Losing someone close and special to us is one of the most difficult and emotional life events we face. Whether the death of a loved one is expected or not, during a time when your grief is raw and painful, you will have the burden of organising a funeral. But what if your loved one wanted something different, such as a celebrant-led funeral?
There is nothing more certain in life than death. But even when we are prepared for this inevitable outcome, losing a loved one opens up all kinds of emotions. From relief to guilt, to a deep sense of loss, the immediate days and weeks after we lose someone are filled with a long ‘to-do’ list. On this list, alongside registering the death, is planning the funeral.
Traditionally, the funeral has followed a pattern of a service at a church or other place of worship, followed by a graveside service or a short service held at the local crematorium. Blinded by grief and the desire to get this dreadful day over and done with, we follow this path.
However, just because every funeral you have been a part of has been carried out this way, doesn’t mean it is the only way to mourn the loss of a loved and to celebrate their life and legacy. What can you do differently and what has to stay the same?
Dealing with death – what has to be done
In the UK, there are strict rules that apply when someone has died. These have to be followed. For example, you have to notify the relevant authorities that a person has died and register the death, just as the birth of a baby has to be registered.
A death has to be registered within five days (eight days in Scotland). You’ll find a helpful timeline on the UK Government website.
Arranging the funeral
A funeral is a service held to mark the end of someone’s life and if you want to and the dead person wished for it to happen, to celebrate their life and achievements.
For many people, the act of organising and participating in this farewell service is an important step in processing their grief.
Grief is an umbrella term for a swirl of emotions that can linger in our mind and heart for some time. The funeral is not the magic key to stopping grief and neither does it mean that once the funeral is over, your grieving stops.
Grief is also pressure. And that means we assume that we have to hold the funeral as soon as possible after the person has died and their death registered. But this isn’t necessarily the case.
However, before we go on to talk about time, we have the thorny issue of ‘disposing of the body’ to address.
The thing about death is that everyday life marches relentlessly on. Locked in our own emotions, we find it heartless that the world carries on spinning. The reality of everyday living cuts deep into our fragile state of mind at this difficult time.
And so it is harsh, but true, that the body of your loved one needs to be kept in such a way that it does not pose a public health risk.
In other words, you either need to cremate the body or bury it, usually in a graveyard or another place of burial that has all the right licences and procedures. There are woodland burial grounds, for example, as well as cemeteries where bodies can be interred.
We often think that when either of these things happens, we have to be there. That there has to be a church service or committal.
There doesn’t have to be a service or any kind. You can bury or cremate the body and then carry on with life. But a funeral is often the start the healing process.
This does happen but for most people, they like to hold some kind of ceremony that gives people a chance to share their memories of someone special.
What are the funeral ceremony options?
In the UK, we are not always very good at talking about death and what our wishes are. But slowly, the conversation is beginning to happen.
Religious funeral services
Many people have a faith or religion that they identify with and, along with their wishes for their remains, will often ask for a short funeral service at church or another place of worship, followed by a burial or cremation. In other words, they want the funeral procession to follow the route prescribed by their religion or faith.
Conduct the funeral service yourself
Today, funerals can cost upwards of £3,000. There are unavoidable fees, such as the death certificate, but others are fees for services paid to funeral directors.
Many people find these costs prohibitive. There are other options, such as conducting the funeral service yourself.
This can be hard to do when the person you are saying goodbye to is a close relative or friend and so it is not uncommon for someone else in the family to conduct the ceremony.
It is also hard to do when other people influence how a funeral service is carried out. In other words, relatives and friends may want the funeral to be conducted in a way that they consider ‘right and proper’, in other words following the path of church service, followed by cremation or burial. Not everyone is at ease with farewell ceremonies being carried out in different ways.
A celebrant-led funeral
Another option is a celebrant-led funeral. This is where a celebrant writes and delivers the funeral service. They will work closely with you, creating a funeral service that contains everything you want, as well as accommodating the wishes of your relative, spouse or friend.
Subject health and safety and other concerns, a funeral service like this can be held anywhere, anytime. If you want an evening ceremony with the setting sun as a backdrop, a funeral celebrant can more than likely deliver it or if you want a farewell ceremony that is both uplifting and uniquely personal and held in your garden, a funeral celebrant can deliver.
An independent celebrant will include religious readings too if that's what you would like. A humanist celebrant will not, however, as they don't prescribe to any religion or faith, an important difference between the two.
We offer a funeral ceremony writing and delivery service, as well as a ceremony organising service that frees you to grieve at your pace without the need to worry about organising the small details of the ceremony.
It is not the best phrase to use to describe this process as it gives the impression nobody could be bothered or wanted to go to the crematorium. But some people find the service at a crematorium too impersonal and difficult.
And no wonder. The local crematorium is a busy place. As you leave after the service, another set of grieving relatives are being ushered in behind. The schedule is tight, leaving little room for people to find the closure that they need.
What you can opt for is an ‘unattended cremation’. This is where the body is cremated (you’ll need to pay a fee) and you collect the ashes. You then organise a funeral ceremony and possibly scatter the ashes in a place that the person has requested. But again, you don’t have to – you can keep the ashes at home or in another location, whatever feels best and right for you.
When should you hold a funeral?
If you are burying a loved one, you will need to do this in a timely manner after their death. You could hold a family-only or small graveside ceremony to mark their burial, followed by a memorial service for wider family and friends.
When cremating a loved one, you could opt for an unattended cremation or hold a short service at the crematorium. You or a celebrant can conduct the service – you do not have to engage a local minister or another religious officiant unless your relative requested it.
You can also hold a memorial service days or weeks later. Some people hold the memorial service on the first anniversary of their loved one’s passing, for example, an opportunity to hold a ceremony that feels more personal.
Or, you don’t have to have a funeral ceremony at all. But the important point is – you can hold a funeral ceremony when you want to, providing that the official paperwork is taken care of as per the law and the body dealt with too.
What is a funeral ceremony really all about?
In essence, holding a funeral ceremony, with or without a funeral celebrant, at a time that is right for you is all about celebrating the life, achievements, and legacy of the person you have lost.
It is one of the most emotional events you will take part in. Grief and the overriding sense of loss you feel can be overwhelming, reason enough to hold the farewell ceremony that is befitting of your loved one but also right for you too.