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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Writing a fitting tribute for a lost family member or friend can be hard, especially at a time when you might be grieving too. Here are some tips to get you started.
A eulogy is a short speech given at a funeral or memorial service for a person who has died. The tradition originates from ancient Greece, and the word literally means “praise”. The key is to write the eulogy in a way that does their life justice and respects their loved ones’ memories and feelings of grief.
Speaking about someone who has died in front of their family and friends is a courageous thing to do. If you feel daunted by the prospect, ask people around you for support. While a close relative or friend usually writes the eulogy, it can also be delivered by an official, such as a religious leader. Do what feels right and keep it flexible. For example, if you want to write the eulogy but worry about breaking down in tears, ask someone else to be on standby to read it for you if need be.
Introducing yourself in relation to the person you are remembering can be a good place to start. Describe what they meant to you, and what qualities defined them in your eyes. This will establish a connection with other people at the service and put you in the picture for those who might not know you very well.
When thinking about how to write a eulogy, it’s a good idea to structure it with a beginning, a middle and an end. And while it is not the same as an obituary, it usually includes brief aspects of the late person’s life, such as their early beginnings, their education and career, and particular skills, achievements or interests. Saying something specific about their family life, and mentioning their partner and/or children by name, can feel particularly important to their closest relatives.
Just like our relationships with a particular person differ, so do our feelings about them when they die. To make sure you write a eulogy that will feel meaningful to others, ask a few close friends or relatives to contribute by sharing a favourite memory, a story, or anecdote. A range of perspectives will enrich your speech and help strike the right tone right with your audience. You might also discover a true gem in the process, like a beautiful quote that perfectly captures your loved one’s personality, qualities, and quirks.
Some eulogies are very brief and there are no set rules for length, but 3-5 minutes is common. Make it long enough to properly honour the person and say what needs to be said, in proportion with the rest of the funeral service. To get it right, try reading your eulogy out a few times while timing yourself and editing accordingly.
It is possible to talk about someone’s achievements and qualities without glorifying them and mention shortcomings or disappointments in a kind and accepting way. None of us are perfect, and we remember those we have lost in all their human complexity. Follow your instincts, even using some gentle humour if it feels right and relevant. And if you’re not sure, ask someone else for their honest feedback before you finalise your eulogy.
Ending a eulogy on the right note can be tricky. One option is to finish with a poem or quote that feels consoling and meaningful, even if it happens to come from a movie such as Star Trek or Lord of the Rings! You might find inspiration in famous eulogies, such as Matthew’s tribute to his partner Gareth in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Oprah Winfrey’s speech for Rosa Parks, Mona Simpson remembering her brother, Steve Jobs, or in books and online quote collections.
One of our favourite lines about death comes from the poet Edith Sitwell: “Love is not changed by death, and nothing is lost, and all, in the end, is harvest.”