A press release on November 21 revealed that Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” is the most requested song at British funerals. The announcement came from the UK’s largest funeral director, The Co-Operative Funeralcare which conducted research based on over 30,000 funerals. Traditional pieces such as “The Lord is My Shepherd” and Elgar’s “Nimrod” from Enigma Variations remain popular but 84% of UK funeral directors say that requests for hymns and classical pieces are quickly declining. Among the popular songs to top the list were Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic, and Abba’s “Dancing Queen.” Joining Monty Python under a category labeled “Humor” were Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” and Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire.” Several songs associated with popular “football” teams also topped the list.
Have the Brits lost their minds? According to David Collingwood, The Co-Operative Funeralcare’s Operations Director, the results may be a reflection of the increasing personalization in modern funerals. This phenomenon is not unique to the UK. In July of this year, the Huffington Post published an article on the rise of personalized “fun funerals” in the U.S. Among other things, the article addressed funeral-based reality TV shows, tombstone shaped cookies, and morticians who perform magic acts. In September, mourners remembered the legendary comedienne Joan Rivers with a “huge showbiz funeral” complete with moving eulogies, x-rated jokes, and Broadway performances, including the showtune “Hey, Big Spender” from Sweet Charity. Fellow comedienne Whoopi Goldberg described the funeral as a “truly funny, truly loving send-off by folks who loved her…funny and deeply moving, much like her.” A recent conversation with my own mother revealed that instead of a funeral, she would like to be remembered with a red wine toast against a backdrop of Janis Joplin songs.
It is often said that funerals are for the living, not the dead. But a move away from traditional funeral services may temper this distinction and also may help the grieving process. Friends and family can have more creative freedom to remember the deceased as they lived and how they would want to be remembered. In addition to reducing the somberness of a funeral, a more customized ceremony could be more effective at providing families with the closure they need.
It’s hard to imagine “Great Balls of Fire” becoming the next funeral anthem in the U.S., but like the Brits we seem to be looking on the bright side of life. For the funeral world it looks like “fun” is the new black.