Your funeral options
In recent years, funerals have undergone the same sort of transformation as weddings – these days, almost anything goes. The UK is no longer a predominantly Christian country and some people are choosing to avoid the religious context and opt for a ceremony which is more about the celebration of their life and lacks any god-like references. The custom of wearing black and playing sombre music is also becoming a thing of the past as is the wooden coffin and churchyard burial.
Many people want to have a say in how their funeral or celebration of life is conducted; the move away from set traditions and customs is beginning to break the taboo on the subject and introduce some healthy conversation about death and dying. Another big concern is cost. The average funeral comes in at around £5,000 which is a terrifying prospect for many people – they worry that they are leaving a huge financial burden to their loved ones. But a celebration of life or a more alternative ceremony can also help reduce costs as well as providing something much more palatable to the deceased’s family and friends. Here are some of the options you can consider whether in whole or in part when planning your end of life event and which offer an alternative to a conventional funeral:
- Direct cremations – in 2019, over 75% of funerals were cremations rather than burials and as anyone who has ever been to a cremation knows, they are pretty grim affairs. A direct cremation is done without a ceremony or the attendance of family and friends. The body is taken to the crematoria in a plain coffin and cremated at a time which suits their schedule. Family and friends can then celebrate the life of the deceased in a ceremony or event later on. This was the rock star, David Bowie’s, option for his send-off – it focuses on the upside and helps save costs too. Direct cremations are on average just over £2,000 cheaper than a standard cremation
- Celebration of life – these are ceremonies conducted by a celebrant and focus very much on the life that has just passed although there is nothing to stop any funeral ceremony focusing on the positive elements of a life well-lived
- A family-led funeral – a traditional or unconventional format with or without a civil or humanist celebrant and one that is led throughout by the family who are involved in giving eulogies and choosing music and other trappings which can be anything you want, they don’t have to revolve around the standard fare of floral tributes and generic readings. Celebrate that person’s character and enjoy the time and space to grieve openly. More formal funerals often miss the essence of the individual because they are frequently organised and conducted by people who simply didn’t know them
- Create a shrine – a shrine despite its religious overtones is just a place that people can go to remember the departed, it could be a favourite place they always loved to visit or just a quiet corner of your own garden where you can add special items and remember your loved one, perhaps plant some flowers or even a tree. For many people, this is far more enduring and personal than a plot in a churchyard and is also a great place to inter the ashes after cremation. Creating a shrine or memorial can form part of your funeral arrangements on the day or it can be something that takes place later on
To help you choose between all the different options
There is so much information available online, almost too many choices, here is a structure you can use to help you work through the different options to create a funeral or celebration of life entirely of your own choosing.
- Burial or Cremation
This is the first choice you need to make for practical reasons if nothing else. Burials and cremations can be conducted privately, they don’t have to be in the presence of a minister or celebrant and friends and family – there is no requirement for a ceremony or service. Burials and cremations can be conducted privately with a wake, a celebration of life or an event on another occasion or they can be attended just by close friends and family.
Woodland burials are becoming increasingly popular particularly amongst those who dislike the conveyer belt aspect of the busy crematorium environment. Modern crematoria are sometimes so busy that there can be quite a wait for a date for cremation too. Natural burials also suit those who are worried about the environment. You can choose a biodegradable coffin or even a burial shroud. You can be buried at sea although this is relatively unusual and not that straightforward to organise. There are three designated points off the English coastline, in East Sussex, west of the Isle of Wight and Tynemouth in the north of England. Scotland has two sites off the west coast. Usually, this is only of interest to naval families or those with seafaring connections and the regulations and rules are pretty stringent.
You have the freedom of choice to have the ceremony of your choice or no ceremony at all. The Catholic Church is very traditional and will insist on a Mass with the priest’s attendance at the burial site or crematorium. The Church of England is more relaxed and doesn’t require a church-based ceremony but will attend at a burial site including a natural or green burial location.
You don’t have to involve a member of the clergy, you can use a civil celebrant usually a member of the Institute of Civil Funerals of which there are many or have a humanist ceremony with a humanist minister presiding. A humanist ceremony is totally non-religious and celebrates the life of the person who has passed rather than focusing on an afterlife. Or you can allow family and friends to organise a service of your choice with a close family member leading the proceedings. None of them has to be at the graveside or crematoria, they can be in whatever location you want and they also don’t have to be arranged alongside the cremation or burial, they can be conducted at a later date.
All ceremonies offer the flexibility of location, of date and usually of content although some civil and humanist funerals are strictly forbidden to contain any religious references. Invite family and friends to make their own unique contribution through readings of literature and poetry and recount their own personal memories in eulogies.
Depending on the type of funeral or non-funeral you have chosen, there are different options for the location of the ashes. Some people scatter the ashes of their loved ones in a favourite spot or location which was special or significant to that person during their life. Ashes can be turned into the most beautiful memorial jewellery. You can bury or inter ashes in a garden of remembrance or a place that is special and create a memorial garden or even a shrine to that person’s memory. Some people store ashes in a decorative urn at home. If you loved the ocean, you can have your ashes turned into a concrete reef to help support the environment and marine life. Plant a tree and use the ashes mixed with other nutrients to form the soil bed for your choice of sapling.
If there is a grave then you can opt for a traditional engraved headstone but some people prefer to plant a tree; many charities have tree planting schemes to support the environment and offering people the chance to remember their loved one in a permanent way and to support a good cause which was dear to their heart. Most churchyards and graveyards will have rules and regulations on what is considered to be a suitable and tasteful memorial but once you move outside the conventional you really have the freedom to choose whatever you want.
With a little research and careful thought, it is possible to put together a funeral of your choosing which reflects your wishes and won’t break the bank. There is infinitely more variety and choice than there used to be within an arena which has scope for everyone whether you want a high church service with all the trappings or a simple humanist ceremony over a woodland burial. It’s your life!
- Burial or Cremation