Living Funerals: How to Have a Funeral Before You Die

Living funerals are becoming quite the trend. A “living funeral” is just like a regular funeral, but with one giant twist – you’re alive.

Wait… isn’t that a total contradiction? Can you really have a funeral before you die?

And why would you want to? What’s it like, why do people do it, and what do you do if you’re invited to one?

Read on to find out exactly what this idea is, where it originated, and how you can have your own living funeral.

Our website is supported by our users. We sometimes earn a commission when you click through the affiliate links on our website. See our privacy policy & disclosures for more information.

What Is a Living Funeral?

A living funeral is a memorial service for someone who is still alive. You will actually get to see and experience a meaningful outpouring of love and affection from friends and family members which you would otherwise miss.

Living funerals are also sometimes called a pre-funeral, living wake, friendship service, living tribute, reminiscing party, or sendoff.

Seizensō: The Origin of the Living Funeral

This type of tribute started in the 1990s in Japan. The Japanese call them seizensō. The elders in Japan felt that they were burdening the children with their old age and failing health. By having a living funeral, the stress of planning and paying for everything was taken off of their children.

In 1997, with the publication and popularity of Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie (see below), the idea of holding your own funeral while you’re still living began to catch on in the USA.

Since then, with an increased emphasis on personalized, unique funerals and the trend towards a “celebration of life,” living funerals have been increasing in frequency as families look into creative ways to honor the living and plan for death.

Attending Your Own Funeral

That’s right: You get to attend your funeral! This party should be the pinnacle of your success.

We’ve all been to funerals where people say the most beautiful things about the deceased. I have always wondered if the decedent knew how much these people loved him/her. Did all these people say these fantastic things to him/her before they died?

If everything goes as planned, you will get to know all the fantastic things people think about you. Instead of waiting for your “funeral,” they will say all of it at your “pre-funeral”!

Why Do People Have Living Funerals?

People choose to have a living funeral for a number of reasons.

1. You don’t have much time left to live.

You could have a terminal illness, or you may be elderly. Instead of a sad occasion, you want to plan a festivity, a celebration! The get-together could be the time to resolve issues between you and someone else.

This is your final chance to see all of your loved ones in one place. It is your opportunity to say “goodbye.”

2. You want to take the burden of planning and paying for everything from your family.

The average cost of a funeral is between $7000 to $12000. The price depends on cremation or burial. Besides the expense, it can be emotionally draining to plan a funeral service.

Of course, a big celebration with all of the extras may cost a pretty penny too. But you will be able to control the cost because you will be planning and executing it yourself.

Planning your living funeral takes that hardship off of your family. Your family won’t have to make any emotional decisions at the time of your death. You have taken it from them in planning your very own extravaganza!

3. You’re paying for the party and want to enjoy it, darnit!

This is a common thread among those who plan their own funeral. If I’m going to be paying for this big, expensive party, I want to be able to enjoy it!

After all… why not? Then, when you actually do die, the arrangements can be small, simple, quick, and informal, with only the closest family and friends involved as they see fit.

How to Have a Living Funeral

Most “living funerals” have the same aspect as a typical funeral. The most significant difference is that you will be there, celebrating with everyone else.

Typically, the funeral will start the same way. A casket or urn at the front of the sanctuary (you can pre-purchase or rent the one you want). Playing music and reading scripture passages. The soon-to-be deceased will often speak at the service. This is a moment to let friends and family know what they have meant to you.

Family and friends will in turn express their deepest feelings about the guest of honor. Things that would typically be said after you died will be told to your face.

The mood of the service will lighten, and a celebration will be held. The pre-funeral is usually a happy event. The event of a living funeral is a great way to begin the process of acceptance and closure ahead of time.

You can ask your guests to bring photos or other memorabilia to enhance the experience. Of course, everyone should have their best stories ready to tell.

Announce Your Funeral – And Why You’re Doing It

Send invitations to your select friends and family. If you want a colossal blow-out, write a mock obituary. Announce the date and time and let the living funeral begin!

Let your guests know the “why” of the celebration. The “why” is something you can share in the invites or when you give your “welcome” speech. Whichever way you are most comfortable. But it is appropriate to share the reason with everyone.

Plan Your Actual Funeral

Before you get too involved in planning the living funeral, you should put together your actual final arrangements. One of the main things will be to decide about burial or cremation. Will there be a casket or an urn?

Suppose you have decided to set the pre-funeral service up traditionally. In that case, the casket or cremation urn will be on display at your living funeral. After all, most people who want to plan and experience their own funeral will want to pick out their own urn or casket too.

You’ll also want to know which funeral home you’ll be using, where you’ll be buried (or scattered), simple and low-cost options like direct cremation or burial, and so on.

Related: The Funeral Process, Explained by a Funeral Director

Plan the Celebration & Service

  • Choose the right time. You want to be healthy enough to be there and to enjoy your celebration.
  • Pick your venue; a church, a funeral home chapel, or even your living room.
  • Who will officiate? The officiant doesn’t have to be a minister, just someone that can keep things running smoothly. Some friends and family will want to speak publicly. Most will probably want a private moment with you to say a final goodbye.
  • Plan the events: Hymns or music, prayers, readings, eulogies, video or photo montage, candles, donations in your name, open mic, and so on. Here are 100 great ideas.
  • Be prepared for laughter and tears.

More: How to Plan Your Own Funeral

Host a Reception

Food is optional, but what kind of party doesn’t have food? And plenty of it! Sharing a meal always bring people closer together.

You can host a reception at your own home or a favorite restaurant. For a potluck-style reception, here are our favorite funeral food recipes.

If you are hosting a reception at your home, you can ask friends and family to bring your favorite dishes. If your cousin made the best chocolate chip cookies, ask her to bring them! She will be honored to have a hand in your party. Does Aunt Sally make the best baked beans? Ask her to bring them.

You can cater the event. Call your favorite restaurant and have them prepare and deliver food. You have complete control over what happens and how much money you want to spend.

More: Funeral Reception Planning Guide

Create & Keep Memories

There are so many wonderful ways to preserve memories!

  • Hire a videographer and/or photographer to record your living funeral. This is something your spouse, friends, and family will want to view and remember.
  • Have friends and family bring copies of their favorite pictures. You can make a photo album for your loved ones to treasure.
  • Set out a stack of “My Special Memory of You” cards. Place a basket for people to put them in after they have filled out a card. You can purchase these cards here, or simply set out some lined 3×5 or 4×6 cards.
  • Create a legacy or memorial website. A website with a memorial “wall” for stories and photo galleries is something that can be added to for years and years to come.
  • Set up a memory jar for people to drop in cherished mementos, photos, letters, or the memory cards. This will be a keepsake that you and the family will treasure for years to come

Famous Living Funerals

Did you know that the idea of attending your own funeral has been a staple in literature, movies, and television for years? Here are a few famous ones.

Tom Sawyer’s Funeral in Tom Sawyer

The original “I attended my own funeral” story, Mark Twain’s classic book Tom Sawyer has its titular character playing hooky and camping on a river island with a few friends until the entire town gives them up for dead.

Upon sneaking into town one evening, Tom overhears some people talking about the upcoming funeral. So he convinces the boys to stay hidden for a few more days. They carefully plan their return and hide out in the church ahead of time to watch their own funeral.

Morrie Schwartz from Tuesdays with Morrie

Tuesdays with Morrie tells the true story of Mitch Albom and his friendship with Morrie Schwartz. Morrie was Mitch’s favorite college professor.

Mitch catches an interview with Morrie on Nightline describing his final chapter in life. He is dying from ALS, and Mitch decides to visit his old professor and reconnect.

The story takes place over 14 weeks, and one of the main events turns out to be Morrie’s living funeral!

Spy Movie & TV Tropes

This is a very common theme in mystery and thriller plotlines. Someone fakes death, and ends up attending their own funeral. If you’ve ever watched any of the contemporary spy/thriller/action TV shows with plots that arc over multiple seasons, I’m sure you’ve seen at least one or two of these.

Undertaking Betty is a movie where a woman fakes her death. She is placed in a casket (alive) to be displayed at her funeral. This movie is a comedy and brings lots of laughter. On the thriller/mystery side of things, the JJ Abrams spy show Alias has the main character fake death and attend her own funeral.

Other examples can be found in:

  • Gigot (1962 film with Jackie Gleason)
  • Anchorman 2 (Will Ferrell comedy)
  • R.I.P.D. (Action film with Ryan Reynolds and Jeff Bridges)
  • Revenge of the Pink Panther (classic Peter Sellers comedy)
  • Bones (procedural crime/comedy TV show)
  • Castel (procedural come/comedy TV show)
  • Cheers (classic comedy show)
  • Doctor Who (more than once!)
  • Sherlock (modern TV series take on the classic detective character)

The Living Wake

Living funerals have a long and storied place in TV and film. 2007 indie comedy The Living Wake is, as the title suggests, about an individual holding their own funeral. Same thing happens in episodes of The Golden Girls, Boston Legal, Ace of Cakes, Little House on the Prairie, and The Weatherman.

For an extensive list of the living funeral/attending your own funeral trope all types of media (movies, TV, advertising, comic books, etc) see here.

As Roelif Coe Brinkerhoff said – “Funerals are for the living!” And in this situation, they really are!

Read Next: How to Plan a Celebration of Life Service

Pin It

What to Know About Living Funeral
Photo of author


Karen Roldan

Karen Roldan has been in the funeral industry since 2006, and a licensed funeral director and embalmer since 2008. She is currently licensed in the states of Indiana and Pennsylvania. She attended Worsham College of Mortuary Science in Wheeling, IL,...

Leave a Comment