I wrote a manual about how to ask for the funeral you want – and people are loving it!

It was Penny's mum who inspired the manual, after she gave Penny strict instructions about how her funeral was to be carried out.
Penny Tucker

When Penny Tucker’s mother would return from attending a funeral, she’d often ring her daughter, quietly outraged, telling her about “some idiot who gave a 40-minute speech that went on and on and on”!

After her mum Gem died suddenly from a massive heart attack last year, Penny wasn’t surprised to discover she had written strict instructions in what she called her “death book”, warning that anyone who spoke at her funeral for more than three minutes would be disinherited.

Injected with humour and as personal as it was practical, the guide was a saving grace for the grieving family, who didn’t have to wonder what Gem wanted after her death.

Every detail was outlined, and tackled things that might have otherwise been awkward to discuss.

Penny Tucker as a child with her mother Gem

The matriarch set out specific sentimental items she wanted her eight grandchildren to have, as well as listing all the names and numbers of people to notify after her passing.

“There were lots of differently inked pens involved in the creation of the book, so it was clearly something Mum had been picking up and putting down over months, if not years,” shares Penny (48).

“She was a real pragmatist and didn’t want to leave anything ambiguous. Her view was that families can be damaged by people with different perceptions of the legacy and entitlement after somebody dies.”

Gem had specified in the book that she wanted her funeral to be at the old St Mary’s Cathedral in Parnell, Auckland.

“I tore out the first three pages of Mum’s book and handed it to the church’s Dean, explaining that it prescribed everything Mum wanted − hymns, what type of flowers and the names of those she wanted acknowledged,” recalls Penny.

“Mum was sent off precisely as she desired. I had her little book in my pocket and the ribbons wrapped around it made me feel as secure as one of her hugs used to.

“It was unbelievably helpful and made what was a really difficult time, almost a little bit amusing.”

For more details on Last Writes visit

Inspired by her mother’s book, the Auckland business-woman along with her graphic-designer friend Rebecca Zwitser (49), decided to pen a manual to help others confront their mortality, called Last Writes.

“I was sitting at home one night and Rebecca kindly rang me to see how I was doing after Mum’s passing,” tells Penny.

“We started talking about her death book and Rebecca was unusually quiet on the other end, so I asked, ‘What are you doing?’ She replied, ‘I’m drawing sketches for the book. Your mum’s book was so useful to you, we need to make it live for other people so they can imprint their own personality into it.

“That’s when we decided to create a template − a sort of a ‘paint-by-numbers’, to help people articulate thoughts and memories which have defined their life.”

There are sections for what you want on your headstone, prompts to compose messages for people left behind and even a place to list your internet passwords.

“People often don’t write down what financial investments they might have tucked away. How much money is then lost, while financial institutions make a killing because they’re not reconciled,” she muses.

“It’s difficult for many people to discuss those sorts of logistics associated with dying. But being clear about what it is that you would like to happen after you die is extremely important,” she says.

“The sheer overwhelming nature of grief can make it hard for those left behind to navigate the aftermath of a loved one passing on.”

Rebecca (left) and Penny’s book was inspired by one left behind by Penny’s mother Gem.

Penny shares the story of one woman, a heart transplant patient, who was sleeping with a copy of Last Writes under her pillow, ahead of her own death.

“I was phoned by this woman who’d had a transplant many years ago but now her heart was failing and she knew that she was going to die within the next few weeks.

“What had worried her most were fractures within the family. So she bought the book and told me it gave her great comfort knowing she could express her wishes to those organising her funeral.

“She said, ‘I know that if my children disagree about x, y and z, I’ve written down what I want and I feel like I can die in peace now.'”

Organ donation is something else Penny was passionate about including in the book, after hearing of potential donors being overruled by their family after their death.

“My late father was a brain surgeon and was the first person in the country to operate on Parkinson’s patients, so he often talked about the importance of organ donation. In a sad irony, he died of Parkinson’s disease,” shares Penny.

Living without her ‘larger than life’ mum has been tough.

“I was really close to my mum and miss chatting to her every day,” she tells.

“I often instinctively go to pick up the phone to tell her news about what the children have done and then remember she’s not here anymore.

“But if I can compare this project to a ride, then my mum is the one in the pillion seat having a heck of a laugh.”

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