If there has been time, and if any thought has been given to the wishes of a loved one before they depart, you may have a written record or just be aware of the wishes of the deceased. Any preferences they may have had for the funeral ceremony, music or readings. They may even have put a funeral plan in place in which case the arrangements will be considerably easier. However, if you are not sure about their wishes, there are many decisions you will need to come to from choosing the type of funeral, where to have the funeral right through to any readings and the choice of music.
Generally, funerals are arranged via a funeral director. Some people put great store in the assurance that comes from belonging to a professional organisation. The two main associations for funeral directors are the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) and the Society of Allied & Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF). Both these organisations have codes of practice and ensure that any dissatisfaction is dealt with correctly. Membership of these associations guarantees a professional set up, although the length of time a business has been operating is also a good indication. Many funeral directors are family run businesses that have been passed down through generations.
Funeral directors and their staff will be sensitive to how you may be feeling and you will be paying for their help and guidance, so use them to the full and ask as many questions as you want. They are experts in all aspects of arranging a funeral and will guide you through the decisions to be made.
It is possible however to arrange a funeral without the help of a funeral director, but most people find it easier to ask professionals to take care of all the necessary practicalities for them.
You may want to be involved in a particular aspect of the care of the deceased or funeral arrangements without having total responsibility. Wherever they can help with individual arrangements they will, provided you let them know your wishes.
There are many practical issues that you might want to consider before deciding to arrange a funeral yourself so do think very carefully before deciding on this route.
If you haven’t been to a funeral before it can be quite daunting, even if you are not immediate family. If you have arranged a burial preceded by a ceremony in a religious building or cemetery chapel, then people will gather in the building first for the minister to lead the service. The coffin will then be taken to the churchyard or cemetery and everyone will follow and stand around the grave as the coffin is lowered.
The minister will say some appropriate words at this time and afterwards the family and mourners may throw some earth into the grave before they depart. In some cultures it is traditional for the family to fill the grave with earth – it is important that the funeral director knows and can inform the cemetary staff of this in advance.
Sometimes the whole service is conducted at a graveside and if this is the case, do consider whether any chairs are needed for elderly or disabled people who may find it difficult standing for so long.
If it is to be a cremation any form of ceremony can take place at the crematorium within the time allowed for each funeral, which is usually between 30 and 45 minutes. Alternatively, a service may take place in any separate building, such as a hotel, hall or place of worship, followed by a short ceremony, or a committal, at the crematorium. You could have the committal at the crematorium before a more public event following the crematorium ceremony.
The mourners will usually gather at the crematorium in the waiting room or close to the entrance of the chapel a few minutes before the appointed time of the funeral service.
When the main family members are ready, the coffin will be taken into the chapel by the funeral director’s staff, unless family bearers are helping to carry the coffin. The coffin will be placed on a bier in the chapel and the ceremony will start.
Different crematoria have different arrangements for the moment in the ceremony when the coffin is traditionally removed from view. For example, in some curtains surround the coffin, or the coffin slides through a door at the front of the chapel and in others it is lowered through the floor. It is possible for the coffin to remain in place until after mourners leave if this is what the family prefer. The committal usually takes place fairly near the end of the ceremony.
Usually the person leading the service will invite mourners to join the family for any refreshments that have been arranged and at the close of the ceremony the funeral director will indicate the door out of the chapel. Any flowers are usually placed on display and there is a brief period where mourners can express their sympathy to the immediate family.
A ‘green’ funeral is a term often used to describe a simple ceremony followed by burial in a grave in a woodland or meadowed area. Often for these funerals the use of a cardboard or other form of biodegradable coffin is considered more environmentally friendly than using wood.
Woodland burial sites usually plant trees or wild flowers on or near graves instead of having a headstone, eventually turning the site into permanent woodland, providing a habitat for wildlife and woodland walks. A record is kept of all grave locations, often marked with a microchip. A new tree does not always mark graves but the whole area is eventually turned into natural woodland.
There are approximately 200 such sites across the UK, run by a variety of individuals and organisations such as farmers, local authorities, wildlife charities and private trusts. Funeral ceremonies at these sites can take whatever form you prefer, either conducted by a religious minister or a celebrant.
It is important to check the deceased’s papers to find out if they have already purchased a grave space in a churchyard, cemetery or woodland burial ground. Although there is no law preventing burials on private land, including a garden, if you want to do this you should contact your local authority who may issue a certificate confirming that the burial is lawful.
It is also important to consider whether this land will remain in the family for perpetuity and to ensure that no water courses or other utility mains will be affected – the local authority can advise you. More than two burials on private land might be considered ‘change of use’ and planning permission might be required.
If you need any further information or have any questions, the funeral director will be happy to help you.
If you decide to use a funeral director they will guide you through a number of decisions. The most important thing is that you take all the time you need to reach a decision. Do not be embarrassed to discuss any of these issues with the funeral director, as they understand that many of us have no knowledge of funerals until we have to take responsibility for arranging one.
There are many decisions to be made, but you will probably find that you intuitively know the answers to many of the questions the funeral director asks. Other family members and friends will contribute their knowledge and ideas too. It can be helpful to listen to the views of people of the same generation as the person who died especially if the person who died did not talk about what they would have wanted during their lifetime.
Planning for a funeral service is usually an unsettling, stress filled and possibly expensive experience – particularly if, as is often the situation, you will be making the necessary arrangements for a cherished one that has fairly recently passed away. Quite a few individuals depart this life without stating their clear preferences – with regard to burial or cremation, for instance, or even what hymns or songs they desire played at their own funeral- consequently, for those remaining, there might be extra worry around whether the preparations are exactly what the deceased would have wished. With forward planning, organising a funeral could be reasonably priced and fairly stress free.