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Our guide to planning a funeral

First Weeks

In the early days and weeks after a bereavement, the process of planning a funeral can feel quite overwhelming. There can be difficult decisions to make, including honouring the wishes of the person who has died, which type of funeral service to choose, and whether to opt for burial or cremation. It can help you know what to expect, so you can make decisions that are right for you and your family.

What are my options for planning a funeral?

You will have a choice between a religious or non-religious funeral service. Anyone can legally conduct a funeral or memorial service, although a member of the clergy will usually officiate a religious ceremony, and a civil celebrant will usually officiate a non-religious ceremony (also known as a humanist ceremony).

The funeral service is followed by either a burial or cremation. Often, the person who has died will have expressed a preference for one or the other when they were alive. If not, you may wish to abide by certain religious beliefs and cultural values to help you decide.

If you have a special place where you would prefer to remember your loved one, that may influence your decision on whether to choose a burial or cremation. With a burial, there is a grave to visit and maintain. After a cremation, the ashes are returned to the family for them to keep at home or scatter at a meaningful location.

What happens at a burial?

After the funeral service, the mourners will assemble at the graveside for the burial. The grave will be prepared and ready before you arrive. A short ceremony takes place, usually led by a religious leader or celebrant. It can involve readings and prayers at the graveside. When the time comes, the casket or coffin is lowered into the ground by nominated family bearers or funeral directors. Mourners are invited to throw flowers or scatter soil onto the coffin as a final goodbye. Some people might choose to stay at the graveside for quiet reflection after the ceremony.

What happens at a cremation?

A cremation is held at a designated crematorium. Sometimes the funeral service itself is held in the crematorium, or it can take place in a religious venue. You will arrive at the crematorium at your designated time slot, and as the service starts, sometimes you will follow behind the coffin to enter the chapel and take a seat.

The moment of taking the body away for cremation is called the committal. You will be asked beforehand whether you prefer curtains to be left open, or to close in front of the coffin as it is committed. Once the coffin is taken out of view, mourners are invited to view the flowers left in memory of the person who has died before going to attend a reception or gathering.

What can I expect when planning a funeral?

As you are in the very early days and weeks of coping with grief, it’s normal to feel apprehensive and overwhelmed at the thought of planning the funeral. Go easy on yourself during this time and spend some time preparing yourself emotionally.

Your chosen funeral director can guide and support you throughout the funeral planning, including advising of the options available within your budget. They can help make sure all the necessary paperwork is completed, provide appropriate transport to and from the funeral, arrange music for the ceremony, recommend and liaise with a florist, and much more.

Following a bereavement, the stress of planning a funeral can sometimes cause conflict between family members. It can help to resolve tensions by thinking about what the person who has died would have wanted and following any instructions in the Will. You could also get an impartial opinion from your funeral director, who will have experience in supporting grieving relatives.

What else do I need to know?

The estate of the deceased can cover the costs of the funeral. The person responsible for the estate administration (usually named in the Will) will have access to the funds once probate has been completed, a process that can take several months.

A funeral service is usually held within 2-3 weeks of death in the UK, but there can be some delay if a coroner’s inquest or post-mortem is ordered.

How can I give my loved one the best send-off?

Funerals can bring together distant relatives or friends not seen for years, and in some ways, it can be comforting to know that you have all come together for the same reason: to celebrate the life of the person you loved.
You can personalise the funeral service to reflect the tastes and personality of the person who has died. Maybe you could arrange for their favourite song to play or ask mourners to wear a bright colour instead of black.

The wake is an opportunity to celebrate the life of the person who has died; to raise a toast to them and share memories and stories. Some people like to display photographs around the venue or arrange a video slideshow of happy memories. You can plan the wake in any way you choose, and after the heaviness of the day, people are often ready to give the person who has died a good send-off.