I found planning my mother’s funeral an education, a bonding experience with my four siblings and therapeutic exercise for myself. Organising the event ourselves seemed the easiest way of getting what we wanted. I wanted this to be memorable and supportive.

Our funeral took place inside the funeral parlour, as the local church was not available. This proved and excellent informal venue; the room was a peculiar shape with five oddly angled walls. We placed the coffin in the centre of the room and we sat around the sides facing the centre so we could see each other and the outlined the programme we would follow. I had invited a priest to say a Latin Mass for us on his portable altar to start the ceremony. He then took a back seat for he was not the master of ceremonies! My younger brother then asked his four siblings to stand linking hands as he told us about one of his good early memories. Another brother performed on the flute and then followed stories and memories from many other participants.

Prior to the day I had asked people to write down or come prepared to speak of a memory they had of my mother and those not wanting to speak would have the piece read aloud by another. This really taught me how good it is to hear these anecdotes from any period of my mother’s life. I had provided helium-filled balloons for the children and grandchildren and these I now distributed. We walked to the graveside carrying the festive looking balloons and I suggested we release the balloons, thinking of them as symbols for her departing soul and as an opportunity to release any painful emotional attachments we still had to our mother. This was one of the most useful rituals for me as we released the balloons into the air and watched until the last speck had disappeared from view. There followed a special tea in a cosy cafe with log fires, given over to our funeral party.

I did enjoy it, and so did my family. I was particularly touched by a compliment given me by a sister, who asked me if I would organise her own funeral when the time came!

Christianne Heal is a psychotherapist and counsellor and one of her interests is Bereavement counselling and End of Life counselling.