Image kindly provided by Richard Adams
After a loss...
Arranging a funeral
Organising a funeral
Sooner or later, each one of us will die. Our own funeral will be the last occasion at which we will be physically present and when our relatives and friends will say their final ‘farewell’ to us. Whether we are facing our own death or of that of someone we love or respect, the funeral is a special occasion and needs to be organised with care.
Below you will find some useful notes to help you organise a funeral. Please also see our detailed guide, kindly provided Rev Dr Peter Jupp.
The purpose of a funeral
The funeral has five main purposes:
To dispose of a dead body in a way that shows respect for the person who has died
To address the facts of the particular death and the loss it has caused
To commemorate, with words and music, the life of the person who has died, giving thanks for their achievements, their character and their experiences
To symbolise the transition of the person who has died to a life beyond, according to their religious beliefs, or to symbolise the ending of a life for one who had no belief in life after death
To help the bereaved to come to terms with their loss and prepare for a future without the one they loved.
Arranging a funeral
Most people seek the help of a funeral director. You do not have to wait until you have registered the death before you contact a funeral home. The funeral director will take care of all the practical arrangements for the funeral, from arranging the transfer of the body from the hospital to the funeral home or to your own home if you prefer. There, if you wish, relatives and friends may be invited to pay their respects to the deceased.
You do not have to use a funeral director, a religious representative or to have a formal service in a place of worship or crematorium, if that is your preference. For Civil Celebrant and Humanist funerals, see below.
There is also the option of a ‘direct cremation’ which has become more attractive recently because of COVID-19 restrictions. It is also less expensive than a normal funeral. If you would prefer not to accompany the coffin to the crematorium and want to dispense with any ceremony there, you may ask your funeral director to take the coffin directly to the crematorium. The cremation will take place at a time of the crematorium’s choice but you will be informed when the cremation will take place so that you may, if you wish, mark the moment wherever you are. The ashes can be returned to you if you wish to bury or scatter them elsewhere. Otherwise they will be scattered at the crematorium. You can organise hospitality for friends and relatives at a time of your choosing, subject to complying with COVID-19 legislation and guidance.
You may prefer a DIY funeral. These are uncommon but, again, less expensive than a normal funeral. In addition to the normal paperwork (as above), you (or the person responsible for arranging the funeral) will need to contact the hospital or care home to arrange to collect the body and have it driven home. You will need to buy a suitable coffin and look after it until the funeral. You will need to contact your chosen burial ground or crematorium and, if you wish, arrange for a minister or celebrant. More information can be found from the Natural Death Centre (details below).
Funeral choices and important decisions
Several types of funeral are now available. Formerly, nearly all funerals were religious ceremonies. You can now choose, for example, between religious or non-religious funerals, a ‘green’ or woodland burial and a ‘direct’ cremation. Today, more than three-quarters of families ask for the ashes to be collected from the crematorium and buried or scattered at a place of their own choosing, on a separate occasion, in formal or informal ceremonies. Some people may wish to be buried beside or near a predeceased spouse, partner or other relation.
If you have a connection with a place of worship or with a religious organisation, ask what services and facilities can be offered. Most religions follow certain rituals for funerals.
The funeral director will be ready to discuss all the choices with you and help you to make decisions. It is likely that both the representative of your faith and funeral directors will be willing to visit you at home.
For a list of useful contacts, including details of HM Coroners, Registrars and funeral directors you can follow these links for Leicester and Leicestershire and Rutland. Leicestershire is a very multicultural county with people from many different nationalities and religions. Many funeral directors listed in Leicestershire will therefore offer their services for different religions, but you will also be able to find those who specialise.
The choices to be made
The funeral is not only for the person who has died but for the survivors, so family preferences may need to be taken into account in the decisions you make. Often, the person who has died will have provided some wishes before their death: as to burial or cremation, which cemetery or crematorium, which friends should take part or give a tribute, what selection of music and readings, the final resting place for their ashes etc. These wishes may have been set down formally in a will or in ‘a declaration of wishes’, so these need to be checked first. Note that you can leave a request about the funeral in your will but it is not binding on the executors and there may be a problem if no-one looks at the will before the funeral.
Depending on your beliefs, some of the choices include:
A burial or cremation?
Which crematorium or burial ground?
Whom do you wish to lead the ceremony, and whom would you invite to take part?
Which prayers, hymns, songs and instrumental music?
If there is a burial, when and how quickly should it occur? What sort of memorial should there be on the grave?
Is there to be a memorial service at another time to enable people who were unable to attend the funeral to take part?
If you choose a cremation, what is to be done with the ashes? At the crematorium, would you like to book ‘a double slot’ (for an additional fee), giving you more time for the ceremony and avoid overlapping with previous or following funeral parties?
If the funeral takes place in a church, should the coffin be placed on the catafalque before the mourners enter or after the congregation has assembled inside the chapel?
Would you prefer the curtains to close after the words of committal have been spoken by the minister/celebrant, or kept open until all have left the chapel?
You might wish to go online to compare the costs between different funeral directors and crematoria. A number of online comparison websites exist. You should feel free to discuss costs with your funeral director.
When you have made your decisions, ask for a written estimate. Note that the written estimate will have two parts, the funeral director’s professional fees and the disbursements:
The funeral director’s professional fees. These normally include the use of the hearse and limousines, the cost of the selected coffin, the care and preparation of the body, attendance of bearers and all the preparations necessary for the funeral service.
The disbursements. These will always include the items paid by the funeral director to others on your behalf: the fee for the cremation medical certificate; a minister or celebrant’s fee; the cemetery, churchyard or crematorium fee. Other, optional, items may include flowers, newspaper notices, catering, the printing of orders of service and of acknowledgement cards. Funeral directors may ask for payment of the disbursements in advance of the funeral.
If you receive state benefits, such as housing or council tax benefit, you may be eligible for a funeral payment from the Government’s Social Fund to help payment towards the funeral. This will contribute towards the costs of a simple yet respectful, low-cost funeral, but there will always be a shortfall between the total cost of the funeral and how much the Government fund will pay. A claims form (SF200) must be completed within three months of the person’s death and can be obtained online at www.gov.uk or from your local Citizens Advice.
If the person who has died was under state pension age, you may qualify for the Bereavement Support Payment. This is a tax-free payment of £2,500 or £3,500 depending on whether there are children. To be eligible, the person who has died must have been the husband, wife or civil partner of the applicant and must have paid enough National Insurance contributions whilst they were working. You can check your eligibility by visiting www.gov.uk, by visiting your local Jobcentre Plus or by calling the Bereavement Service on 0845 606 0265.