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Leaving money for a pet.

Since introducing deathwishes to the world, we’ve seen over a whopping 120,000 created to date! Some are thoughtful, caring and emotionally charged, some are weird and wonderful, some are incredibly imaginative and some are just plain crazy. We welcome them all.

One trend we’ve noticed is a growing number of deathwishes which are related to beloved pets. I thought it might be interesting to show you some later, but firstly let’s look at some of the most famous legacies, last will and testaments left by some animal obsessed peeps.


I knew you were Trouble

Hotelier and so called ‘Queen of Mean’ Leona Helmsley left $12m to her Maltese pup Trouble when she died in 2007. That’s $12m more than she left two of her grandchildren, who were not surprisingly, pretty pissed off!
They contested the will in court and the judge ruled to cut Trouble’s inheritance down to $2m, awarding $6m between the disinherited grandchildren, the rest going to a charitable trust.

Trouble became both wanted and hated, obliviously receiving numerous death and kidnapping threats (resulting in a personal bodyguard being employed) for the four years that she outlived her owner, passing in 2011.

Rumour has it, against the law, the two were secretly re-united in a privately owned mausoleum.


Sounds like an episode from the Kar-dachshunds

In 2010, socialite Gail Posner, left her mansion (later sold for $8.4m) and $3m in a trust fund for her pooch Conchita and her canine sisters Lucia and April Marie.

Each dog had their own room in the mansion and travelled to the pet-spa every week in a gold Cadillac. It’s worth noting that $27m was left to her house staff, under the understanding that they would continue to look after the spoilt pups. A move which led to legal action by her son (who only received $1m), contesting the will, claiming conspiracy.

Apparently Conchita loves shopping, ‘wears a diamond collar from Tiffanys and likes to sleep in a cashmere sweater.’ Sounds like a diva to me.


Clucking Hell!

Miles Blackwell and his wife were well known for their caring of animals after setting up the Tubney Charitable Trust in 1997. Sadly in 2002 the couple died, just weeks apart. Miles, a publishing tycoon, who died shortly after his wife, had already laid plans to leave £10m to his favourite pet, his hen Gigoo. I imagine she lived an egg-tremely lavish lifestyle.


Puss in Loots

Ben Rea, a reclusive millionaire antiques dealer, decided to ignore his family in his will, instead opting to give almost his entire estate to Blackie, his remaining feline companion from a group of 15. £7m went to the lucky mog, and most of the remaining estate was split between 3 cat charities, with the instruction to care for his beloved kitty.


Meow Bella

After being rescued off the Italian streets at the age of 4, Tommasino the moggy, a former stray, was left $13m (partly cash and also 3 properties) by its owner Maria Assunta, a childless widow of a Italian real estate investor. When Maria’s health began to deteriorate, she began a search to find someone or an organisation to look after her feline friend. After the search became fruitless, she decided instead to transfer all the funds to the new-minted meowionaire after her passing in 2011.


Barking Mad

Californian prune rancher Tom Shewbridge left 29,000 shares in a local electric company to his two dogs Mac and George in 1958. The dogs regularly attended stockholders and board of directors meetings for years after his death and were obviously seen as important steakholders.


All the lonely doggies

Eleanor Ritchey, heiress to the Quaker State Oil Company, left her $4.5m fortune to her 150 dogs, who she adopted as abandoned pooches, when she died in 1968.

The will was contested, and in 1973 the dogs received an inflated $9m. By the time the estate was finally settled, its value had jumped to $14m but only 73 of the dogs were still alive. When the last dog died in 1984, the remainder of the estate went to the Auburn University Research Foundation for research into canine disease.


A different kinda cat house

Animal lover Jonathan Jackson died around 1880. In his will, he stated that “It is man’s duty as lord of animals to watch over and protect the lesser and feebler.”

His further instruction was to leave money for the creation of a cat house. A place where the cats could enjoy human comforts such as bedrooms, a dining hall, an exercise room, an auditorium to listen to live accordion music (do cats like accordion music?) and a roof designed for climbing without risking any of their nine lives.


Every dog has its day!

Dorothea Edwards, having died at the age of 80, left instructions with her family that her pacemaker be donated to an animal. Although legally in the US, a pacemaker cannot be transferred from person to person, there is no law that can stop the transfer to an animal that has a cardiovascular system.

So who would the lucky beneficiary be? The answer is; Sunshine, a 9½-year-old German Shepherd mix who had had a pretty woof time of it.

Sunshine was adopted by neighbours Cindy and John Wren when the dog’s home was raided by SWAT and the occupants were arrested for running a drug and prostitution ring. Her owner turned out to be Number 2 on the FBI’s Most Wanted List!

After that, the Wrens tried to rehabilitate the dog, both physically and mentally. But in 1998, Sunshine had lost her way, lost her appetite and began fainting often. Medical examinations revealed that she had a congenital heart defect and required a pacemaker to be surgically implanted.

After several unsuccessful procedures, Dorothea’s life saving legacy (a brand new, state-of-the-art pacemaker) was attached to Sunshine’s heart, the surgery a complete success.

What a beautiful story! Wonder when the film will come out?!


Material boy

In 1991, German Countess Karlotta Liebenstein left $80m to her canine companion Gunther III, on his passing the fortune went to his son, imaginatively named Gunther IV. His caretakers invested the dogs funds in various things over the years, ballooning the $80m to a barking $372m!

Named the richest pet in the world by Guinness World Records, Gunther IV has his own personal maid, eats caviar daily and owns mansions around the world.

He was listed as the buyer of Madonna’s Miami mansion in 2000. The sale was part of a publicity stunt involving a mystery buyer group called Gunther Corp and was bought for Gunther to share with a ‘multimedia’ musical group called The Burgundians.

Nope, never heard of them either. Something smells a little fishy here.


Got the purr-fect idea for your own animal inspired deathwish?

At DeadHappy, we have hundreds of thousands of deathwishes made by our customers. And while most of us haven’t got the millions to leave to our pets, maybe this has inspired you to think about ‘who’s going to look after my adored pooch, moggy, pig, hamster, snake, tarantula, goldfish or tortoise when I’m gone?’ (because let’s face it, they’ll outlive all of us).

Well, we’ve got your covered there as there’s a deathwish for that.

Picture the scene:

A funeral service…
Mourners dressed in black…
Muffled cries come from the sparsely populated pews…
A nondescript coffin sits before the altar meagrely adorned with already yellowing white lilies…
The priest addresses the congregation in hushed tones…

“We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of Michael Logan and to commit him into the hands of…”

(Boring)

“…the loving hands of our gracious and merciful Lord God. Like our heavenly Father, Michael, too, was a devoted father, as well as a loving son, husband…”

(…really boring)

“…a devoted husband, friend, neighbour…”

(I’m losing the will to live)

There’s an unwritten protocol to funerals that many people don’t like to question. You know what we’re talking about: the dark clothes, the sombre music, the expensive flowers, the long cars. Most people take these formalities for granted when it comes to planning their own funerals. But why should you? It’s your funeral.

So cast off the conventions, throw caution to the wind and create a unique funeral that is practically perfect in every way. Take inspiration from Mary Poppins herself – she defied all social conventions, laughed in the face of child protection laws and had the courage of her convictions.

Sure she drugged kids and endangered the lives of everyone around her but our point is that she stuck to her principles, looked good doing it and we all remember her to this day. This, in a roundabout way, is what you want to achieve from your funeral.

Not sure what your funeral options are? No problem, that’s why we’re here. Read on for some creative but realistic funeral ideas that we doubt have ever crossed your mind.


Customise your coffin

Let’s kick off with the casket.

Now, we’re not suggesting that you go the whole hog with a Ghanaian coffin in the shape of an aeroplane, but there are more interesting options than plain old wood or metal.

For the eco-conscious consumer, many funeral directors now offer biodegradable coffins made from bamboo, banana leaf, willow or even cardboard. Imagine that…you can basically be buried in an old shoebox like a childhood pet. Well, we’re signing up. Save a fortune and pay tribute to all fallen furry friends? It’s a no brainer.

There’s also a growing trend for glitter coffins where you can have your entire casket made… well, glittery. To pay respects to your sparkling personality and all that. Now we’re confused, glitter vs shoebox, it’s a tough call.


Riding in style

While we live in the age of self-driving cars and levitating trains, for some reason, the dead seem to be stuck in the Edwardian era. It’s time to drag your funeral into the 21st century.

The biker brigade have been trailblazers in alternative funeral transport for some time now, with an impressive array of classic motorbike sidecar hearses. Farmers have been known to use tractors, bus drivers have used buses, and builders have used construction vehicles. We don’t know about you, but the thought of rolling out of the bucket of a bulldozer and clumsily flapping into a grave has instantly put a smile on our faces.

Whoa! Hold your horses. Without a doubt, the award for the most original funeral transportation (and best punning name) has to go to this inspired touch of comedy gold – Only Fools and Hearses. Mange tout fellas, mange tout.


Theme me up, Scotty

While we’re on pop culture references, have you ever thought of having a themed funeral?

It was good enough for all those other parties you threw. Think about it – while you’re lying there smashing the Halloween costume game, your loved ones can come together around a theme that meant something to you.

Again, your choices are only limited by your imagination and personal taste. Think of your favourite movies, TV shows, music, books or fashion. In the past, people have gone for themes such as Star Wars, Ghostbusters, superheroes, 70s disco, Viking… the list goes on.


Think outside the box

The whole point of personalising your funeral is to celebrate you, remind the attendees of your life, snap them out of the dreary traditions and bring a smile to their faces. It’s the last party you’re ever going to throw, so make sure it’s a good’un.


So what are you waiting for?

At DeadHappy, we created Deathwishes as a way for you to think about and share what you want to happen when you die. Perfect for planning an incredible fare-well. Why not get started by creating your first Deathwish.

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What’s this festival called and what is the translation?

Día de Muertos (also called Día de los Muertos) means the Day of the Dead. In reality it spans two days, and the real emphasis is on the Noche de Muertos (the night of the dead) when the souls of the dead are said to come for a visit.

When is it?

1st and 2nd November.

Where does Día de Muertos take place?

Mexico, and throughout Latin America – but its popularity is growing, not least because of the striking imagery of the sugar skulls and films like Coco, so it’s now common to find people holding Day of the Dead-themed parties in the US and Europe.

What happens during Día de Muertos celebrations?

Imagine if, when someone died, it wasn’t “goodbye forever”, but “see you in November”. That’s the central idea of Day of the Dead: the curtain between the worlds of the living and the dead flutter, and the dead slip through for a visit. In Michoacán, where I went to research my book, they see an arrival of butterflies shortly before the Day of the Dead. They announce that the celebration is about to come, and many people believe they are the souls returning.

How did it start?

Day of the Dead began as a monthlong Aztec festival, celebrated around what we would call June. But when the Spanish invaded, they forced it over to the dates of the Catholic All Saints and All Souls days in a colonialist attempt to pass it off as the same thing. Now, on 1st November, the souls of the angelitos come to visit, the ‘little angels’, meaning children and the unmarried (virgins, basically ––you can just see a little bit of Catholicism peeping through, there). The second night sees visits from the souls of adults. In practice, everything melds into one big celebration; families come together, and much as when living relatives come to stay, everything has to be perfect.

The sight of cemeteries

The cemeteries are an incredible sight: every grave is carpeted with marigolds, lit up by candles and watched over by families sitting up all night by the tombs, wrapped in blankets. It’s solemn in the graveyards, but it’s not a solemn occasion. Everywhere else it’s a fiesta, an overt celebration of life.

Offerings

The nucleus of the Day of the Dead is the ofrendas, the offerings for the spirits. People build altars – in their homes, in shops, and enormous ones in the town squares – often decorated with marigolds and pictures of the deceased, but the most important element is the food and drink for the spirits, who arrive hungry and thirsty (if you’d like to build one at home, check out our how-to guide). Jamie our guide in Michoacán told me:

“When we put down ofrendas, we’re inviting the dead to visit. You can invite anyone you’re thinking of. They will come. And just remembering them is to ask them to come.”

What should I expect from Día de Muertos?

In the graveyards, a stunning display of candles, marigolds and families quietly having a lovely time. Also, expect way more tourists than you’d like, many of them rather rudely clicking photos in the faces of people nodding off at 4am. And, as with anywhere beautiful and tourist-heavy these days, there will be drones.

Outside the graveyards, expect an all-night party. The zócalo (town square) will probably have a stage and huge speakers blasting out music until late. Expect lots of eating, drinking, and general merriment.

What shouldn’t I expect from Día de Muertos?

An early night.

What can we learn from this festival?

When I visited Mexico to research Day of the Dead for my book, at first I found myself feeling sad. An American tourist asked if people believe the dead are really visiting, literally, and Jaime answered that they do. I was still bereaved after finding my father-in-law dead after a week the previous year, and I found myself wondering how I was supposed to get anything from the ritual of welcoming dead relatives when I couldn’t bring myself to literally believe in it.

Ghosts and spirits

Which is my way of telling you I quite spectacularly missed the point. For my fellow cynics, atheists and party-poopers, I have an important message: Day of the Dead is not only worth the trouble if you literally believe in ghosts and spirits.

Here’s the thing: when someone dies, they leave for good; and rather inconveniently, the love you have doesn’t go anywhere. You’re stuck with it, sitting inside you with no outlet – which hurts, because, as Massive Attack so astutely pointed out in their 1998 song Teardrop, “Love is a verb, love is a doing word”. And as I visited more festivals for the dead, read about death rituals and interviewed people across multiple countries and in multiple languages, I began to realise the point of it all: Day of the Dead brings the dead to life simply by giving action to the love that remains. Welcoming a dead person for a visit, pouring them a drink, leaving them a snack; it’s about giving your love something to do, someone to care for, and somewhere to go.

Your legacy will live on long after you’re gone. And although death is still seen as taboo in our society, communicating about how you’d like to be remembered  can make a difference to those around you.

Express my wishes

What’s this festival called and what is the translation?

The Festa dei Morti, which means Festival of the Dead.

When is it?

2nd November

Where does Festa dei Morti take place?

Throughout Sicily – though the big organised event in honour of the festival, the Notte di Zucchero (the night of sugar), takes place in Palermo.

What happens during the Festa dei Morti celebrations?

Up until a few decades ago, Sicilian children didn’t receive gifts on Christmas morning, but rather on 2nd November – and the gifts were left by their dead relatives. On the morning of the Festival of the Dead, Sicilian children wake up and commence a treasure hunt to find what’s been left for them by their dead. Older Sicilians recall finding a pear or a chocolate, but over the years the toys have got bigger and more numerous – these days they might get a bicycle, as well as sweets hidden all over the house. The excitement isn’t only in the presents, but in finding them. Traditionally children would leave pairs of shoes outside their bedroom doors in the hope of finding them filled with sweets. Smart children set out their father’s shoes, the biggest in the house, to maximise the haul.

In recent years, the Festa dei Morti has been dwindling, largely because Halloween has taken hold. But now, thanks to the Sicilian actress Giusi Cataldo, the Festa dei Morti is being revived with a huge annual event called the Notte di Zucchero (the night of sugar) in Palermo’s historic centre.

What should I expect during Festa dei Morti celebrations?

The Notte di Zucchero brings the streets to life with art exhibitions, workshops, theatrical performances and storytelling. But outside of the Notte di Zucchero, the festival’s touch is light. Expect to see bakery windows full of frutta martorana (marzipan shaped and painted to look exactly like baskets of fruit), ossa dei morti (traditional Sicilian ‘bones of the dead’ biscotti), all flanked by the pupi di zucchero (‘sugar puppets’, medieval knights on horses carved from a smooth sugar paste and painted).

What shouldn’t I expect from Festa dei Morti?

A huge party. While events like The Notte di Zucchero are gaining popularity, this festival is very much for families with an emphasis on children.

What can we learn from this festival?

I began the journey of writing This Party’s Dead sitting at my kitchen table after a shock bereavement had left me agoraphobic and in near-total meltdown. The way I’d been brought up to regard death with nothing but horror and disgust was probably no small factor in that reaction. I Googled “death festivals around the world” and assembled a list of seven festivals for the dead, places where they react to mortal terror by throwing a party. I read about Sicily’s Festa dei Morti with particular amazement and envy. I imagined growing up associating the dead with gifts and a sugar-fuelled treasure hunt, instead of an awkward silence, averted gazes and the obligatory muttering of ‘very sad’.

Halloween vs Festa dei Morti

It’s not surprising Halloween is sucking away all the spots in the media: Halloween is about fear, which, for the short attention spans lighthearted news spots cater to, is a better story than the point of the Festa dei Morti: love, remembering, and vanquishing the fear of death.

The terror of death is augmented as much by the way we talk about the dead as how we regard the possibility, or rather the certainty, that death is also coming for us. As a child, I frequently baffled grownups with the question of whether dead people are upset or angry about being dead. They didn’t seem to realise the question came from hearing them refer to dead people – not matter what the cause of death – with the prefix “poor”. Poor Jim. Poor Edna. Poor Henry VIII. Ok, that last one’s a joke – we don’t feel bad for Henry VIII for being dead, because it was long enough ago that his absence doesn’t stir up our mortal terror.

When discussing the treasure hunt on the Festa dei Morti, dead people are referred to as “my dead”, “your dead” – as in, “What did your dead bring you?” “My dead brought me a tricycle!” They also aren’t spoken about as entities with all their power removed, but rather as having an incredibly important role in the festivities. And while the adults know they’re really the ones buying and hiding the gifts, this is a tradition which emphasises remembering dead relatives in a way that’s joyful, instead of wasting all our focus on the sad fact of their absence.

If you could leave one thing to be remembered by, what would it be?

Make a deathwish

Day of the Dead Altar Building

This time five years ago, Day of the Dead found me bereaved, far from home, and methodically beheading flowers. It’s ok, I’d been asked to.

I was staying at a B&B in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, and as I was there researching Day of the Dead for my forthcoming book, I volunteered to help build their altar. I cut the heads off marigolds, leaving an inch or two of stem, then a guy called Luis weaved them onto a frame, while a Canadian woman hauled in more whenever we ran low. Once the structure was built and set up in the hotel breakfast room, people wandered in and out adding the touches that would transform it into an altar.

Before I get into how you can build a Day of the Dead altar at home, I should point out that there is no hard and fast method. Mexico is an enormous country with various cultures, over 60 indigenous languages and hundreds of dialects; so unsurprisingly, a Day of the Dead altar in a northern desert town will look different to one in the lush mountains of Oaxaca. In Morelos, where I lived for two years, sugar skulls were a common sight on altars, whereas in other areas it’s frowned upon.

I’ll be passing on the method favoured by the Purépecha community indigenous to Michoacán, but keep in mind it’s about honouring the dead, not just achieving a ‘look’. If you have access to a stalk of sugarcane and want to construct an arch woven with golden flowers, have at it – but just as you’re no less married if you say ‘I do’ in jeans and Crocs, you can have a Day of the Dead altar without all the bells and whistles (though if the person you’re honouring liked bells and blew a whistle, by all means chuck ‘em on there).

What you’ll need


DAY OF THE DEAD ALTAR ESSENTIAL #1

Table (and a candle)

You’ll need a surface for your altar, ideally with more than one level. You could just place a box on the table so you can display pictures of your dead above the candles and offerings. Some altars have multiple levels starting at the floor like a little flight of stairs.

candle will light the path home for the spirits.


DAY OF THE DEAD ALTAR ESSENTIAL #2

Pictures of the dead

Who are you honouring? Put their picture on the top level. You could just have one photo, several pictures of the same person, or even crowd it with everyone you’re welcoming for a visit – this could just be family and friends, but I’ve known people to include pictures of people they never knew but whose loss they feel keenly anyway, like David Bowie.


DAY OF THE DEAD ALTAR ESSENTIAL #3

Ofrendas

The ofrendas (offerings) are the nucleus of Day of the Dead – namely, food and drink. The idea is that the dead have come a long way, so arrive hungry and thirsty. In Mexico altars are usually adorned with fruit and pan de muerto (bread of the dead), an intensely sweet, sugar-encrusted roll; and a bottle of beer, or shot of tequila – but you can leave out anything the person liked to eat or drink.

And yes, it’s fine to eat the food after the festival is over, but where I lived people wrinkled their noses at the suggestion, since the belief is that the dead suck all the nutrients out of it.


DAY OF THE DEAD ALTAR ESSENTIAL #4

Affects

This is by no means essential, but some people like to leave out things that signify or belonged to the dead person, like a stack of cards or a piece of their jewellery.


DAY OF THE DEAD ALTAR ESSENTIAL #5

The four elements

In the Purépecha tradition, home altars have to include representations of fire, earth, air and water. The drinks you leave out represent water, and the candles provide fire – as do sticks of incense (and though it’s pricey here in the UK, if you can get copal incense, the aroma will transport you to Mexico instantly).

Fruit represents earth, and the best way to represent air is to hang something off it so it can blow in the wind – a lot of altars in Pátzcuaro shoot two birds with one stone by hanging bananas off the edge of the altar.


DAY OF THE DEAD ALTAR ESSENTIAL #6

Flowers, preferably marigolds

Flowers represent the fragility of life, and I like to imagine they symbolise the dead blooming again, if only for this brief visit.

The flower of the season is the marigold. Its vibrant orange is everywhere during the season of the dead: we see it on pumpkins as Halloween muscles in, on the autumn leaves as they flutter to the ground. In Mexico, it’s the flor de muertos, the flower of the dead, and the scent (especially strong when you squeeze the petals) is said to help guide the dead to the living world. Known as cempazúchitl (also spelled cempasúchil), it combines the Nahuatl words for ‘twenty’ and ‘flower’; the word ‘twenty’ was used to represent ‘many’, so the likely translation is ‘flower with many petals’. Those many petals come in handy as they can be arranged to make a path to the altar, or a border, or just scattered for decoration and aroma.


Tips on finding marigolds

Despite being native to the Americas, they’re often sold under the name ‘African marigolds’. I haven’t always found it super easy to find fresh marigolds in the UK, as they’re often unavailable or sold out. But don’t despair, you could always buy artificial garlands and store them away the rest of the year like Christmas tinsel. You can also get real dried marigolds on Etsy – or my sneaky tactic is to scatter marigold-petal tea for the colour and fragrance.

Happy building, and Feliz Día de Muertos!

The biggest lessons other cultures can teach us about death

It all starts with the fear of death. Perhaps it was inevitable that after my fiancé and I found his father dead after a week I would end up anxiety-ridden, agoraphobic, and then somehow travelling the world visiting seven festivals for the dead. Tale as old as time, right?

I began the journey (to Mexico, Nepal, Sicily, Thailand, Madagascar, Japan and Indonesia) with a burden of misconceptions and the vague notion that my deep terror of death was misplaced. Now, four years later and on the cusp of publishing the book that sprang from it all, here are a few of the biggest lessons I brought home.


# DEATH LESSON 1

Death is normal. Who knew? (Seriously, did anyone know?)

Life has a 100% mortality rate, yet each time it’s presented as if something has gone terribly, terribly awry. In films we watched as kids, death was a punishment for baddies. Then we all grew up to discover we’re bound for a baddies’ ending. Thanks, Disney.

The idea that death is a normal, ordinary thing only occurred to me in Nepal during the annual festival of Gai Jatra, during which everyone who’s lost someone that year joins a city-wide procession. After the sudden death of his son, King Pratap Malla (who ruled Nepal from 1641–74) invited everyone who’d been bereaved that year to the palace. The Queen, who had been utterly inconsolable, watched as the palace became crammed with people. Because the biggest lie grief tells us is that we’re alone, and the visual trick of seeing thousands of people who have been through it too still holds today.

My god, I thought, as I stared across the crowd, all bouncing and dancing and singing to let the spirits know it was fine to go on to Heaven, I think death might be…normal?!


# DEATH LESSON 2

And sure, it’s true, if you want to get all literal about it: when we die, many believe we go to an afterlife or reincarnate – but as for this life, we’re done. Our projects are finished, our power is gone.

Unless you die in the Highlands of Madagascar, or in Tana Toraja in Indonesia, where the dead are seen as the intermediary between people and God. You want good grades, health, a windfall? You pray to your ancestors.

Where death is associated with a gain in power, suddenly not only are the dead remembered with fondness, their actual corpses are invited to the party. In Madagascar they’re exhumed and wrapped in a fresh shroud. In Tana Toraja, they’re exhumed, dressed in smart new clothes, held in poses for photos and are brought onto FaceTime calls with family who couldn’t make it.


# DEATH LESSON 3

You can have a continuing relationship with a dead person

They say “grief is love with nowhere to go”, and we nod along sadly, as if all over the world there aren’t rituals and festivals and events with the clear purpose of giving the love somewhere to go.

In Mexico, they welcome the souls of the dead by setting out their favourite food and drink. In China (and Thailand, where I celebrated with my extended family), they picnic in the cemeteries and burn paper money, a kind of divine postal system of sending gifts to the dead.

And in Tana Toraja, I watched a woman sit by her long-dead grandmother and take in the dramatic mountain view. She then turned, spotted some dust in her hair, and brushed it away.

No one told me how ridiculous it would seem that this could ever be called ‘morbid’, ‘ghoulish’ or ‘macabre’. No one told me how visible the love would be.


# DEATH LESSON 4

The policy of silence does nothing but harm

Ok, I’ll acknowledge the short-term benefit of not talking about death until we absolutely have to: for that moment, we don’t have to feel a twinge at thinking about something we’ve been told is fearsome. We can kick the can down the road. And who doesn’t love those few moments before someone forces you to pick up the can? Ooh, those can-free moments are like a carnival cruise.

How shrewd of our repressed society to teach that there’s something distasteful, even shameful, about bringing up something people would rather not discuss anyway. Talking about money is vulgar, tacky, gauche. Talking about sex is uncomfortable, rude, a bit much. And talking about death is, apparently, ‘morbid’ – alright, if a guy is licking his lips while talking about the intricate details of bloating and decay, I’ll agree that’s a bit morbid, and no way to conduct yourself on a first date – but it shouldn’t be gasp-inducing to discuss the inescapable fact of your own death, or your wishes for what happens afterwards.

Dealing with death denial

But death denial isn’t just silly; it’s violence. Shouting down our parents and grandparents when they mention they won’t be here one day may seem like a way to say, “I love you and I want you here”, but the knock-on effect of the policy of silence is heartbreaking: people with terminal illnesses in Britain often find themselves deserted by friends and family who “don’t know what to say”, or “want to remember them as they were”. While writing This Party’s Dead I had the opportunity to chat to Laura Green, a lecturer in palliative care at the University of Manchester, who told me when people are dying they are “almost treated as though they’re dead bodies, even though biologically things are carrying on”. They die social deaths before their physical deaths, simply because we don’t have the emotional equipment to face it.


FINAL THOUGHTS

The western way of grieving

If my brief were to defend our way of death over what I’ve seen at the festivals, I’ve got nothing. Because in places that hold celebrations for the dead, people remain part of the community long after their physical deaths. The love that sustained them in life is still there, bringing them meals, buying them clothes, brushing the dust out of their hair.

Talking and planning for death

Talking about death isn’t easy. So we put the conversation off, and off, and off again, always taking the short-term avoidance, the chance to pretend it’s something that happens to someone else, and never to us.

If there’s one lesson other cultures can teach about death, it’s to embrace it. It will happen to the best (and indeed, worst) of us. And talking and planning for what should happen when we’re no longer here can help us lead a fuller life.

Build my deathplan

“I want my ashes to be scattered over the site of Maine Road in Manchester by Liam Gallagher whilst he ironically sings Live Forever”

– Will McCondach


Why the hell was a 21 year old drawn to life insurance?

Well according to a report published by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Gen Z (one of the terms used to describe people born after 1996) drink less, take fewer drugs, and have made teenage pregnancy a near abnormality.. Most shockingly, for me anyway, is they apparently prefer juice bars to pub crawls…

So what are they doing instead? The answer – Social media. They can be found switching between Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram. Will first saw an ad for life insurance whilst scrolling through memes, which piqued his curiosity enough to click it. Deathwishes?! Yes I’ll have some of that.

‘The sign up process was a piece of piss, I answered a few questions and then got an instant quote’ also he goes on to say ‘the visuals on site are completely different to other life insurance companies, not that I’ve looked at many. Nothing monotone, making it a cool experience’

So why a deathwish… ‘the deathwishes are so easy if you want your family to have a bit of cash when you die. Also you can make your death a celebration of your life rather than something depressing, who wants that?!’ It seems the younger generation would prefer a bit of revelry around their funerals.

Will was attracted to the deathwishes and put down exactly what he wants to happen when he dies, even if it is a bit fantastical. ‘My deathwish is based around my love for Liam Gallagher/Oasis – I’m literally obsessed with the guy, my mates take the piss all the time especially when I’m wearing top to toe Pretty Green. I’d love Liam to scatter my ashes over the site of Maine Road in Manchester, maybe he’d breathe a bit of me in… Maine Road was where Oasis performed one of their most iconic gigs ever. ‘Live Forever’ was a celebration of all the greats who have died so I want to be included in that list because I’m a bit of a cocky git like Liam, the main man himself.’

It’s not all rockstars and football though. Will, it seems, is a sensible Gen Zer after all and also chose a cash payout for his parents,

‘Although you can’t put a price on life, let alone your sons -and I’m a pretty awesome son to be fair! I want to have the peace of mind knowing that if I do die, my family would be financially stable for the rest of their lives and could treat themselves to some Pretty Green bucket hats in my honour!’

‘Boom! I actually felt professional writing that, I felt real responsibility hahahahha’

So, Spot’s finally bit the dust? Condolences. We’re the first to point out that death is a natural path of life. That being said, we also know that nasty sting when it’s a beloved family pet. Nowadays we’re pretty much desensitised to watching humans die on-screen. However, if anything happens to an animal, most of us transform into snivelling wrecks. There’s even a website called DoesTheDogDie.com that helps you avoid movies and TV shows where animals die. (*Spoiler alert* – Marley & Me has no heartwarming resolution in the third act).

Some people may think that this avoidance of the inevitable is a tad much, and we may be inclined to agree. Here, we’ll take a look at the lessons we can learn from human grief resulting from the death of a pet.


Own your grief

As a nation famous for both its emotional constipation and love of animals, the death of a pet puts us Brits in a pretty awkward position. Traditionally, we’re not expected to grieve for a pet like we would for a person. This can make the process even more difficult, since we may feel as though we have to justify the depth of our grief. Some may raise their eyebrows at someone sobbing over a dead goldfish but who are they to underestimate such an attachment?

Let’s be real, many people are muppets. Our pets, on the other hand, give us the kind of loyalty and unconditional love that we rarely see in our fellow man. That’s a tough thing to lose, so don’t allow your feelings to be written off as silly or over-sentimental.

What we’re trying to say is, do what you need to do. Want to hold a furry funeral for Fluffy? Go for it. Want to send Nibbles down the U-bend on his own little Viking funeral? Crack on. Want to immortalise Taffy with taxidermy? Hey, who are we to say you shouldn’t.  Take inspiration from this Dutch artist who believe turning his dead cat into a drone was a fitting tribute to his late friend. (The airborne cat was rather aptly named Orville).


It’s not your fault (hopefully)

When we lose a pet, we don’t just lose a companion, we also lose someone who was our ‘responsibility’. Getting over guilt can, therefore, be a big part of the grieving process. This particularly applies to when you make the decision to put a pet ‘to sleep’. Unless you’re a megalomaniac – you probably didn’t relish having to make this decision. We want to hold out hope that our pet will pull through, but deep down we often know it’s the kindest thing to do. Finally, and we hate admitting it, but the vets are bloody expensive. Turns out you can put a price on a pet’s life if it’s an extortionately high one.

When a pet dies, it’s natural to be plagued by ‘what-if’ scenarios. What if I’d kept the cats house-bound? What if I recognised the dog was unwell just a few days sooner? What if I’d just forked out that extra few grand? Owning your emotions is a big part of the grieving process. However, you’re not going to move on if you’re constantly racked with guilt. Unless you were the one that ran Trixy over, then by all means beat yourself up.


Honey, I traumatised the kids

Death is probably one of the most uncomfortable subjects to talk to kids about. It’s up there with the ‘special hug’ and the fact that Father Christmas isn’t real. Deep down, no-one wants to be the parent who makes their kid aware of the concept of mortality. They’re also likely to have a whole bunch of questions, most of which will be unanswerable – “Where do we go when we die?”, “Are you and Daddy going to end up in the ground with Fido?”, “Will we flush grandad down the toilet when he dies too?”, you get the picture.

Parents have developed quite a few tricks to avoid telling the kids that the family pet has died. Did they run away? Did they go and live on a farm that has an incredibly strict door policy? Don’t even get us started about trawling around pet shops for a good ol-fashion switch. Take the opportunity to be honest and let the kids know what they’re going to learn about anyway. Another bit of advice – don’t say they ‘went to sleep forever’. This will probably scramble their brains and make bedtime a nightmare.

Each kid will grieve for a pet differently. For instance, they may want a funeral. You can eulogise about all the fond memories cleaning up poo while your child was busy playing Fortnite. For some kids, the prospect of a new puppy will help them move on in a flash (yes… fickle). Others may need more time before they can expect a new companion to fill the void. Regardless, the family will learn some important lessons about grief that will last a lifetime.

At DeadHappy, we want to encourage honest and open conversations about death. This helps us provide life insurance that best meets the needs and requirements of normal people. Having a frank discussion about death means we can ensure that your wishes are respected. So, do you have a deathwish? Tell us what you want to happen after you die, and we can make it happen.

According to ONS figures, the upcoming month of March is the most fatal period of the entire year, with more deaths worldwide in the third calendar month than at any other time.

Grieving family members might be able to seek solace in the fact that there are hundreds of funeral home names which have a sense of humour. But which are the funniest, we wondered?

We compiled a list of all the wild and ridiculous names out there, and then asked people to rank what they thought were the funniest, and these are the results…


Minge Funerals

When taking over Minge Funerals from Claude and Elizabeth Minge, Sally Harrington and her husband Scott decided the Minge brand and values were too important to change. Located in South Australia, they continue to deliver burial or cremation services at the generous Minge Chapel which seats over 150 people. Spacious, right?


Amigone Funeral Home

Located across 14 locations serving Western New York State, Amigone funerals begs the question, are they really gone?


Slaughter & Son Funeral Directors

Not to be mistaken for a butchers shop (pretty easy mistake), Slaughter & Son Funeral Directors is located in Chicago, Illinois. Despite this being a pretty awkward word to associate with funerals, the directors still manage to bring in customers who seem oblivious to the rather hilarious name.


Hollerbach Funeral Home

We may be wrong, but we don’t think that the dead can exactly ‘holler back’? Perhaps in 1926, when the Chicago based funeral home was established, ‘holler’ didn’t have quite the same meaning then as it does now…


Bruce & Stiff Funeral Home

Sorry, Bruce and what? We know that your company name should reflect the profession you are in, but surely this funeral home in Virginia has taken that just a little bit too literally?


Downer Funeral Home

Funerals can be a bit of a downer, can’t they? Nick J. Downer, owner of Downer Funeral Home in Connecticut, obviously agrees. What we want to know is, did he go into funerals because of his surname, or is it just a bit of an unhappy coincidence?


Go As You Please Funerals

This might be a bit tricky for some of the guests, but Go As You Please seems to offer an open door policy to funeral seekers. Claimed to be the largest independent Funeral Directors in the North East, the company prides itself on its flexible nature to deliver.


Resurrection Funeral Home

Do our eyes deceive us or is this funeral home offering a path back to life? This parlour in Michigan provides both funerals and cremations – if you have both together, does it come with a free resurrection? Asking for a friend.


Cease Funeral Home

Perhaps a play on the word deceased, or perhaps derived from their embalmer Ed Cease, this funeral home is enough to make anyone take a double look. Founded in 1901 in Minnesota, this is one of the oldest funeral homes on our list. Really, if you ask us, that’s more than enough time for a quick name change…