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An Early Look at Funeral Plans

As the old saying goes: If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. We can't foresee the future, but one thing is certain: we are all going to pass away one day. So a funeral plan is an investment that won't lose its value or fail to deliver what we're expecting. We can plan now and know that we will certainly get what we plan for: a funeral and burial place of just the kind that we prefer. I first came across the idea of funeral plans in an unusual book called The Loved One. I call it "unusual" because that's exactly what it is: not many books are set in a funeral business the way The Loved One is. The book was first published in 1948 and was written by Evelyn Waugh, the man who also wrote Brideshead Revisited, the famous novel about an aristocratic family in Yorkshire. The Loved One, as you might guess, is a very different book. He got the idea for it after travelling to California to discuss the filming of Brideshead with a film studio in Hollywood. While he was in California, he visited a famous cemetery in Los Angeles called Forest Lawn. He was fascinated by what he saw there and decided to write a short novel set in a fictional version of Forest Lawn. Waugh thought that the cemetery represented a new culture that was emerging on the west coast of America. In 1948, California was a very different place to Britain. We were still recovering from the Second World War then. The weather was often bad and the whole country seemed shabby and broken. California, by contrast, was rich, sunny and bursting with energy. It was experimenting with new approaches to all kinds of things: architecture, food, religion, marriage, art. And it had a new approach to funerals too. People in California were asking for more choice about the way they were buried and the place they rested in. Some wanted a traditional funeral, some wanted cremation. They wanted their graves to reflect something of their lives and personalities. Forest Lawn was one of the first funeral businesses to respond to this demand for more choice. The grounds of the cemetery were designed to suit different tastes. One section was for writers and poets, another for business-people, another for athletes, and so on. Some customers wanted to be buried among trees or near the sound of water or in some setting that reflected their ancestry, like the grounds of an imitation Scottish church. Forest Lawn was able to meet their all preferences. It offered full funeral plans to cover every part of funeral and burial. People would visit the business and discuss their plans with trained and sympathetic advisers, choosing the style of coffin, the kind of burial service to be conducted, and the flowers to accompany the service. Waugh could see that this new approach would spread in the years to come. As another saying goes: where California leads, America follows. And where America leads, the rest of the world follows. So Waugh used The Loved One to examine what was, in those days, an unfamiliar way of running a funeral business. In the Britain of 1948, the idea of a comprehensive funeral plan was something new. But in time it would become familiar on this side of the Atlantic too. It's easy to understand why. In the face of uncertainty, it's natural for us to seek some kind of control. Funeral plans offer us that control. We make our choices now and know that one day our friends and relatives can say goodbye to us in the way we know will suit them best.