Have you ever considered what your funeral will be like? Who will attend.. what will they say… what will be chosen by way of flowers, music and decoration… will there be tears.. will people celebrate you and all you meant to them? But more than that, what would you say if you had the chance…
What would your last words be?
Last week Edwin and I were privileged to have the opportunity to attend the very first living funeral ceremony in Tasmania. The very generous and thoughtful Maria Lazovic came to Tasmania and offered her Living Funeral session for the lovely people of Hobart. More than just a time to contemplate mortality, this is a few hours of intense soul searching and internal reconciliation of both what is most important in life and what there is to be left behind by way of legacy… things of the heart within which we find love, wisdom and sentiment.
The ceremony starts with turning inward, with the simpleness of breath and awareness of space. We were invited to think of where we are in the world and who we are to the world. We were given the time to consider what our last words would be.. what would we like to say if this was the very last opportunity to utter a sentence. We put pen to paper and then we spoke those sentiments out loud. A privileged and intimate gift we gave to ourselves in the speaking of those words and it was a humbling thing that we were able to bear witness to this for each other. As voices shook and tears flowed we were faced with the prospect of no longer being on this earth and what it will look like when we are dead… for ourselves and for each other.
As we laid ourselves to rest in quiet contemplation and gently found ourselves entombed beneath a shroud, as our breathing slowed and the silence pressed upon us we were able to lean into all the thoughts and feelings that stirred within us as we explored the letting go of all our earthly bonds. Interestingly, for me, it became clearer what it was that was hardest to let go of and in that clarity, the words I had spoken only moments before took on a new meaning.
I’d like to share an abridged version of my final words with you… It is personal but I hope by sharing this it allows you to consider your last words as well.
“It is an interesting phenomenon that as our life grown smaller all of the things we have worked for, treasured, put time and energy into tend to fade and what we are left with is the bare essentials to our existence. Our happiness. We clearly identify what it is that means the most to us. For me, it was a mixture of people and all of the beautiful experiences I had with them. I am forever grateful for the people who came and went from my life and especially blessed for having had so many people stay.
I feel I am a product of my experiences – both good and bad – in all the messy beauty of it all and I am grateful for that. I hope that I leave the world in a slightly better way for having stumbled my way through it. I have been loved and I have learned from the most incredible people and through the heartache and pain, I have been gifted some magical moments of life-sustaining joy. To my people, those who I have known for my life time and those I have known for shorter moments – I hold you all so close……..
What is a legacy really? I think it is what you leave behind in the hearts and minds of those who will live on without you. It has been my intention throughout my life to leave people with a sense of friendship, understanding, belonging, compassion and acceptance. I have not always succeeded in this but it is through the finding of these things myself that I discovered the tangible difference they make to a contented life – so to my friends and family, I hope you live out your days cocooned in the comfort that you too live valuable, meaningful lives.
We surround ourselves in life with things and achievements and when death calls it is the people and the stories that matter. Thank you all for contributing to mine.”
If you get the opportunity to attend a living funeral ceremony I would highly recommend it. There is a kind of contentedness that comes with knowing what, and who you value the most. It’s a contentedness I see in older people, not all of them but many. I think the world would be a little better if we all discovered that kind of contentedness now, at an earlier age. If we all knew now what really mattered our lives, our relationships the paths we walk in this world would be all the better for it.
I am so pleased to be able to share with you all the report I submitted for my Churchill Fellowship. Some of you might know that when I sat to write I came up with about 80,000 words and so it was with the help of two incredibly supportive and courageous women that I identified the main points and created something manageable for a report. Annetta and Pia, I can not thank you enough. The rest has not gone to waste, I am considering options for putting it into a book.
You will find the report is now available on my Fellowship page on the website of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. Just click the ‘download now’ button and the report will appear.
I hope there’s a little something that resonates with you all here. It has been a labour of love and I am very excited about what we can now bring to the changing landscape of death and dying in Australia.