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.