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Why A Living Funeral Might Be The Right Decision For You.

Updated: Jan 23

I want to share an article that was shared with me:

Why a living funeral was the right decision for John Gilius and his partner in the face of death

If you could attend your own funeral, would you? What might it be like to hear a gathering of loved ones celebrate you and your life?

For John Gilius, who lost his partner, also named John, eight years ago to cancer, holding a civil union ceremony and funeral before he died was a powerful show of love.

"It was a way for me to give back to John and to show him how important he really was and how loved he was," Mr Gilius tells ABC RN's Life Matters.

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John's cancer journey had been an isolating experience, as "a lot of people dropped contact because they … didn't feel like they wanted to intrude or they didn't know how to approach [his illness]", Mr Gilius says.

And it took a toll on John's mental health.

"He was feeling low and he was questioning … how significant he was [and if] he was loved … It's horrible to have to think that.

"So my mission was to prove to him that he was valuable and loved," Mr Gilius says.

"I wanted to have a party for him to celebrate him."

The couple (John at centre) threw a special kind of party that was "a room full of love".(Supplied)

'I wish I would've known'

The celebration of John's life was "a room full of love", Mr Gilius says.

"It was very cathartic. People were able to have a final word with John, share a final joke, give him a hug, tell him how he impacted their life or changed their life. And it was really healing.

"It was a beautiful experience."

Facilitating the celebration was Evelyn Calaunan, a celebrant based in the Blue Mountains.

"It was my responsibility to hold the space and to be sensitive to everybody who was there," she says.

It was a particularly important role because, she says, "it was very confronting for people there".

But she too describes it as a beautiful occasion.

Ms Calaunan has conducted many funerals and says, "I['ve] always wondered … did that person who's in that box right now, did they actually know how they were loved?"

Evelyn Calaunan is a life celebration and funeral celebrant based in the Blue Mountains.(Supplied)

The day of John's celebration, he certainly did.

"When the tributes started flowing when the mic was passed around, there was just so much love, and everybody was crying," Ms Calaunan says.

She believes a living funeral presents an opportunity to more authentically represent someone's life, because they're involved in the ceremony's planning and how it's carried out.

"I would say at 80 per cent of the funerals [held after someone has died] that I've conducted over the years, people discover something new about the person who's passed. They [often] say, 'Oh gosh, I wish I would have known that he did that or she did that, and we could have talked about that.'

"So I do like this idea of the person being there, because they can share their stories and let us know about things about their lives that we probably don't know."

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Engaging with finality of death

Specialist grief counsellor Wendy Liu says while Western societies do a great job of celebrating life transitions like births, graduations or weddings, celebrations often fall short when it comes to funerals.

She sees a living funeral — "for those of those who can tolerate it, where it isn't too unbearable" — as an "opportunity to be seen and to be acknowledged".

She points to places where such rituals already exist. In Japan, for example, a seizensō — "a funeral while you're still alive" — allows an older person to acknowledge that their death is approaching and to say goodbye, but also to "divest" and distribute their wealth and belongings.

In Korea, too, there are living funeral services and "an engagement with the reality of death; engagement with what it is to live life, knowing that you will also die at the very end", she says.

"So we find different cultural ways in which people are beginning to really engage with that finality of death during their life."

Living funerals not for all

Ms Liu believes a living funeral can be useful not only for those who are dying, .but also for those who attend the event.

She believes it offers "a model for grieving that might be more collective than insular and lonely".

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However, she says a living funeral is not for everyone, and it's important that it not be "considered an imperative".

"I've been working in the field of death and dying and bereavement for 20-plus years and it's only been a handful of times that I have encountered this [concept] with my clients.

"For many people, this is a radical and confrontational act, the assembling people together as we disassemble our lives."

She says for some the idea is too confronting, either individually within a family, social or cultural context, or the event might signify "taking away the hope that some people have".

"But for others, this could be that time when I confront and I acknowledge that this is the end."

One of the really key things is to acknowledge that no one way of preparing for and marking death will suit everyone, she says.

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For Mr Gilius, the funeral after his partner John died still served an important purpose, and was "final closure, like the closing of the book on that last chapter".

But he says, "if you're given the knowledge to know that you have a terminal illness … why not celebrate the life that you have left and continue to create memories that live on after you're gone".

"My advice would be don't be scared. Death is scary, I know … but it doesn't have to be a sad, lonely place. It can be celebrated.

"Knowing that John died a happy man — he was overjoyed about the love that he felt — that's sort of completing for him in his journey; to know that he left a mark, he left a legacy, he was adored."


If you are interested in holding your own living funeral, contact me,


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