Daughter Holds 'Premortem Funeral' for 88-year-old Mother Before Dementia Sets In

'My daughter is throwing me a funeral,' says thrilled mother

Photo: Courtesy Jean Merrie Borrill Paal

It’s been a hectic week for 88-year-old Anchorage, Alaska, resident Jean Paal, what with getting everything ready her funeral scheduled for this Sunday.

“I think it’s the most marvelous idea,” Paal tells PEOPLE, shortly before heading out with a friend to look for a new blouse for the event. “My daughter is throwing me a funeral. Isn’t that just brilliant?”

It’s also brilliantly precedent setting because technically Paal isn’t actually deceased. Nor does anyone expect her to be by the time her “premortem funeral” (as her daughter Joan Paal-Fridley, 62, likes to call it) rolls around on April 19.

The idea for the affair came after a conversation Paal-Fridley was having with her mother, whose razor-sharp memory and formidable cognitive abilities have been ravaged by what her doctors believe is Alzheimer’s disease.

“About a year ago we were rehashing a long-running conversation about funerals,” recalls Paal-Fridley, “and I mentioned how I’d always thought they should be held before someone dies, not afterwards, so the person could actually hear the impact they’d made in other people’s lives.”

When her mother, who’d been depressed over her deteriorating neurological condition, heard that, she burst out in a “laughter so pure and real, the likes of which I hadn t heard in so long” that her daughter knew she was onto something.

“I have no idea how long she may live,” adds Paal-Fridley, “but her energy is fading, along with her memory, and I want her to know she made a difference in people’s lives while she can still recall memories.”

Paal’s daughter had no idea what to expect when she sent out her funeral invitations, but within days nearly a hundred people had responded enthusiastically. A videographer will be on hand to record all the comments made, which she hopes her mother will be able to “watch and relive” before she slides further into the fog of dementia.

“My mind is definitely drifting away and it’s just breaking my heart,” says Paal, a mother of three daughters and a self-taught math whiz who made a living as a statistical analyst and was passionate about everything from theater to politics. “But I feel very happy about having my funeral in advance, so I can hear all the things people say about me.”

Paal excuses herself for a moment to answer the front door, then returns clutching an orchid that a neighbor just dropped off. “More than a few people are confused by all this and seem to think we’re having my funeral because I’ve already died,” she laughs, then adds, “I’ve really had such a lovely life.”

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