More About Funerals

It is important to make a person’s final ceremony appropriate to their life and nature. Whilst others in the family and circle of friends may well have religious convictions, it is better to be honest to the life that we are there to celebrate.

RoseMaking a funeral without God is not unusual, it has been done for many years, indeed many thousands of years. If the ceremony is right for the person being honoured, then it cannot be wrong for anyone else that attends. In each funeral, I always ensure that there is time for quiet reflection and to encourage those present who have religious convictions, to use the time for their private prayers. Those that are religious need not be concerned that things may be said which affront their beliefs. Indeed, it often happens that the very people who were dubious before the event are actually moved and impressed to find it so meaningful and dignified and are good enough to say so.

How can Simon make a funeral meaningful and dignified if he did not know the person?

My job is to approach each funeral with an open mind, rather than a pre-conceived idea of what will be said and done. I then speak on behalf of the family and ensure that the ceremony is how they want it to be.

That is why I always visit the family home, or other location, to discuss the ceremony in detail and to hear about the person’s life. The ‘family’ means the person or persons closest to the one who has died usually, but not always, the immediate relatives. The visit will take up to two hours as I need to build up a good picture of the life and character of the person who has died. I ask about both the chronology of the person and the things that happened to them, as well as their personality and how they reacted to those events. Thus I draw together both the tangible and the intangible.

There will also be discussion of family/friends who may wish to speak on the day and the music chosen. If the family have not been to the specific crematorium, or cemetery, then details of the venue will be explained and discussed.

I am often asked about some of the technicalities of the funeral. These range from the expected duties of the various staff involved, across ‘old wives’ tales about cremation, to the matter of how cremated remains are to be taken to their final destination. In fact, anything that is worrying the family about the funeral and events surrounding it. Whilst I do not have an answer for everything(!) I will know where to direct the questioner to find the answers they need. This may encompass specialist support groups, charities, statutory authorities and funeral trade groups. Some of these are listed in the Bereavement Support Groups.

What Happens Next?

After the family visit, I prepare the words of the ceremony. There is no standard ceremony, each is unique because it is about a unique human being. I do not speak ‘off the cuff’, everything is prepared beforehand, so that I know how long it will take. Contributions from others will be added in, along with the music, in order to ensure that we keep to the allocated time. I aim to neither hurry the family through the funeral, nor to overstay our time and thus inconvenience others.

In the time between the family meeting and the funeral, I am available on the telephone and e-mail (within reason!), to ensure that you are confident that all is proceeding as you expect. I shall also be liaising with the funeral director and the crematorium or cemetery.

LiliesOn the day

I will arrive at the funeral venue, in advance of the cortège. The photographs on this site show my usual form of dress, which is a plain dark blue suit of traditional cut. I wear a white shirt and the tie is yellow and blue. There is no regalia or special outfit. What is important is the words, not what I wear.

By the time you arrive, I shall have already spoken with the staff about our arrangements and be ready to greet the mourners. Once the staff and the funeral director agree that we are ready, we will go into the chapel which, despite the word 'chapel', are public spaces and not the preserve of any religion and, whilst dedicated, they are not consecrated. Although a cross or crucifix is often displayed there, it is removed for non-religious ceremonies.

What will the ceremony be like?

Non-religious funerals are flexible in format but what usually serves best is along these lines: The mourners enter to music chosen by the family and the coffin is borne in and placed on the plinth at the front of the chapel. If family and friends wish to do this themselves, then that is easily arranged. I will then welcome everyone and explain briefly that the ceremony will be secular but that there will be time for private prayer. Often, I will choose a short reading that is relevant to the life at hand.

The Tribute follows. This is the main part of the ceremony, an extended appreciation of the life, personality and achievements of the person who has died, what memories they leave, quite possibly some anecdotes and a little humour. Any relative, friend or colleague who wishes to speak, will do so in this section. This is the substantive part of the ceremony, taking some three quarters of the time we have.

It is usual then to make a pause for quiet reflection, often with music. This is in part an opportunity for those with religious beliefs to pay their own silent last respects. After a minute or two comes the Committal when the coffin is removed from view, usually by curtains being drawn across. Occasionally, a family asks that the coffin remain in view and so I discuss this in the meeting.

The ceremony concludes with suitable last reflections and the mourners leave to more music. The duration of the ceremony is limited by the schedule of the crematorium and the funeral director will advise on this. If there is a great deal to be said, perhaps with many speakers and music to be played live, the family will be advised to book an extra time period at the crematorium.

Burials follow the same general pattern, with similar prominence given to the Tribute. If there is no chapel at the cemetery and the weather is poor, the funeral director and the Officiant will discuss alternative places to hold the ceremony. For example, it may be appropriate to make the interment first and then go to a function room at an hotel to make a memorial ceremony.

The range of circumstances …

I am used to meeting and assisting families across a wide range of circumstances, from the expected death at the end of a full life, to the most tragic of events. I have taken the funerals of infants, all the way through to centenarians and from every possible cause of death.

Sometimes at a funeral, there are members of the family and a gathering of just a few people. On other occasions, the individual might be widely known and 500 mourners attending. For me, the task is the same and the funeral will be made to suit the individual life and the circumstances that the family find themselves in.

I have taken funerals and memorials at numerous crematoria, cemeteries, village halls, retired people’s homes and hotel function rooms. Should you need to use an unusual venue, then I am willing to discuss it.

FuneralMy fee

The funeral director will advise you of my fee and settle this as a disbursement on your behalf. As these ceremonies are centred around words, I always make a printed copy of the ceremony available to the family, usually posted a couple of weeks after the funeral. Reading the words later, allows time for reflection on what has been said and can be given to those family and friends who were unable to be at the funeral itself.