Planning a funeral for a loved can be even more stressful if you don’t know where to start. You are grieving, you are planning your last goodbye and you want it to be perfect. One experienced funeral celebrant has collated a step by step checklist to help guide you through this difficult time.
The daunting prospect of planning a funeral for a loved one at one of the most difficult times in your life breaks down into a simple checklist taking you through everything from selecting someone to officiate the memorial to choosing readings and considering transportation for the mourners.
Before you start planning, read through this checklist first to ensure you have everything to hand. There is no rush, get a cup of tea, take a deep breath, and make yourself comfortable. Take half an hour to sit and read it through, take one step at a time.
Before you start planning a funeral or celebration of life, you will need a death certificate. This will be supplied by the hospital or the doctor attending at place of death. Once you have this you will need to register the death at the local Register Office. You will need to make an appointment.
At the time of registering the death you will be able to obtain copies of the death certificate, do it at this time, it is cheaper and you will need them! The registrar will give you the paperwork required for the funeral director to collect the body.
It may be that your loved-one had a pre-paid funeral plan and therefore, the choice of Funeral Director may already have been made - time to check! If not, ask friends and relatives for personal recommendations of local funeral companies.
Think about your preferred funeral date and time, how much you would like the Funeral Director to be involved and the type of funeral service you would like.
Now is the time to think about what type of funeral you want to organise. Will it be a cremation, a green burial or a traditional burial for example?
Depending on the area you live in, the cost may be the deciding factor on the type of funeral. In the UK the average cost of a burial plot is between £750 and £950; whereas an ash plot is £450.
There are many caskets to choose from, wooden, willow, bamboo, wool and so on, costing from £300 up to £9,000.
Cremation urns come in all shapes, sizes and materials; they can be plain or ornate. Your decision may depend on whether you are scattering, burying or keeping them!
Your decision of where to have your loved one interred will depend on whether you have a traditional burial in your local graveyard, a woodland burial or something else. You will find below some resources to help you source a location for your loved-one. Whatever you choose is as it should be - it is just that, your choice.
There are a number of different types of funeral service available to you including religious, spiritual, humanist and military. Your decision as to the type of ceremony you would like will lead to further choices e.g. if a military service is appropriate, do you need to contact the regiment and will a bugler place the last post?
Your choice of type of ceremony will also lead to the type of officiant you would like to lead the service e.g. an independent Celebrant is the best choice for a Celebration of Life at the crematorium with a little nod to religion out of respect to certain mourners.
You may want to choose a special set of clothes for your loved one or you may decide you want them to be dressed in a silk or cotton shroud. If you choose a woodland burial you will need clothes made from natural fibres.
If you have a religious service you will have the relevant religious minister lead the service and should contact them for their availability.
You also have the option of a Humanist or an Independent Celebrant who will write a uniquely personalised service and attend at your choice of location to lead the service for you.
Music will largely depend on the person who you are commemorating and the type of funeral ceremony you are planning for them.
If it is a church burial, the minister may now allow “The Rolling Stones” for example, whereas if it’s a celebrant-led service, any kind of funeral music goes! Speak to your officiant leading the service and they will best advise you.
At the heart of a funeral ceremony is the personal story of the person who is being commemorated. A eulogy can include a loving and respectful recognition of their achievements, the effect they had on the lives of others and what they will be most remembered for. The tone of the eulogy is totally up to you and should be written with the guidance of your celebrant or minister.
There are so many beautiful readings and poems suitable for a funeral or Celebration of Life, but the most important thing is to make them appropriate to the person you are saying goodbye to.
You may wish to write your own poem, read lyrics from your loved one's favourite song or share some funny memories with the other mourners. No two funerals are the same.
You or family members may decide you want to do a reading at the service. A funeral can be an overwhelming occasion, so share the wording with your officiant who will be ready to take over should emotion render you unable to continue.
Your Funeral Director will be able to arrange to print orders of service for you. Should you want to type your own orders of service and have them printed, then this is perfectly fine too. Some people like to include a photo of their loved one, so now is the time to think about what image you would like to share.
Whilst looking for a photo for the order of service, you might also like to share with the mourners some images showing the person’s life from childhood to present day. These are generally also placed next to the flowers at the end of the service for everyone to view.
There are two types of funeral transportation to consider - that of your loved one and that of the chief mourners.
As well as a motor hearse, you may have the option of a horse-drawn carriage to transport the casket.
Will you ask the Funeral Director to provide official cars to take you to the ceremony, or will you and your family make your own way to the service location?
Increasingly people choose to make donations to a charity, however flowers are still an important part of the service. Be it traditional or contemporary, you have what you want and ensure you communicate your decision to all attending the service.
If you need a gravestone, check with the graveyard what is allowed, some have restrictions on stone colour and wording. Prices for gravestones and memorial plaques differ, these are not placed on the day of internment so you can take time to shop around.
There may be offers from family members, and in the case of a military funeral the pallbearers might be decided fro you, but as an experienced funeral celebrant, I would always suggest you leave this to the professionals so that all runs smoothly on the day.
Will you have a get together after to share memories and raise a glass to your loved-one? If so, remember to add this at the end of your order of service or ask your celebrant to announce it at the start.
This is not an exhaustive list to planning a funeral, but the most important thing is that you have now made a start.
Remember, there is no wrong or right way to commemorate your loved one, whatever feels comfortable to you IS the correct way. Just as no two people are the same, so the service that remembers them is different too.
Further information on green burials please see:
Wendy Sherwood is a professional celebrant based in Malaga, Spain, composing, writing and delivering unique funeral and wedding ceremonies.
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