Funerals for the living: Why pre-funerals are becoming more common

Living funerals are becoming a trend for people who are alive and well, and for those who know the end of their lives are near.
Published: Sep. 7, 2022 at 10:24 AM MST
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MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - The program featured a photo of Ryan, with the words, “in loving memory” printed on the front. Photos of Ryan decorated the chapel, and friends sang along to his favorite music. At first, it looked like a traditional celebration of life. But Ryan was there. Alive. At his own funeral.

“It was powerful and poignant and funny and was one of the only times I’ve ever seen my husband cry,” said Wyndie Scott. “It was beautiful.” Scott planned a surprise living funeral for her husband in honor of his 50th birthday.

“I said I want to do a celebration of life for my husband,” Scott said. “The first thing they want to know is when he died. I said, ‘He’s not dead.’ Well is he in hospice? ‘No. He’s very much alive and healthy. I just want to get to gather and tell him how we feel about him.’”

There’s an obvious question. Why host a living funeral instead of a party at a venue or restaurant? “Having people just really put their heart out there and really tell you what you mean to them, you can’t really do that in a restaurant,” Scott said. “The emotion’s not there. The feelings, the environment, the atmosphere, it’s very different when you’re in this environment.”

But this celebration of life almost didn’t happen. “I got a lot of slack at first and I wasn’t sure if it was something I should do,” Scott said. “So I was very cognizant of making sure that it was very respectful.” While Scott’s husband is alive and well, for many others a living funeral, also called a pre-funeral, is an acknowledgment that the end of life is near.

“We are finding that more people are having those end of life parties, if that’s what you want to call it, just to share stories with their loved ones before they go,” said Hilary Samples, the marketing director at Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery in Mesa. She says there’s no right or wrong way to do a living funeral, but guests may need some guidance.

“You can do it here at the funeral home. If you live in a 55+ community, you can have it there at a park. Just bring your favorite foods and have people prepared with stories, and tell them it’s ok to share those stories,” Samples said. “You’re all in the same environment and people need to hear that.”

According to a funeral services guide, living funerals can also be used for practical matters, like clarifying your will or final wishes. “It’s almost like saving your good dishes for Christmas when you should just use them every day,” Scott said. “We don’t say the things that we should every day.”