Woman Who Held ‘Living Funeral’ For Her Sister Says It Was ‘Magical’ But ‘Pain-Filled’

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Woman Who Held 'Living Funeral' For Her Sister Says It Was 'Magical' But 'Pain-Filled'

When one woman was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, she decided right away she wanted to celebrate her life with her family and friends one more time. So she had her sister throw her a ‘living funeral.’

Heidi Satterthwaite, who lived in different places across the US from Alaska to Hawaii, died last year at 34 years old after doctors diagnosed her with Myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, a rare form of cancer.

The older sister, Jenna appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour yesterday to talk about the experience of throwing a ‘living funeral’ and what it was like to say goodbye at such an event.

Jenna explained that Heidi, as a military wife, had moved around for most of her adult life, and managed to make friends everywhere she went. Heidi told her family that she wanted to celebrate her life with all of these people before the disease took over.

“To our utter surprise and delight, 200 people showed up at the last minute, in the middle of the Summer,” revealed Jenna. She compared the ‘funeral’ to a wedding and said it was full of laughter and celebration. Heidi and her husband closed out the event by dancing to their wedding song, to relieve a poignant moment in both of their lives.

“People canceled vacations, hopped on planes, rented cars, they made it happen, and they showed up for her to say their goodbyes,” continued Jenna.

When she was asked about how the event compared to a traditional funeral in terms of providing closure for attendees, Jenna said: “I would describe it as an exclamation point at the end of a sentence. The sentence of her life.”

“I guess you could call it closure. It was that moment when you pause to acknowledge a beautiful life. And we don’t do that often. We’re bad at celebrating. We’re always looking to the next thing and shifting goalposts. So it was really special to come together and kind of close that sentence as a group and say this was her life. She lived well. Exclamation point.”

Jenna also said that, while the event was sad and tearful, it gave people ‘a surge of energy as they realized their friends’ mortality and their mortality. She says channeling that energy into a party ‘really fit well with the process…and [Heidi] wanted to do it for herself, but also for the rest of us.’

A post on X, formerly Twitter, from Jenna opened with the advice: “If you have the curse of advance notice, throw a party. Don’t have a funeral – it’s not as fun.”

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