Arrangements for the funeral ceremony
Arrange a funeral
The funeral ceremony is an opportunity to celebrate the life of the person who has died. Unless the deceased has left instructions about what they want to happen at their funeral (e.g. readings, music etc) it will be for you as next of kin to decide what sort of ceremony you feel would be most appropriate. It is perfectly acceptable to ask friends and family to assist you with the funeral arrangements. The funeral director will also be available to advise and assist in any why they are able. You'll be paying for their services, so take full advantage of their knowledge, experience and advice to arrange a funeral.
Choosing a coffin
A traditional wooden coffin remains the most popular choice, but many other types of coffin or casket are available. Some funerals (e.g. natural burials or burial at sea) demand specific types of coffin but for the majority of funerals your choice is unrestricted.
Amongst the materials you could choose are:
- Traditional wood or MDF with veneer
- Recycled materials
For those concerned about the environment, or where a biodegradable casket is a condition of burial (e.g. woodland burials) choose natural woods free from veneer or other coatings. Willow, bamboo, wicker or cardboard are ideal for this purpose.
Decorating the casket
It is still relatively uncommon although there is a growing trend of painting the whole coffin. Designs are limited only by your imagination and usually depict something appropriate to the deceased. Be aware though, that such caskets are generally unsuitable for 'green' burials due to the paint.
Preparations for the person who has died
The person who has died may have left instructions for their body to be embalmed. In the absence of any instructions, next of kin will be given this choice by the funeral director. Embalming is a process carried out by the funeral director. It involves replacing the blood of the deceased with embalming fluid. It slows the rate of decay and can help restore a natural tone to the skin. This option may be of particular appeal if the body is to be displayed. The choice of whether to embalm or not is entirely yours (subject to the wishes of the person who has died). Seek the advice of the funeral director who will be able help you decide whether embalming is the right choice for you, or offer alternatives. If you opt for certain types of funeral (natural burial or burial at sea), embalming may not be permitted.
You can dress the person who has died in their own clothes or in something provided by the funeral director. Bear in mind that not all types of clothing may be allowed, depending on the type of funeral. Your funeral director will be able to advise you further.
Talk to your funeral director about any personal items you would like to place in the coffin. Depending on the type of funeral not all items may be allowed. Crematoria, for example, will have particular restrictions. Jewellery will usually be removed from the deceased and returned to you. Again, talk to your funeral director if your wishes differ.
Time with the deceased
While the person who has died lies in rest at the funeral directors, you will usually be given access to see them whenever you need it. Inform the funeral director of your wish to spend time with the deceased. They will ask you whether you wish the casket to be open or closed and set aside an area of the funeral home to give you some privacy.
Choosing a ceremony
Your choice of ceremony can set the tone and expectation of the proceedings. Many people derive a great source of comfort from a traditional funeral but whether that funeral is a product of tradition, religious faith or personal belief, it will still have the power to uplift, console and comfort.
The wishes of the person who has died
If the deceased left instructions regarding their funeral, you should find them and carry them out. Give a copy to your funeral director too and this will help to arrange a funeral which respects their wishes and requirements.
The funeral director will contact your choice of minister or celebrant. If you have a faith but do not have a particular minister in mind, the funeral director will contact a minister or celebrant of your chosen faith. The minister may contact the family to discuss the arrangements, talk about the person who has died and learn more about your wishes. If you would like particular readings, hymns or other songs, you should inform the minister and your funeral director. Be aware that many hymns have multiple tunes so be sure to explain which version of the hymn you would like.
Non religious ceremonies
Those without any particular faith or those with a belief system different from the regular religions can hold a civil funeral ceremony. Your funeral director will be able to contact a civil celebrant on your behalf. The celebrant will be able to discuss with you, your funeral options. Since even the most unreligious funeral will often be attended by mourners who do have some form of faith, a period of silence will usually be announced, during which the congregation can contemplate their own thoughts or make a silent prayer according to their own beliefs. You can learn more about civil funerals from the British Humanist Association or the Institute of Civil Funerals.
Timing the funeral
The date and time of the funeral are yours to choose, but your choices will be influenced by certain practicalities. The funeral cannot be held until the death has been registered and the 'green form' received. If the coroner has carried out a post-mortem the funeral cannot be held until either an Order for Burial or a certificate of cremation (instead of the green form) has been issued. Even with the paperwork in place your funeral director, chosen venue and minister or celebrant will all need to be available on the same day at the same time. Your funeral director will make these arrangements, but it is always easier to arrange times earlier or later in the day as most funerals take place around the middle of the day. If the vast majority of mourners are local, and would be able to attend a funeral at any time, this may be worth bearing in mind to ensure you get the time, venue and minister you want.
Setting the tone
The tone and mood of a funeral is set by the family, the ceremony itself and the wishes of the person who has died. It is not uncommon for a person who has died to leave instructions for a ‘happy’ funeral. They might ban the wearing of black. They may select up-tempo or even humorous music. The eulogy, too, may be as uplifting or amusing as it is sad.Some would wish to treat the occasion with solemnity; others as a celebration. Religious faith, personal beliefs or a lack of faith may all influence the way a person views death, and the way that person feels the ceremony should proceed. There is no right or wrong way to treat a funeral. Your wishes, and those of the deceased, are paramount and you can choose to remember the person who has died in whatever way you choose. That said, if you are planning something out of the ordinary then it is wise to let the mourners know in advance of the day. Whilst it is your occasion to organise, other mourners are attending because they too wish to celebrate or reflect on the life of the deceased. Finding the funeral to be very different from the one they were expecting could distress them further at a difficult time. Talk to your funeral director about the ceremony you wish to have. The funeral director will work on your behalf to ensure it meets your wishes.
Writing and delivering a tribute
A tribute, or eulogy, is a part of the funeral service in many faiths, and is equally a part of services where no particular faith is represented. The tribute is delivered either by the minister or celebrant, by a member of the family or a close friend.
Tribute by minister or celebrant
If the person who has died was closely linked to a particular place of religious worship, it is likely the minister will know much about them already. The minister will ask you, as next of kin, for additional details so that s/he can deliver a heart-warming and personal summary of the deceased's life. If the minister or celebrant did not know the deceased personally, their tribute will be composed entirely of stories and anecdotes passed on by you and your family.
A Personal Tribute
Many people choose to deliver the tribute themselves. This ensures a personal connection with the eulogy that an unfamiliar minister or celebrant may be unable to offer.
What you put into a tribute is entirely your choice. Do not feel that you have to stick with tradition or convention. There is nothing wrong with some gentle humour or even hearty laughter when appropriate.
Many tributes are a brief summary of a person's life. They name some of the key people gathered in the congregation and their impact on the deceased (or vice versa). They use anecdotes to capture the deceased's personality and they frequently end with a heartfelt farewell.
Although delivering a personal tribute can be emotional and at times quite difficult, it can also help the bereaved to know that someone who truly knew the deceased is sharing their thoughts and feelings about them. It is advisable to have a person ready who also has a copy of the tribute and is ready to take over from you should the emotion prove to difficult for you to continue.