Your funeral options
Your choice of funeral will be based on a number of factors. Faith, practicality, cost and the wishes of the deceased may all be important factors in deciding what to choose. If the person who has died left instructions in their will or had a pre-paid funeral plan then making arrangements will be easier.
Before the burial there will usually be some form of ceremony. If the person who has died belonged to a religious faith, that ceremony will usually be in a place of worship. The family and mourners will then travel to the cemetery behind the hearse or other transport carrying the deceased's body.
At the graveside there will usually be another relatively brief service before the coffin (or casket) is lowered into the ground. Depending on faith or tradition, it may be usual for the family to cover the coffin with earth, or take a single handful of earth and toss it into the open grave. Usually the grave will be completely filled in only once the mourners have left.
The legacy of burial
Many people choose burial because, after the deceased's body has been buried, there remains something to visit and somewhere to pay tribute. Many find it comforting to be able to visit something as substantial as a grave; to tend it, lay flowers on it and keep it in good order.
A little while after the funeral a memorial (such as a headstone) can be erected and this will give the family of the person who has died a focal point to visit throughout their lives.
A cremation takes place at a crematorium. There will be some form of service before the cremation and this will often be held at the crematorium itself. This does not always have to be the case. The memorial service could be held anywhere, with mourners gathering at the crematorium for a brief ceremony (committal) afterwards.
Towards the end of the ceremony, the coffin is sent for cremation. How this is done varies from crematorium to crematorium but it’s usual for the coffin to be carried out of view on a conveyor belt, or downwards on a lift. For some, this moment can be particularly affecting which is why, if you prefer, crematorium staff will leave the coffin in place until all mourners have left the building. If you would prefer this to happen, please tell your funeral director.
What happens afterwards?
There are a number of options for dealing with the cremated remains, or ashes.
Natural burial sites
Natural, woodland or 'green' burial sites have become increasingly popular as environmental awareness has increased. A number of pastures and woods have become natural burial grounds, ideal for those who still wish to be buried but do not wish to choose a traditional cemetery or churchyard.
There is nothing to stop a person of religious faith choosing to be buried in such an area rather than a cemetery (indeed some woodland sites are on church ground). Not all sites are on consecrated ground, however and the family of the deceased may wish to talk to their local spiritual leader before selecting a site.
What does 'green' mean?
Natural burial sites tend to fall into two categories: those where a tree is planted but no other environmental considerations affect, and those where more rigorous conditions apply. In these latter sites, environmental considerations may be:
- The deceased's body should not be embalmed
- No non-biodegradable garments or items should enter the coffin
- The coffin itself should be of biodegradable materials and ethically sourced
Choosing a site
When selecting a site you should consider:
- What, if any, memorials are permitted
- Your ability to access the land once the funeral is over
- Whether the land is protected against any change of use
If you would like a natural burial site talk to your funeral director.
Who is entitled to a military funeral?
Anyone who dies in military service is entitled to a funeral at public expense. This is called a Service funeral. The person arranging the funeral will also receive a funeral grant.
The Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) provides the following at public expense:
- A military pattern headstone, constantly maintained (subject to certain conditions) by the JCCC (for non war graves) or the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (for War Graves); or
- An urn plot marker; or
- Entry in a Book of Remembrance
Choosing a private funeral
Servicemen and women who die in military service do not have to have a military funeral. If the person who has died (or the next of kin in the absence of any instructions to the contrary) decides on a private funeral, the MoD will provide a larger grant to help reimburse the cost. For more information for servicemen, women or their families call the JCCC on 01452 519951.
Burial at Sea
Burial at sea is something of a rarity in the UK. The practicalities of arranging such a burial are, no doubt, major factors in this, as are the cost and the limited number of locations around the UK coastline where burial can take place.
A burial at sea, whilst being subject to all the usual requirements of registration, is also subject to the requirements of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
It is DEFRA's role to ensure that there is nothing about the burial that could damage marine ecology and, crucially, that there is no chance of the deceased's body being washed back to land.
For these reasons there are a number of special considerations that apply:
- No embalming of the deceased's body is permitted (as the embalming fluid is a pollutant)
- The coffin and anything affixed to it must be biodegradable
- Nothing must be placed within the coffin other than the person who has died
- The person who has died must be dressed in biodegradable clothing (usually a cotton shroud)
- The coffin must be weighted and drilled to minimise the chances of currents bringing the deceased back to shore
- In the unlikely event this does happen, the body should be tagged to aid identification
- A licence to bury at sea must be obtained from DEFRA
- A certificate confirming the body is free from infection must be obtained from DEFRA
Not all funeral directors handle burials at sea so you should confirm with the funeral director that they will be able to carry out your wishes.
You will also need to hire a boat. Once you have found a funeral director willing to handle a burial at sea ask them to arrange boat hire as they will probably have contacts they use and trust.
Whilst you can hold a service on board the boat, the practical implications of fitting everyone on board mean some of the service on land is perhaps the more likely option. This could then be followed by a private burial at sea, attended by a limited number of family and friends.
Burial at sea can be expensive. Your funeral director will have extra work to complete and will have to pass the cost of this on. The specific considerations demand more preparation, whilst materials, boat hire and transport to the location of the funeral will all add to the cost.