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Attending your own wake

A man who enjoyed his own wake.

In 2007 Andy Fitchett, at the age of 56, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  After a few days of numbed shock, he decided to organise and host his own wake.

"I’m a lucky man and have had a lucky life.  Many people don’t get a chance to say goodbye to people when they die but I have."  By all accounts it was a great party.

He had always been a supporter of Swindon Town Football Club so that was the venue for a celebratory party that raised money for charity through entry tickets and auctions.

"I thought about all the people who had come into my life and touched it. You meet loads of people, make lots of friends but sometimes you don’t stay in touch. I wanted to thank them all for being part of my life and being my friends, that’s why I decided to organise and go to my own wake."

Andy wanted his send off not be about 'mourning my death but celebrating my life.'  And to help his family at this difficult time he also planned his own funeral and the wake.

Victorian legacy

The comments about his story revealed just how many people were also planning their own funerals and memorial events, and that they wanted these to be positive and happy affairs, not the grieving and maudlin events that still dominate our culture in the 21st century.

These are in some ways a legacy from Victorian times, when out of respect to Queen Victoria’s devastation when her beloved Albert died, the nation adopted even sadder and more mournful funeral practices than was already the fashion in the 19th century.

Any move to be more positive about death was set back by two world wars when so many people’s lives were taken too early.

A more positive and celebratory approach to marking the end of a life is becoming more prevalent in this country, in no small part due to the influence of other cultures whose funeral practices put much emphasis on celebrating a life and hopefully what is in store for it in the future.  

In particular African and Afro-Caribbean funerals involve a positive party atmosphere once the sadness of the occasion has been recognised.

Agreement with a positive approach

The reactions to Andy’s approach were:

"I’m in the same position, dying of terminal cancer. I have the time to enjoy what I have left after a pretty lucky and enjoyable life. I’m planning my own funeral in the style I want and taking the opportunity to try and contact everyone to whom I feel grateful. Take the chance to enjoy the end as much as you’ve enjoyed the journey - if you can." Daryl, Motherwell

"If only we all had the opportunity to put right things that are often left unsaid. The unresolved issues that are left behind when someone dies are the ones that cause feelings of grief and guilt. Good luck and best wishes to a truly wonderful man." Ann Halewood, Stockton on Tees

"We have too negative an attitude to death in this country. It should be a celebration of a life, just like you say." Grant Cullen, Norwich, UK

"What a brilliant (and very brave) idea. When my husband died recently I remember looking around the room at everyone present and thinking 'If only he could have been here to see everyone' I found it really heartbreaking. Not everyone gets the chance to do this and I am full of admiration for Mr Fitchett." Diane, Cumbria, UK

"I’ve always thought it was such a shame to miss out on your own final party and hear what people really thought of you!"
Julia Burnham, Richmond UK

Plan in advance

You don’t know when your time will come, so plan in advance.  

If you reach a certain age, or have been diagnosed with a terminal or degenerative illness, organise your own memorial event, and make it the party of a lifetime.  

Make sure your instructions will be acted on by putting them in your secure digital Lifebox.

You can update the information, and when you give permission, the second keyholder (your executor or next of kin) can open your Lifebox. They won’t be able to edit the material, but will read it and act on your wishes...so there’s no reason why you won’t have the party of a lifetime to be remembered by.

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Gordon Tulley wrote on 26 Mar 11 at 6:21pm
Gordon Tulley

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