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.