FAQ about funerals

What happens at a funeral? The Funeral Director will be able to give you more detailed information about what exactly will happen on the day of the funeral.  There are different arrangements for each crematorium, so the following information is only a guide.

How is a non-religious ceremony different from a church service? The Church of England Funeral Service follows a traditional pattern of prayers, psalms and hymns. Click here for more information. A civil ceremony may still follow the pattern of giving words of comfort for those who have been bereaved (for example, through poetry which expresses loss or farewell), the telling of the story of the person’s life, listening to specially chosen music, perhaps singing a familiar hymn or other song, and hearing from those who knew the deceased best. Usually, the ceremony is entirely focussed on the person who has died rather than being a time for prayer or scripture. It will be reverent and solemn, and is not likely to be frivolous, despite the phrase “celebration of a life”, which some have taken to understand as aiming for an inappropriately jolly, upbeat occasion.

How does the coffin arrive at the crematorium? The coffin will be transported from the Chapel of Rest in a hearse. Usually, the hearse will go first to the house (either the house of the deceased, or that of the immediate family) and then lead the way to the crematorium in a cortege. Close family may travel to the funeral in a car (limousine) provided by the Funeral Director, or they can make their own way to the crematorium. NB The more cars you have, the more it will cost.

Do we go straight into the crematorium chapel or wait outside? Usually, the mourners will wait outside the crematorium, until directed to enter by the Funeral Director. They follow the coffin, with the immediate family leading the way, and are shown to their seats. (In a church, it is more common for the mourners to take their places inside, and then stand for the arrival of the coffin.)

What is it like inside a crematorium chapel? Each one is different, but usually the chairs are set out in rows like a church. There may be a cross at the front, which can be taken down by special request. The coffin will rest on a stand at the front (called a catafalque). Often, there are curtains, which can close in front of the coffin at the end of the ceremony, or at the “committal”. Sometimes, as at Carmountside Crematorium in Stoke-on-Trent, there are no curtains, but the coffin can be made to sink down into its stand. (The family can choose whether this will happen, and whether the curtains will close or remain open.)

See images and addresses of some local crematoria here.

Vale Royal interior

Vale Royal

Macclesfield interior


crewe-crematorium interior


Bradwell interior (1)


Will we see the actual cremation? No, the cremation takes place after the end of the ceremony, and when the mourners have left. The coffin will be moved to another part of the building for the cremation process – the curtains closing are symbolic of the body being laid to rest.

Is it OK to cry? It is perfectly OK to cry, and no one would be surprised if you were upset. On the other hand, no one would think anything of it if you didn’t cry. Everyone expresses their grief in different ways. Some people may feel they have to be strong, or that tears are for a private time, or simply that their grief isn’t showing itself in that way. There is no right or wrong.

Should I wear black? Many people wear dark, fairly formal clothes as a mark of respect to the deceased. However, there is no requirement to wear black, and sometimes the family will request that everyone should come in bright clothes so that the mood is not too sombre.

What happens at the end of the service? If the body is to be cremated, the Celebrant will say some words of committal, and the curtains may close. After a few final words, the Celebrant will bow towards the coffin, and lead the way out of the chapel. Specially chosen music will be playing. The immediate family follow first, and may stand outside the chapel to exchange a few words with each of the guests as they leave. Sometimes there is only one doorway into and out of the chapel, but usually there will be a separate exit for the guests’ departure.

If there is to be a burial, the coffin will be carried out, and the mourners will follow it to the grave.

Do people meet up after the ceremony? Often, the family will make arrangements to provide some refreshments for those attending the funeral. This might be at the house, or at a nearby pub or club. A “wake” is one way to describe this gathering, which might last for half an hour, or for several hours – it depends on what the family decide to do. If everyone is to be invited, the Celebrant will announce this within the ceremony, or there might be an invitation and directions printed on the Order of Service.

Who can attend a funeral? Unless the funeral has been described as “private”, it is open to anyone to attend. Even if you did not know the deceased person, you may wish to be there to show support for your bereaved colleague or friend. If you are not close family, sit a little way back from the front, leaving the first two rows for immediate relatives. On the other hand, if there are only a few other people there, do not sit at the very back.