Organising important events can be stressful, time-consuming and expensive at the best of times, but imagine doing it when you’re grieving and trying to find a way to cope with loss. Planning ahead will protect your loved ones at a time when they’re likely to be struggling, and it can provide peace of mind all-round knowing that everything’s already taken care of. Rather than leaving it to them, you decide what your funeral should look like, and can make it a positive, healing and celebratory experience.
Disagreements over funerals are unfortunately common, this is avoided if you’ve made your wishes clear from the off, ensuring things are done your way.
The main options to consider are burial and direct burial, cremation and direct cremation, as well as a growing number of alternative options. This decision tree will help you decide.
Burials, Cremations, Alternatives
When it comes to deciding what actually happens to you, burial and cremation are the two most common options. However, there are a growing number of alternatives that you might want to consider, many of which take environmental impact into account.
Traditional coffins contain fixtures and fittings which either don’t break down, or which can harm the environment, and embalming fluid is unsurprisingly toxic. You could opt for a woodland or green burial using an eco-friendly coffin, made from materials like cardboard, wicker or willow, and be buried without chemical preservatives in one of the country’s natural burial grounds.
Modern technology means it’s now possible to have your ashes used in 3D printing, pressed into a vinyl record of your favourite song, put into fireworks, or even processed into memorial diamonds. For a more environmental option, your ashes can be mixed with ph-neutral concrete in artificial reefs to help replenish and restore coral ecosystems. (Alternatively, if you’re drawn to the ocean but want to avoid cremation, you don’t have to have been a sailor to be buried at sea – you just need to apply.)
Less common, but also less harmful to the environment than cremation, are resomation, where a combination of water, pressure and alkali solutions reduce the body to a harmless liquid which can be scattered like ashes, or even composting, which results in an urn full of fertile soil in a relatively short space of time. Perhaps you want to give back in a different way, and had considered not just organ donation, but leaving your body to help train the next generation of medics. (You can request that you be cremated after this process, but your family should know that there’s likely to be quite a delay between them handing you over and getting you back.)
Picking a good Funeral Director and decisions you need to make e.g. coffins
The planning you’re doing now can make things easier for family and friends when the time comes, and while you don’t necessarily have to involve a funeral director, it’s important to understand what they do and why you might want to use one.
In the same way that a wedding planner can help couples organise their big day, a good funeral director will use their specialist knowledge and network to manage the logistics of your funeral, from arranging the collection and care of your body and the completion of necessary legal paperwork, to liaising with the cemetery or crematorium you’ve chosen and taking charge of the day so everything runs smoothly.
Professional industry organisations like the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) and the Association of Green Funeral Directors can provide details of their members near you. They’re all required to make their services and prices clear upfront, and it’s worth comparing things like costs, exclusions, payment schedules and even negotiating a discount, while remembering that getting a quote doesn’t mean committing to a contract.
Ultimately, people grieve in different ways, and making these preparations will help to ease that process, whatever it looks like. Finding a funeral director you trust can take the pressure off your family so they can come together and celebrate your life without having to focus on the details and potential complications of pulling it all together.
The service and wake (flowers, eulogies, cars, church v other)
Yes, your name’s on the order of service, but the day itself isn’t really all about you. Careful planning can ensure that your funeral / service is a positive and healing step for your loved ones as they grieve your loss, so put them (and your relationship with them) at the heart of each decision as you set the tone. If you think wearing black’s too maudlin, ban it. If you want a live jazz band to play you out, book one.
Depending on your other choices, the service could be in a church or crematorium, or at another venue entirely. Do you want the formality of a traditional procession, or might people be more comfortable in their own vehicles? If you’ll be in a coffin, think about who you’ll ask to serve as pallbearers (consider height, fitness and emotional resilience), and if there’s someone who would want to but can’t, think of other parts they could play in the process. Are there hymns you want, or would you rather have your favourite songs played? Do you want specific readings and a eulogy at the service, and who’s going to deliver them? (The eulogy can feel like a huge responsibility, so perhaps put some ideas together in advance to make it more personal for you, and easier for them.) Think about the colours and symbols that you want to include, and that your loved ones will know and recognise – flowers, photos or specific items can all help connect us to the times shared rather than the loss itself.
No-one’s expecting fancy-dress, shots and party games, but anything you can do to avoid the post-funeral gathering becoming hushed and sad will be worth it. Family and friends will want to contribute, so get them to help with the catering, bring cakes or bottles, decorate the venue with their favourite photos of you together, make a playlist of songs that remind them of you, and so on. Create the opportunities for your loved ones to talk, to reminisce, and to celebrate, and you’ll help them have a genuinely memorable and life-affirming experience as they say goodbye.
Things to think about and links
What’s going to happen to your things? Are there specific items you want to leave to specific people which need putting in the Will? If you rent or are in supported accommodation, there’s likely to be a time limit in removing your possessions, and this can be an unexpected stress for family and friends.
Everyday bureaucracy and life admin – closing bank accounts and things like phone contracts can be a prolonged and unnecessarily difficult process after we’ve died, so make sure you keep copies of recent bills somewhere easily accessible, and if you can write letters of cancellation in advance to help, keep them there too.
If you’re not being buried, might the family like somewhere specific to remember you – a memorial bench at a place you loved, or maybe a tree-planting somewhere personal? If you’re being cremated, is there somewhere specific you’d like your ashes scattered? (Remind them to check the weather forecast and wind direction beforehand though.)
70% of families choose cremation for their funeral in the United Kingdom.
Cremation uses intensive heat to convert the deceased person’s remains to ash, this typically takes place at a crematorium where the process takes place. There is a cremation chamber where the remains are exposed to the heat for two or three hours.
Once the cremation has taken place, the remains are cooled and converted into ashes, this is necessary as small amounts of bone will remain. The ashes are then provided to the loved ones.
A typical cremation will include a service at the crematorium, with mourners in attendance and a committal of the coffin as part of the service, where the mourners say their final goodbyes.
A direct cremation is the same as a standard cremation, however there is no funeral service, ceremony or attendees. This could be a good option for someone who wants limited “fuss” or wants to keep costs down. The ashes are returned to loved ones.
A burial can take place in a cemetery, graveyard or burial ground, with some locations offering the option to purchase a grave.
Majority of burials are accompanied by a service, with most burial grounds having a chapel or service room for this purpose, although you may also choose to have no service (see direct burial) or have it elsewhere. The service can be religious or non-religious.
Increasingly popular as an alternative to a burial ground burial, is a woodland burial, which takes place in a woodland burial ground. These have options to be both faith and non-faith directed. They are considered to be more ecologically friendly.
A direct burial is a burial of a person’s remains within a cemetery, graveyard or burial ground without a graveside service or formal funeral. They are suitable for people looking for low “fuss” or a more affordable burial option.
Donating your body for medical training is complex and it is crucial that if this is your desire you take steps to arrange this before you die. You will need to record your wishes in writing and have these witnessed, as well as inform your next of kin and executors.
This is a complex area and we recommend that you you research this in-depth is this is your preference.
Burial at home: for those that own some freehold land, burial on your own property is an option. There are a series of Government guidelines to follow.
Burial at sea: these are somewhat rare today, but are still an option for those with a strong connection to the sea. A Government licence is required.
Resomation: Less common, but also less harmful to the environment than cremation, are resomations, where a combination of water, pressure and alkali solutions reduce the body to a harmless liquid which can be scattered like ashes, or even composting, which results in an urn full of fertile soil in a relatively short space of time. This is still being developed as an option.
If you have other Alternative recommendations, please do drop us an email.
Burial at home
Home burials are not everyone’s cup of tea, but they’re an option to those who own their freehold and follow Government guidelines.