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Exit strategies

Funeral people reveal their own final departure plans

Fran Hall is chairman of the Natural Death Centre Charity, a qualified funeral director, and has also managed a natural burial ground

"My four children have a complete aversion to talking about death, despite my long involvement in funerals – or perhaps because of it! If I get my wish for the type of funeral I would like, then they will have to completely confront mortality, as I would love my final exit to be on an open pyre, on the top of a hill under a starry sky, with my family and friends gathered around, drinking and remembering, until the flames are reduced to glowing embers.

"The way we do death in Britain today is far removed from the elemental, raw experience of our ancestors. I would like my departure from this earth to be starkly simple, consumed by fire – but a real, roaring fire, not a mechanised cremator hidden behind a velvet curtain or a pair of shuttered oak doors. I would like those who loved me to bear witness, to experience the destruction of my body through the brilliance of the flames, and to share memories and friendship with others brave enough to be there.

"I have no need for pomp and ceremony at my funeral, nor the traditional ‘dignified send-off’. Instead, having lived a life of defying others’ expectations, and often doing the unexpected, I would hate to leave this life quietly on one of a production line of hearses at a crematorium. I want to be remembered for being different, for being real, and for ‘walking my talk’. I want to exit this life the way I have lived it.

"When devout Hindu Davender Ghai won his appeal in the High Court in 2010 for his own cremation to be on an outdoor pyre, there were some strong reactions. Jack Straw, the then Home Secretary, described the practice as ‘abhorrent’ to most Britons – but I, along with others at the Natural Death Centre, applauded his victory. To us, this was a powerful step forward towards a society that faces the reality of death instead of retreating behind euphemisms, platitudes and handing over everything to professionals.

"It was when I read Ru Callender’s inspirational chapter about funeral pyres in the new Natural Death Handbook, ‘Dancing around the bonefire’, that I knew instantly that this was the perfect funeral for me – no conveyor belt slot at the crem, nor even a holistic burial in a natural burial ground – I want my funeral to be like an ancient rite of passage for the people I love most.

"An acceptance of death, in all its brutal reality, is a huge thing to ask of my materialistic, death-averse children, but if, by the time I go, society has evolved enough to accept that death denial is futile, and we need to embrace and experience it mentally, emotionally and spiritually, then perhaps my instructions to build a pyre and lay my body on the top will be the greatest gift I can bequeath them."

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