceased person would like to hear, and would possibly help keep them alive longer? You would have to change the name and the tone; a living funeral would be an event designed to celebrate the fact that the person is still alive and has done so much good for everyone around them. You'd also need some idea of how long the person was going to live, or else people could selfishly arrange one and then continue to live for a long time. Also, because a funeral is mainly to help the surviving family and friends grieve, you would still need to have an event after the person passed away. Based on that comment a reporter from the Wall Street Journal emailed me asking if I knew of any living funerals. I said no, but I think it's an interesting idea. However, I can't think of any society that has an event similar to the one I describe above, which makes me think there's some good reason not to have one that I'm missing.

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2 thoughts on “The living funeral

  1. Papa J

    I dig what you are saying, and I do not think it is a bad idea at all, but your idea and a funeral do not signify the same thing. A funeral is a celebration of ones transcendence to the next stage of life: death. This style of “transcendental celebration” is apparent in many other aspects of life. For example, birthdays, graduation, weddings, and retirement parties. All of these events are held after the event has occurred. It would be pretty silly to have a graduation before ones finals, or a wedding reception before people recited their vows. Much like it would be a little silly to talk about someones life in the past-tense before they died. I think the reason for this is the fact of the uncertainty of the events you are celebrating. Someone could be expelled on the last day of school, a fiance could catch her soon-to-be husband cheating on her at the bachelor party, and someone could make a miraculous recovery and live for 10 more years. The latter would make for an awkward situation 10 years down the line, when friends and family are once again gathered to celebrate the life of someone whom they had already expected to pass away. Like I said though, your idea is a good one. I think the reason people make huge deals out of 70th and 80th birthdays is because of a similar thought process. They do not know how many birthdays are left, so they want to use a pre-developed and socially excepted event to hold a celebration of ones life.

    Glad you are writing again

    Reply
  2. Julie

    Came across your post doing research for a presentation about: living funerals! It is becoming more and more popular and if you search for info in Australia, watch out. They seem to have it down to a fine art!

    Reply

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