What kind of funeral is right for us?

If you would like an editable checklist showing choices for your own funeral, you can download a draft version here, which you can adapt as appropriate before completing: When the time comes to say goodbye

What are the options for arranging a funeral? Here are some examples of how some different families chose to say goodbye to a loved one.

When Harry Frost’s family visited the funeral director to discuss the arrangements for his funeral, they were told about the various options open to them. The funeral director asked whether they would like a church service or a ceremony at the crematorium. They explained that they were not church-goers and would be happy with a non-religious funeral. The funeral celebrant contacted them by phone, to arrange a meeting at their home so that they could choose the words to be spoken and music to be played. The celebrant prepared a tribute that gave a picture of Harry’s life, based on the family’s memories and words from letters of sympathy, and she suggested some poetry readings that would be appropriate. Members of the family were invited to take part, by sharing their own memories, reading a poem or leading the singing, but they decided that they would prefer the celebrant to lead the whole ceremony. The service at the crematorium lasted for about twenty five minutes, and was followed by a gathering at a local restaurant.

Cheryl Thompson’s mother Iris had been a regular church goer all her life, and the family were quite certain that she wanted a religious funeral, ideally conducted by her local vicar whom she had known for fifteen years. When the time came, the funeral director asked the family about who they wanted him to contact, and he phoned the minister and arranged for him to visit the family, to choose hymns and music. The church service lasted about an hour, and was attended by many people who had known Iris from church or as a friend. Afterwards, the immediate family went to the crematorium for a short committal ceremony (ten minutes) and then returned to a hotel to meet the other mourners for refreshments, and to share memories of her mother.

Brian Hanley’s wife was certain that she did not want any kind of religious ceremony for him, and although her daughter in law would have preferred a traditional church service, they held a non-religious ceremony at the crematorium chapel. The service was led by a family friend who was a headteacher, and who felt confident enough to introduce two other speakers, who read poems and a tribute to Brian. The family decided against singing any hymns but when the curtains closed, the organist played Abide with Me softly in the background, and mourners were invited to say their own prayers as the music played. At the chapel, the attendant showed the friend who was leading the ceremony how to make the music play and the curtains close, and reminded him of the need to finish within the time allowed. The family did not feel that they would have needed a minister or celebrant to carry out this role.

Philip and Donna were distraught when their eldest son was killed in a car crash. They wanted to be able to feel that they had carried out the wishes he would have had but had no way of knowing exactly what he would have chosen. Their other children had various different ideas – one daughter wanted a woodland burial, the other daughter thought a cremation followed by a scattering of ashes by firework was appropriate, and their youngest son felt that a traditional church service would be the most reverent approach and that the others’ ideas were disrespectful. Although the family did not argue, it was clear that they held widely differing views. After much discussion about how to accommodate all these wishes, the funeral director advised them that the final decision lay with the person arranging and paying for the funeral – in this case, the parents. Philip and Donna decided to ask the funeral director about the options, and in the end they requested a local minister to lead a religious service in the crematorium chapel. The minister did not know their son, but Philip read out a tribute that he had written, with input from the other children. Three days later, when they collected the ashes, they took them to a favourite woodland spot, and a family friend led a short memorial service before the ashes were scattered beneath an oak tree, and flowers strewn above them. Afterwards, they discovered that there are certain regulations prohibiting the scattering of ashes in public places but as the deed had been done, and no one nearby had been disturbed by the action, the family felt no regrets that they had unwittingly contravened regulations.

Tom and Becky knew that Tom’s father was not religious. He was 97 and had no remaining family other than Tom, and no friends likely to attend a ceremony. Tom and Becky decided that they would mark the funeral by holding a short ceremony in their own home, to where the coffin had been brought that morning by the funeral director. Tom read a poem, they lit a candle, and played two favourite pieces of music as they looked through the pages of the photo albums. Then, as Tom and Becky stood by the door, the funeral director returned the coffin to the hearse. Tom placed his hand on the coffin, and said a final goodbye. The funeral director then took the coffin direct to the crematorium with no further committal service. (“Committal to hearse”)

Fran’s mother had many friends but was not religious. When she died, Fran decided to contact a funeral celebrant, and to devise a send-off for her mother that matched her mother’s own interests – golf, gardening and light opera. The funeral director was not able to recommend anyone that he knew first-hand, so Fran looked at the www.funeralcelebrants.org.uk website and found the names of several local celebrants and ministers. She contacted one celebrant direct, and explained what kind of ceremony she would like. On the morning of the full ceremony, the funeral directors took the coffin to the crematorium, and the immediate family attended a short committal ceremony, led by the celebrant. Readings were given by two friends. Later that afternoon, the ashes were collected, and at five o’clock, family and other mourners assembled at the golf club for a formal memorial service. The urn of the ashes was on a table surrounded by flowers, and the celebrant led a ceremony which included the tributes, readings and a time for quiet reflection. Then a slide show of photographs was shown, accompanied by music previously chosen by Fran’s mother from Gilbert and Sullivan productions in which she had performed. Mourners were invited to write a message of their favourite memories of the deceased, and to place them in an envelope to be buried with the ashes in Fran’s garden. Finally, each person present was given a daffodil bulb, and asked to plant it in a corner of their garden or a hedgerow where they would see it bloom next spring.