Jonathan Taylor is an independent funeral celebrant in Totnes, and an occasional funeral arranger and conductor for green fuse. That’s not all he is, of course. There’s a lot more to Jonathan. He’s got a literary side, for example, and refers to one of his short stories in what follows.
Everyone’s funeral wishes are different. Probably the knack is to get the weight of them right, expectationwise. Too prescriptive you end up telling people how to feel.
You can tell that Jonathan is an industry insider. His funeral wishes give an insight into it.
MY FUNERAL PREFERENCES
I know that families’ dearest wish for a dead person’s funeral is to do “what he would have wanted.” What I want is for my funeral to be the way you want it for me; so as you know, these are my preferences:
I haven’t left a will because there’s no money whatever in my ‘estate’ – hah! (though you can have my car and laptop and anything else you can find if you’re a friend or relative, work it out between you, just get there before any official person does, don’t wait for a decent interval) – so don’t pay any professional for anything at all that you are able and willing to do yourselves, especially not a funeral director or celebrant because we’re expensive. That includes handling, transporting, preparing and storing my dead body (you can use someone’s living room or garage if they’ll let you, take plenty of dry ice to stop it smelling), making its shroud (or coffin), digging and filling in its grave, using a venue (see if you can find a willing café owner), conducting a ceremony for me, and anything else that needs doing. Funerals are a piece of piss, believe me, so don’t get your knickers in a twist about anything, take your time and figure it out together. Particularly, in case anyone wonders, please don’t ask a humanist to officiate because they have their own reasons for wanting to conduct funerals. (And if a funeral director or someone arranges a vicar behind your back by some horrendous misunderstanding, refuse to pay their bill, dig my body up and do it again properly.)
Ideally, I’d like nature to deal with my remains, which means their being left out for the animals and insects to make good use of. In practice, that’s not likely to be legal; but if you can bury my body on private land in a shallow enough grave to turn it into compost (use worm compost to fill the grave if you can), do your best – Sam might know where there’s a field somewhere. I’d rather it wasn’t cremated because its crushed bones (‘ashes’) will still be a disposal problem, and they don’t seem to me to have much significance after they’ve been through the industrial process of a cremator – but again, suit yourselves. (If you go that way, balloon them – ask Ash!)
For my ceremony, if you want one, be as informal as possible. Some of you have read my story, ‘The Wrong Side of the Sky’, and that tells you all you need to know; in fact you can read it out if you like, rather than a poem unless it’s one of mine (top drawer in my filing cabinet). You can play Shel Silverstein’s ‘Have Another Espresso’ from his 1963 album ‘Inside Folk Songs’ (Jenny at World Music & Video can get it, £16). I’ll come back and haunt anyone who turns up in anything other than their work clothes, or who shows any contrived respect for the occasion. Think of it as going for a cup of coffee with me, and take it from there. Above all, I’d like my body to be taken to the ceremony and on to the grave in a works vehicle of some kind such as a van, certainly not a hearse unless it’s someone’s classic toy. Some of you can ride in the back with my corpse if you like.
Gather close round my grave and play Pink Floyd’s ‘Great Gig in the Sky’ at full volume when you settle my coffin (I love that lady who sings on it, she’s got guts), and join in the words. You’re going to miss me and it will hurt like hell, and you’ll need each other, so yell and scream and let each other know about it, it’s okay with me. I’ll miss you too.
Lots of love,