Why do we have funerals?

What is a funeral?

A funeral is a service or ceremony to remember, honour, pay tribute to or celebrate the life of someone who has died.  It is a time to remember, to say goodbye and to show support for those who loved and will miss that person.  A funeral is a ritual, or rite of passage, marking transitions both for the person who has died and their family and friends.  A funeral is also a very important milestone; saying goodbye in a meaningful and appropriate way is a key part of the grief journey.  Traditional or ‘normal’ funerals also usually include the burial or cremation – but as we’ll see, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

Why do we have funerals?

A funeral is much more than simply the burial or cremation.  Funerals are an opportunity for those close to the person who has died to remember, and to share their memories.  Funerals confirm the reality of the death, which is particularly important where the death is sudden or unexpected.  Funerals bring together the community of those who knew and loved someone to support and comfort each other.  The process of arranging the cremation or burial and putting together a funeral ceremony is an important time; a chance to review and remember, to talk to others about their memories and thoughts, an opportunity to say anything that has been left unsaid.  We have funerals not so that the burial or cremation can take place but for the benefit of the mourners.  A fitting funeral service plays a significant part in mourning and anecdotal evidence from bereavement counsellors indicates that grief can be complicated if there has not been a chance to say goodbye in a meaningful way.

What happens if we can’t have a traditional funeral?

Sometimes the circumstances in which a person died, or their geographical location means that mourners cannot attend a traditional funeral.  At the present time in the UK the social distancing measures introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic means that churches are closed and many crematoriums are either closing their doors or severely limiting the number of mourners who can attend.  The burial or cremation can go ahead with no mourners in attendance (usually called a Direct Cremation or Direct Burial), but this doesn’t allow for a funeral service at the same time.  However, the funeral service is so much more than just the burial or cremation: the service for the mourners can most definitely still go ahead as it’s not necessary for them to all be in the same place at the same time.

Remote Funerals

If it’s not possible to have a funeral which brings everyone physically together, mourners can still be connected through technology.  Remote funerals are possible, with everyone sitting in their own home joining a service led by a celebrant sitting in theirs.  Mourners can share rituals such as lighting candles, sharing memories or giving tributes, reading poems or prayers, listening to music, raising a toast, wearing a favourite colour or making and eating someone’s favourite food.  Words of farewell can be spoken to say goodbye to the person who has died, without the coffin having to be in the same room.  And, most importantly, these rituals can still provide what we need from funerals, answer the reasons why we have funerals – they bring everyone together albeit virtually rather than physically, they provide comfort and show support, they allow everyone to remember and they give everyone the chance to say goodbye.

lighting candles to remember

Should I delay the service until we can have a more normal gathering?

If you think about the reasons why we have funerals, you’ll see that it’s necessary to have some sort of service around the time of the death.  The process of ‘sorting through’ memories, thoughts and feelings about the person who has died is extremely helpful to someone who is grieving.  Putting together a funeral service, talking about the person who has died, telling their story, is a helpful way to start along the path of living without a loved one.  Even if you can’t attend a church or crematorium for a service, you can still plan a meaningful funeral to have in the here and now. 

Memorial or Celebration of Life Services

There is, of course, also the option to have a Memorial or Celebration of Life service at a later date, when everyone can gather together to remember a life but it’s important that that doesn’t replace the funeral.  The immediate need to confirm the reality that the death has happened, to say goodbye and to show support and comfort for those close to the person who has died doesn’t go away.  Funerals very much do still need to be held, we just need to think more creatively and originally about what a funeral is and why we do have funerals, and find ways of meeting those needs without being physically present at the burial or cremation.  

Further Information

If you’d like me to help with a distance funeral, or some advice on how to bring everyone together in remembering even when you can’t be physically together, see Remote Funerals.

For a more academic look at funeral rituals and their impact on grieving, see this article from the Funeral Guide website.

Funerals in the time of coronavirus

The funeral world is changing.  Rapidly.  A month ago it was unthinkable to say that churches would close, that crematoria would restrict numbers attending funerals, that mourners would have to sit 2m apart, that at the time when we most need connection and support no-one would be able to comfort a friend with a hug.  Yet with funerals in the time of coronavirus that is exactly what we are facing as I’m writing this.  And even this may change.  Within days or weeks we may get to a point where funerals are banned; where the physical act of burial or cremation of the deceased takes place with no mourners in attendance.  As this excellent article from The Good Funeral Guide says, we will need to consider the possibility of funerals at a distance, funerals without mourners present.

The importance of a funeral service

I have long argued that funeral services are critical.  They are, after all, more for the benefit of the mourners than for the person who has died.  Yes, a funeral service remembers and perhaps pays tribute to the deceased, but for those who are present it also confirms the reality of the death, provides a rite of passage to mark the transition from life to death, enables mourners to say goodbye, gathers together the community of those who knew the deceased, and it should also provide comfort for the future by reminding mourners of what they have and take forward in their lives that came to them from their loved one.  The psychological importance of a good goodbye cannot be understated.  Saying goodbye in a meaningful and appropriate way has a huge impact on the grief journey.  Despite the times we are living in, I still firmly believe that a funeral service is critical.  The challenge facing me, along with everyone working in the funeral sector, is how to deliver a funeral at a distance which still provides that meaningful goodbye and supports those who are grieving.

Distance funerals

Distance funerals are going to have to be part of the answer to supporting the families we work with.  There is already the facility to webcast a service from many crematoria, and this has been of value when families live overseas.  Back in November I worked with a family who Facetimed the whole service of a service at the South Downs Natural Burial site to a grandchild travelling in New Zealand, for example.  Technology already allows us to connect with friends and family from all over the world, and those connections are going to become even more critical.  Along with many other celebrants, I am working on ways to deliver a funeral service from my home, connecting to the friends and family of the deceased via an online meetings platform so that I can lead the service as I normally would, and bring in those who wish to speak, as I would do in the course of a normal funeral service.  I’m also considering how I could work with families to write a simple funeral ceremony that they could use or share in their own home.  It’s not going to be ideal, but I firmly believe distance funerals will be better than nothing – which may well be the only other alternative for time being.

Other ways to remember

I have also argued in the past that funeral services don’t need to be formal, that they can be as informal as a gathering in the local pub to raise a glass and share memories.  Even more so now I stand by that argument.  These ways of remembering, again especially if connected by technology, could be really valuable in bringing together the community of those who knew and loved the person who has died.  You could nominate a date and time for all friends and family to join in with an act of remembrance.  Something like wearing a particular colour, eating the deceased’s favourite food or enjoying a sip of their favourite tipple.  A few years ago the husband of an online friend I made through a dieting app died.  We couldn’t physically attend his funeral but she’d mentioned that he often had a pencil tucked behind his ear. Many of us all over the country did exactly that and then shared photos of ourselves with said pencil in place to let her know that we were supporting her and thinking of her that day.  Simple gestures of solidarity and support like this can be really powerful.  They tell someone you’re thinking of them, you’re there for them even if you can’t physically be together.

How to involve those who aren’t online

Technology can bring us together even where we’re apart, but only if we have the connection.  Sadly the majority of those who don’t have the technology are likely to be in the older generation.  We will need to think creatively about how we support and include them in distance funerals.  It may be possible to call them on the telephone so that they can at least hear a service being webcast or otherwise shared online.  Maybe everyone could write to them to share their favourite memories of the person who has died.

Memorial Services

Another option is to delay the gathering to remember someone’s life.  Instead of having a traditional funeral, some families may wish instead to hold a memorial or celebration of life service at a later date when it is safe for us once again to gather together.  The coffin does not need to be present at these types of service.  Instead the deceased can be represented by a photo or something else that will call them to mind.  For example, my Grampy always wore a flat cap so that would have been a good object to represent him.  Planning for these services may be a way that families can put together the kind of tribute to a life that they would ordinarily have had at the time of death, but even if there is a plan for a later service, I still think that it will be important to mark the death at the time.  Even when we are physically apart, we can find ways to connect, to come together to support those who were closest to the person who has died. 

Who can help?

Funeral celebrants, ministers, funeral directors and crematorium staff all care deeply about doing the best for the families we work with.  We are all thinking creatively, changing the ways we work, doing our best to help as much as we can until this crisis is over.  If you’re facing the prospect of a distance funeral for a loved one, talk to us.  We’re all here to help. Please contact me if you need advice or guidance about distance funerals at this time.

How to write a eulogy

A eulogy is the key component in a funeral service.  It’s the part of the ceremony that tells the life story of the person who has died.  If well written, a eulogy will draw in the people who were closest to that person, who were important in their life.  If you need to create a tribute to someone you love, here are a few hints and tips on how to write a eulogy to help you make it great.

What is a Eulogy?

A eulogy is a tribute to or celebration of someone’s life.  It is the story of what they have achieved, what they enjoyed in their life, those they loved, and what they are remembered for.  The word eulogy itself derives from two Greek words ‘eu’ meaning good, and ‘logos’ meaning speech*.  Thus, the word ‘eulogy’ literally means a speech in praise of someone.  Other names for a eulogy are Tribute, or perhaps simply Memories of…

What does a eulogy include?

A eulogy is the story of someone’s life.  Especially when someone has lived a long life, it can be daunting to think about what to put in a eulogy.  Here are some ideas:

  • Biographical details such as dates and places of birth, where the person lived, where they went to school, names of family members, where they worked and what jobs they did
  • What the person enjoyed doing – hobbies, interests, how they spent time with their family or friends, what they enjoyed doing together.  Where did they go on holidays?  What were they good at? What did they love (or hate!)?
  • How their story blended with those who were important to them.  For example, how did they meet their partner?  What were they like as a Mum or Dad, Grandma or Grandad, brother or sister, friend or neighbour?  What do their colleagues think about them?
  • How are they remembered?  What do those they loved want to pay tribute to?  What are their best memories of that person?
  • What is the person’s legacy?  Did they help others?  Teach others?  How have other people’s lives been made better by knowing this person?

Don’t worry, it’s not necessary to include all of these things!  These are just some suggestions to give you an idea of where to start.  A really good eulogy gives a good sense of the person.  It is so much more than just a list of dry biographical details.

How to Write a Eulogy

To write the eulogy, you need to gather together all the information you have about the person.  This might be your own memories or thoughts, notes the person themselves has left, remembrances or stories told to you by other friends or family members, or maybe even information from documents such as birth or marriage certificates, school reports, cards or letters.  You then need to bring all of this information together to build a picture of the person who has died. 

writing a eulogy

Try to talk to (or at least get contributions from) a range of people who knew the person differently – a relationship with a parent can be very different from a relationship with a grandparent, for example.  Similarly friends or work colleagues may see a person differently to how the family sees them.

Next, it’s helpful to identify themes in the person’s life by grouping stories together.  Although it may not seem logical at first, it’s actually much easier to write a eulogy thematically rather than chronologically.  That’s because if you start the story with when someone was born, you’ll have to end with them dying.  Instead, avoid a negative ending: make your last sentence something that will make people smile.

Things to consider

Don’t worry if you don’t have time to tell all the stories in detail.  You can summarise them, or even just refer to them if lots of the mourners will be familiar with a particular tale.  Something like: “Driving was never John’s strong point.  His children remember endless journeys going round in circles on the way to holidays, or missing the junction on the motorway.  And then there was the time when he ran over his friend in the golf buggy…”.  In this example, you can also see how a thematic approach frees you from the constraints of chronology.

Finally, once you’ve written the eulogy, make sure you read it aloud, several times.  We write in a different way to how we speak and you might find that you have made things too formal.  You need to be comfortable reading this.  It needs to sound natural in speech, so don’t be afraid to change things and make them more relaxed if it sounds a bit stiff.  You are telling a story

Top Tips for writing a eulogy

So, in summary, my top tips for writing a eulogy are:

  • Gather information from lots of different people, people who had different relationships with the person who has died
  • Use funny stories, anecdotes, sayings and family folklore alongside biographical details.  It’s OK to make people laugh
  • Avoid a dry list of facts and figures (e.g. dates and places).  Mix the biography up with personality
  • Don’t start with ‘He (or she) was born…’
  • Tell the story thematically, don’t be tied to chronology
  • Finish on something that will make everyone smile, or on a piece of genuine praise
  • Read the eulogy aloud to make sure it tells well as a story

How I Can Help

If you’d put together a eulogy for someone you love, but you don’t feel confident in writing it yourself, I can do that for you.  I’ll need to interview you (and maybe other family and friends), either in person, or over Skype or the telephone.  I’ll then write a eulogy for your approval, we’ll work together to make it sound right for you, then you can deliver it on the day with confidence.  Please contact me for further details.

*Definition of ‘eulogy’ given in the Merriam-Webster dictionary

Do You Have a Bucket List? – Here’s Why I Don’t

It’s the time of year for Resolutions and new starts, a clean, fresh brand new shiny year to do with what you like. Do you have a dreams or goals that you’d like to make reality? A Bucket List – a list of things to do before you die? Have you written it down, or is it just floating about in your head? Are you thinking about the things you want to do ‘one day’ or are you actively planning to do these things, making them happen? I’m a big fan of the Bucket List concept. After all, you’ve got to have a dream to make it a reality.

Why should you have a Bucket List?

For me, working with death on a day to day basis makes it even more important to have a Bucket List; a list of all the things I want to see and do in my lifetime. I am more aware than most that tomorrow is promised to none of us. In my working life I hear so many stories of lives cut tragically short, people gone too soon, those who died before they had the chance to experience all that life has to offer. Relatives regret the lost time, the missing out, the occasions that person won’t get to share. It certainly makes me acutely aware that I should get on and do things rather than wait until I retire/can afford it/change jobs or whatever other excuse I’m using to procrastinate. Because I know my life could change at any moment I treat my dreams as goals – something to actively work towards. I take steps to make them happen.

When people say to me “when I retire I’m going to…” I want to scream, “No, do it NOW!” For one thing, will you still be healthy when you retire? For another, do you want to gamble that you’ll even make retirement? None of us want to think about our own demise but it is going to happen to us all, and none of us know when that will be.

Bucket List ideas

Why I don’t have a Bucket List

So, back to my determination to dream and to achieve those dreams. Yes, I do have a Bucket List… but I don’t call it a Bucket List. For one very important reason: if I’m thinking in terms of ‘before I die’ that equates to a vague ‘one day’ at some undetermined date in the future. It’s basically an open ended wish list. I may never actually get around to doing anything on an open ended list. If, however, I attach an end date to that goal, an ‘achieve by’ date, it suddenly becomes more real and I’m more likely to get on and do it. So, I don’t have a Bucket List, instead I currently have a 50 before 50 list. It was created shortly after I successfully completed my 40 before 40 list.

How can you improve on a Bucket List?

Here’s why I think a time limited list is more effective than a traditional Bucket List:
• Being realistic – Putting an end date on the list makes me be more realistic about what I will have time to do
• Affordability – I have to be realistic about how much I can spend, or plan how I can save what I need to be able to afford to do the things I want to do
• Accountability – sharing my list makes me accountable to myself, or even to friends and family. I published my list on a blog and shared progress updates with friends via Facebook
• Focus – I have to identify on what I REALLY want to do. After all, if I can’t be bothered to put the effort into planning it I can’t really want to actually do it all that much, can I?

How to build a Bucket List

How did I build the list? I love travel, so it was tempting to fill the list with exotic destinations. But hang on, could I realistically afford that? No. So, whilst there were some big trips on the list, I also had to find things closer to home or at least less expensive. In trying to be be ambitious but ultimately realistic, I was careful about how I wrote my goals. I desperately wanted to visit Japan, but I wasn’t certain I could afford it. Instead I wrote on my list ‘Watch a Japanese tea ceremony being performed’. That way, I could either do it in Japan or find somewhere in London. This form of goal setting is, admittedly, a bit corporate. It’s those SMART objectives that rear their heads when it’s performance review time. You know – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Result-Orientated and Timebound. But it works. With a second job and some targeted saving I did afford that trip to Japan.

Inspiring others

Other items on my 40 before 40 list were much less ‘big ticket’. I challenged myself to read books I’d been saying I’d read for ages, I spent a day spoiling my Mum, I put a bet on in a betting shop (it was an experience I’d never had before). But the best thing about sharing my list was inspiring others to think about theirs. I had an email from a friend to say that she’d shared my idea with her Mum. She had gone on to create her own 60 before 60 list and, within just a couple of weeks, had visited local places she’d been meaning to get to for years. Other friends have also created their own lists; not necessarily 40 before 40, or 50 before 50, but maybe 4 before 40. I love seeing that they’ve ticked something off, and I sometimes pinch items from their lists to populate mine!

Inspiring others to achieve their dreams, as well as making sure I’m making progress on my own is one of the more positive side effects of working with death. Confronting mortality on an almost daily basis certainly makes me keen to appreciate as much of life as I can, whilst I can.

What’s on your Bucket List? What will you be ticking off in 2020?

For inspiration, to read about my 40 before 40, check out my blog here: https://chelseas40before40.wordpress.com/

And, although it might not be a ‘Bucket List’ item exactly, if you’re thinking about things to do before you die, why not also give some thought to your funeral? Contact me for a free Funeral Wishes document with advice on what to think about, or read my article on why you should be thinking about this.

Grieving at Christmas

Christmas is a challenging time for many of us: there’s pressure to enjoy yourself, to provide a good Christmas, to spend time with family and friends.  Many of us struggle with the expectation, many also feel lonely at this time of year but grieving at Christmas adds extra weight to all of this.  Christmas Wreath - grieving at Christmas For those who have been bereaved, no matter whether recently or many years ago, Christmas will never be the same again.  Whether you yourself are grieving at Christmas, or whether you’re supporting someone who is grieving this Christmas, this article may help you to cope with the festive season.

Plan ahead

Most importantly, plan ahead for Christmas. Think about where you want to be, who you want to be with, whether you do indeed actually want to be with anyone else.  You may feel like you want family and friends around you to support you, or you may instead prefer to keep things small and low key – either by yourself or with just your immediate family.  Alternatively you may want to do something completely different – to go away on holiday, or to spend the day working or volunteering.  There is no right or wrong.

Think about what you want

Similarly, think carefully through what you do and don’t want to do this Christmas, and to talk this through with your close family and friends so that they’re aware of what you want and also of how they can help you.  If you’ve got children it’s important to talk about what they want as well and to try to find a solution which works for all of you.  If they’re very young it might be helpful to let them know that it’s OK for them to enjoy Christmas even if you and others are sad.

Make plans just for this year

Don’t feel pressured by others’ expectations.  Ignore the phrase ‘you ought to’.  If you don’t feel like putting decorations up, or cooking a big Christmas dinner, or going to the party at the neighbours’, then don’t.  Remember that you’re making these decisions just for this year.  This year you are doing what is right for you right now.  Not putting up your tree this year doesn’t mean you’re never going to do it again.  It just means that you’re not doing it this year but you’ll see how you feel about doing it next year when next Christmas comes.

Christmas Memories in Winchester

Ask for help

Do ask for help if you need it, and don’t be afraid to tell people specifically how they can help you.  Whether you want someone to go shopping with you, to help you decorate your tree, to help with the cooking, to take your children out for an afternoon so you can wrap up their presents – your family and friends will want to help but may not know how, so giving them specific practical things to do will be useful for both of you.

To follow old traditions or create new traditions?

Christmas inevitably brings up many memories, good and bad.  If the anniversary of your loved one’s death is near to Christmas, or if you had special things you always did together at Christmas, these can be particularly painful.  You may want to continue with these traditions in their memory, or you may want to create new ways to remember them.  You may choose to create new traditions instead.  These might include:

  • Buying a new decoration for your Christmas tree that reminds you of them
  • Lighting a special candle during the Christmas period
  • Writing a letter to them
  • Looking through old photos, cards or letters
  • Eating or drinking something that they liked as part of a Christmas meal
  • Giving time or money to a charity, cause or project that they would have supported
  • Visiting their grave or a place that was special to them

Whether you choose to do these things on your own or to share them with others depends on how you feel.

If you are supporting someone who is grieving this Christmas

Here are a few simple things you can do to help a friend or family member who is grieving this Christmas:

  • Talk about the person who has died, because this will show that you remember them
  • Offer practical help with things like cooking or shopping.  Simple tasks can be overwhelming when you’re grieving.  If you are supporting a widowed parent with young children, offer to take them shopping so that mummy or daddy has a gift from them.
  • Invite the bereaved person to parties and gatherings as normal – but also assure them it’s OK if they don’t want to attend, or if they change their mind at the last minute.  If they say no this year, be sure to invite them again next year.
  • If you will be spending time together over Christmas, ask them whether they would like to remember the person who has died in a specific way
  • Above all, talk to the bereaved person about what they want to do at Christmas, whether and how they want to celebrate – and both listen to and respect their wishes.

Useful links

These articles may help those grieving at Christmas:

A first hand account of how a young widow copes with Christmas in her own way.

Click here for stories from 6 people about how they coped with being widowed at Christmas.

An article written by a therapist about approaches to coping with Christmas by two of his clients

Bereavement Support

You may also find the following organisations and charities can help:

Winchester Bereavement Support – a free and confidential listening service for bereaved adults in Winchester and the surrounding districts

Cruse Bereavement Care – a national organisation providing support to the bereaved 

WAY (Widowed and Young) – an organisation for those whose partner died when they were under the age of 50

Way Up – a national support group for those who were widowed in their 50s and 60s

The Compassionate Friends – a charity which provides support after the death of a child of any age

Winston’s Wish – a national charity providing support to bereaved children and their families

Memorial Services

You may wish to attend a formal service of remembrance at Christmastime. Many churches and crematoria host memorial services which are open to all.

If you would like to hold a special Memorial Service at Christmas to remember your loved one, please contact me to help you design a bespoke service.

It’s Your Funeral – funeral planning and why you should talk about it

Death is a largely taboo subject for us in the UK, yet it is part of life and will happen to us all.  Most of us have already experienced bereavement before we become adults; the death of a grandparent or a much loved family pet is a common experience for many young children.  Ultimately death is the one experience every single person on Earth is guaranteed to share.  Yet still we don’t talk about it.  But, there are many benefits to talking about your funeral and end of life wishes, and considering funeral planning – which doesn’t necessarily mean paying for your funeral.

A 2014 survey carried out by Dying Matters showed that only around 20% of adults in the UK have discussed their funeral wishes with anyone and of those adults with a partner, less than half had discussed their wishes with their partner.  Fear and superstition play a part in this:  we’re scared to talk about death in case it brings it into our lives, we’re scared we’ll upset the person we’re talking to.  But talking about death and funerals can have real benefits.  Here’s why you should be having this conversation.

Who is a Funeral for?

A funeral is not just for the person who has died, it is an important rite of passage for the bereaved too.  It’s a chance to gather together the community of those who loved, knew or will miss the person who has died, to support each other, to remember, and to say goodbye.  A funeral service (whether a ‘traditional’ service or a more informal gathering of mourners) which does these things well, which feels ‘right’ for both the person who has died and their close friends and family, can significantly benefit the bereaved.  Conversely, a funeral which doesn’t fulfil these needs can mean loved ones feel they haven’t had the chance to say goodbye in a way which is meaningful for them, and this can complicate grief.  Your family will appreciate having some guidance on your funeral wishes so that they can honour and remember you in the way you want.  It’s also helpful to leave your family some space to create their own tributes to you as well.

Decision making is difficult when we’re grieving

Arranging a funeral involves a lot of decision making, from key decisions such as whether the person is to be buried or cremated, where the service should be held, and whether to have a religious or non-religious service and what that service should include in terms of music, speakers or readings, to more minor decisions such as a choice of floral tributes, a charity for in memoriam donations, even what type of coffin to choose.  Funeral services are becoming increasingly more personal and individual as a result of a much greater range of choices available and whilst this can result in a more fitting funeral, it’s also stressful for the bereaved to be making these decisions under pressure at the time when they are least able to do so: in the emotionally charged immediate aftermath of a death.

Why should I talk about my funeral?

Talking with those you are close to about your own funeral wishes or funeral planning in advance has several benefits:

  • You have given guidance and removed uncertainty – when the time comes your family can be confident they are doing what you wanted rather than trying to guess
  • You have taken away the pressure of your loved ones having to make big decisions when they’re emotional and grieving
  • You have the chance to research options available and discuss what works for both you and those who matter to you – for example, some of your ideas may change if it’s clear after discussion that they’re not right for those you love
  • You can consider putting in place financial arrangements to cover or contribute to the cost of your funeral (if you wish to do so) with a more accurate idea of what those costs might be – or change your wishes to fit a more realistic budget
  • You will create a funeral which is right for you and those close to you – which in turn will help to deal with the effects of the bereavement
  • It’s much easier to talk about death when there’s no immediate prospect of it happening as it’s far less emotional

So, go on, be brave.  Start talking to those who are important to you about your funeral wishes and encourage others to talk about theirs with you.

Should I pay for my funeral in advance?

Funeral planning doesn’t necessarily mean paying for your funeral. You may wish to research costs and options as part of thinking about your funeral wishes but recording your wishes doesn’t have to involve buying a funeral plan. Instead, you may wish to simply put some money aside in a separate savings account and let your family know that it’s there for them at the time of need. If you do decide to buy a funeral plan, you should do your homework. A paid funeral plan is an investment and decisions about buying a funeral plan should be made as carefully as you would make any other investment decisions.

funeral planning

Where can I find out more?

If you’d like some help to think about your funeral wishes or advice on funeral planning, see further advice here or contact me

Funeral Myths

What’s True and What’s Not about Funerals?

Funeral myths and assumptions abound – partly because we just don’t like to talk about end of life and funerals.  However, death (and, by extension, the funeral) is as important a life transition as others we mark with well-planned, well-thought out ceremonies. We invest time in marking births, namings, engagements, weddings, even milestone birthdays.  Yet funerals are often the poor relation. A meaningful and appropriate funeral, one which enables mourners to say a ‘good goodbye’, has a huge impact on grieving. It is important not to underestimate the benefits of a ‘good’ funeral.  To help you think about the options and choices available, about how to create a meaningful and appropriate send off, here are some of the common funeral myths: debunked.

Who can lead a funeral?
winchester celebrant leading a funeral

Many people think that only a Vicar or a licensed officiant can lead a funeral.  This is a MYTH. A funeral is not a wedding, there are no legal requirements for a funeral service.  Anyone can lead a funeral – a minister of religion, a professional celebrant or a friend or family member of the person who has died.

Where can I have a funeral?

Funerals traditionally take place at a church or at a crematorium – but these are not the only options.  The idea that a funeral can only take place at one of these locations is a MYTH.  A funeral service is not like a wedding ceremony; the venue does not have to licensed or otherwise legally approved.  Subject to certain practical and logistical considerations (such as whether you can move a coffin into and out of the space safely and with dignity), there are many possible venues for a funeral service. These include: a hotel or hired function room, a village hall, theatre, local pub, open space, or your own home or garden.  It is also possible to have a funeral service without the coffin present, in which case you can use almost any venue.

Do I have to use a Funeral Director?

Absolutely not.  There is nothing in law to say that it is only a Funeral Director who can take care of arrangements for a deceased person.  A DIY funeral is perfectly legal, should you wish to take care of everything yourself.  The idea that you must use a Funeral Director is a MYTH.  You can be as ‘hands on’ and involved as you wish to be. 

You may choose to use the services of a Funeral Director for practicality. For example, for the care and transportation of the deceased as a Funeral Director has trained staff, specialist vehicles and temperature controlled premises.  But a good Funeral Director should be able to be flexible and allow you to ‘pick and mix’ the services you choose to use.  You can be in control of as many aspects of the funeral as you wish – including choosing your own officiant, using your own transport, supplying your own coffin, designing and printing your own orders of service.  It’s acceptable for you to ‘shop around’ for Funeral Directors – ask questions, see how flexible they are prepared to be.  You are not obliged to use the Funeral Director recommended by a care setting, for example.

Do I have to have a funeral?

The short answer is No.  The idea that you must have a funeral if a MYTH.  Legally, there is no requirement for a funeral service to take place.  In fact, the only three things you must legally do when someone dies are:

  • Register the death
  • Dispose of the body in a lawful manner (in the UK in practice this means burial or cremation)
  • Not expose the body on a public highway (so if transporting a deceased person they must be within an enclosed vehicle, or covered)

However, you may wish to consider the purposes of a funeral and who it benefits.  The burial or cremation can take place without a service, without anyone present – but a funeral service also fulfils many other purposes. A funeral remembers and perhaps pays tribute to the person who has died, but it also confirms the reality of the death for those present. It provides a rite of passage to mark the transition from life to death, enables mourners to say goodbye. It gathers together the community of those who knew the deceased to provide support and acknowledge the changed status of the key mourners. A funeral also provides comfort for the future.  The funeral service therefore benefits survivors as well as the person who has died.  Is it fair to deprive loved ones of these benefits by saying you don’t want a funeral?

How much does a funeral cost?

The idea that funerals cost thousands and thousands of pounds is a MYTH.  Some funerals do, and many people pay around £4,000 to £6,000 for a funeral, but you don’t have to.  There are many options to reduce costs, and in any case the funeral service itself is a tiny proportion of the overall cost. Engaging a minister of religion or qualified celebrant to lead a funeral service for you costs around £200-£400.

How do I know I get the right ashes back?

Crematorium regulations are very strict regarding identity, and in any case a cremator is only large enough to take one coffin at a time.  The idea that you are given some ashes but not the right ashes is a MYTH.  If you’d like to check this for yourself, many crematoria are open to having visitors and on request will be very happy to give you a tour and explain how the process works, the regulations they have to follow.  For the record, coffins aren’t reused, and the handles aren’t taken off either.  Crematoria are required by law to cremate the coffin exactly as it is received from the Funeral Director.

As a Funeral Celebrant, I am keen to encourage people to talk openly about death and funerals, to break the taboo and dispel these funeral myths.  I am available as a speaker and also run events including quarterly Death Cafes in Winchester.  For more information on what I’m involved with at the moment see my Facebook page or Contact Me.