I held a funeral on my 50th birthday while still alive
- US News
- February 11, 2023
- No Comment
I’ve had the idea of throwing a big party for my 50th birthday for a long time. It’s a milestone after all. But this was no ordinary party.
It started out as a joke. I’m 50 and single. I’ve never been married – not even close. And yet, like most single people, I have a lot of married friends. By the time I turned 50, I’d been to – and in – countless weddings. I flew all over the country and spent oodles on bridesmaid dresses, plane tickets, gifts and numerous other expenses. The same thing happened when these friends had children. I can’t even count how much I’ve spent on baby gifts. So I always joked that one day I would throw a party and make a gift list to collect all the money I’ve spent.
But over the years I have learned that the gifts, the money and the material things are not important. I am very grateful that I had meaningful time with my friends. I have wonderful memories of their weddings, their showers, and other big moments in life.
So why shouldn’t I also want to create a lasting memory for my 50th? Shouldn’t I gather all my best friends in one place for a day just like you would for a wedding or a shower?
Of course I thought the answer was yes, and yet I was nervous about planning such a large gathering. Would friends from across the country fly to Denver for a birthday party? Would relatives come from Nebraska and Kansas to gather for three or four hours? It was a gamble.
As I planned my big day, I thought about what would make it meaningful to me and my guests. I wanted to enjoy my favorite food. I wanted to hear and sing some of my favorite songs. And I wanted a few people to tell stories and toast me like they would at a wedding.
But as I thought about everything that had happened that day, I realized: I had organized my own funeral!
At funerals, we often do a number of things to commemorate our loved ones – the music, the food, the readings, and sometimes even the clothing to reflect the honoree. In my case, I hired a caterer to cook my favorite food: tacos. I asked my worship band at church to play some of my favorite songs, and then we chose four more songs to sing as a group. I’ve even asked people to show up in my favorite attire: a slouchy hoodie. Two people read scriptures that were important to me, both from the Psalms of the Bible. And finally, in a way, my mother and friends commended me by recounting moments from my past that impacted them in meaningful ways. What they shared brought everyone to tears.
It was like a funeral service.
And I loved it so much. It was powerful, fun and meaningful. People told me how much they enjoyed it, how uplifting it was and how they would steal the idea for their upcoming birthdays.
The author (left) with two friends on her 50th birthday. She asked people to wear a hoodie, her favorite piece of clothing.
Courtesy of Kristal Griffith
I wonder why do we wait until someone is dead to gather around them, celebrate them and do their favorite things? Why don’t we show up for our friends now if they’re alive? Why don’t we create meaningful celebrations for things other than weddings, showers, holidays, and funerals?
As part of that birthday celebration, I also spoke. I shared how I always learned so much more about the person at the funerals I’ve attended – things I wish I had known while they were alive so I could ask questions, talk to them and learn more about them. I told them that one of my goals for this birthday celebration is for them to learn more about me so that our conversations can go deeper in the future.
I also shared why I specifically wanted these people to come together and how grateful I was to have them in my life. Friendships are one of the things I value the most. Maybe this happens when you don’t have a spouse or children? I don’t know. But I wanted my friends to understand what they meant to me.
I read that day from Psalm 90:12. It says, “Teach us, then, to number our days, that we may have a heart of wisdom.”
To me, that doesn’t mean asking you to literally count your days. I think this psalm, which is a prayer written by Moses, teaches the importance of understanding our priorities in life and really living those priorities. I hope that my guests left that day without a doubt that each of them is a priority for me.
I learned that I was a priority for them too. The risk paid off. My friends and family showed up for me. They flew in from Washington, DC, Texas and Oklahoma. They drove from Nebraska and Kansas. They showered me with love.
I ended up creating a registration too, but I didn’t register for things. At my age I don’t need a toaster, a plate or another towel. Instead, I created a travel directory and selected experiences such as a Hobbiton Movie Set Tour in New Zealand and a Loch Ness Cruise in Scotland. I hope to use the money from my travel register to explore the world. But when I end up just visiting my friends, that’s also extraordinary.
I strongly encourage you to throw yourself a party. You don’t have to tell people you’re planning your funeral. Not me. But the setting of a funeral is ideal for celebrating your life. We view funerals as dreaded events of grief—and they can be. But they are also great expressions of love, joy, laughter and caring. I cannot express how powerful it is to have the people you love and the people who love you all in one place at the same time. It was the best day of my life.
So I challenge you: gather your people. Invite her to appear for you on a special day. Let’s celebrate together now! Don’t wait for your funeral.
Kristal Griffith is a storyteller. She enjoys inventing stories in podcasts, videos and blogs. She has a 25 year career in journalism, public relations and communications. She has worked in higher education and healthcare, dealing with internal, managerial and external communications. Kristal’s early career was in television news and she won an Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and an MBA from Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. She is passionate about her faith, family and friends.
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