I came into this work because I think that people who do not hold religious beliefs should have a funeral service that reflects their humanist and rational view of life. Of course, many people who have a Humanist funeral may have referred to themselves as merely atheist but would be properly described as Humanist as they had a positive view of life and ethics that was based on humanity and the natural world.
I also believe that, regardless of the beliefs of people attending a funeral, every funeral should consist of a telling of the person’s life and contain tributes from those who loved them as they bid farewell. I have found this work to be the most privileged and interesting that I have undertaken. I jokingly say that since I started conducting funerals I have found every story so fascinating that I don’t need to read fiction anymore!
About 75% of funerals in the UK are cremations and an even higher proportion of Humanist funerals are. Each Humanist funeral ceremony is different as it consists mainly of the lifestory, description of the person who has died and tributes to them. However, it will probably follow a pattern which includes an introduction, a piece of music while people reflect on the deceased and their life followed by the committal and closing words. There may be some readings/poetry and probably three pieces of music. (Music on entry and leaving may be faded out)
The lifestory will probably include names of parents/siblings and some memories from them, education, working life, marriage/children, interests, likes/tastes, interests, quirks, holidays, friendships etc. The tributes/thoughts and memories from family, friends and colleagues may be spoken by them or by the celebrant or other speaker.
We usually visit the family/next of kin. However, I also have a longish telephone call initially to get some idea of the what the person was like and what the family/friends want from the funeral service. I can also get a feel for the family dynamics. I encourage them to start putting together the lifestory and gathering in tributes/memories from others. I suggest that they might invite people to send them thoughts and memories which may be gathered together for a memorial book later. I do believe that it can be cathartic to share those memories. I may also speak on the telephone to others. I do encourage people to speak at the funeral and reassure them that they won’t regret doing it but may regret not doing it. I remind them that it is NOT a corporate presentation but a funeral and that there probably will be a choking moment or two.
A typical Order of Service, which people often produce themselves, consists of an A 4 folded sheet would have a photo of the person who has died on the front, a collage of photos at the back which might include a family group and donations/afters reception/thanks.
Order of Service
Introduction by Humanist Celebrant …….
Tributes /Thoughts and Memories from family and friends
Music for reflection ( Laying of single unwrapped flowers/greenery)
Music as we leave.
Page Three might include some brief Thoughts and Memories from family and friends/ or a reading.
I came into working as a celebrant from counselling and feel that it is very important to have an appropriate funeral that gives mourners the chance to say Goodbye properly. I do believe that a Humanist funeral helps many people in their bereavement. I have been told this hundreds of times as people come to speak to me after the funeral and thank me or from the many, many letters/cards/emails that I have received.
I think that humanist/non-religious funerals should be taking place within the community just as religious people hold them in churches and just use the crematorium for the committal. I have taken funerals in hotels and community venues but I believe that they should also be taking place in people’s homes, gardens, residential homes and pubs. When I mention this to people after a funeral they often say that they wish they had been offered the option by the funeral director. I am sure this will change over time.
I am also happy to speak to/advise any family that wishes to take the funeral service themselves. Please feel free to to ring me for a little guidance on this.
My fee for funerals is £180
Putney Funeral party
Here are two short videos of me reading poetry so that you can check out what I sound like!