Funerals, Memorial Services, ‘Celebration of Life’ Ceremonies and Ash Ceremonies

What’s in a funeral?

The only thing which is essential in a funeral is committing the body to cremation or burial.

That’s it. So at its simplest, a funeral could be just close family and friends coming with the coffin, spending some time standing by it, remembering and talking together, perhaps listening to music and placing flowers on the coffin. Then in their own time they could say goodbye and walk out. For families who want a fuller service with guests and tributes but at a later time or date – ie a memorial service – a simple and personal ceremony like this could work well for the funeral.

If you would like a more formal funeral, most people follow an order of service along these lines:

  • Enter to music
  • Welcome and opening words which may summarise the qualities of the person who died, and reflect on how death gives life meaning
  • Tribute or eulogy to the person who has died (and maybe further tributes from family and friends)
  • Poems and/or prose readings
  • Time for reflection, in silence or to music. This also provides a time for people with religious faith to pray silently.
  • The committal, when mourners say a formal farewell to the person and commit the body to cremation or burial.
  • Sometimes families choose to leave after the committal. Sometimes there are closing words, including any messages and invitation to the wake.
  • Exit to music.

Humanist funerals don’t have to follow any set words or order of service. They just have to accord dignity and worth to the people involved in the way most appropriate for them.

“I cannot thank you enough for making yesterday such a wonderful and special occasion for us. It was better than we could have imagined. It will be such a happy memory for all of us and that really has turned the grief into something else.”

Memorial and ‘Celebration of Life’ ceremonies

Humanist celebrants lead memorial services and ‘Celebration of Life’ ceremonies as well as funerals. These are held after the funeral – it could be the same day or weeks or months later.

There is no real difference between memorial and celebration of life ceremonies. The traditional term for ceremonies which remember someone is ‘memorial’; celebrations of life have the same purpose, but emphasise the fact that we want to cherish and celebrate that this person lived and that we shared in their life. We want to remember their whole life and the contribution they made.

At funerals we also have to say goodbye to the person, and it is usually soon after the death so our feelings are more raw. Memorials and celebrations of life tend to be weeks or months later when we have had time to reflect and get a little more perspective on our loss.

Circumstances when you might consider a memorial or celebration of life include:

  • The funeral is too soon to organise the kind of send-off or ceremony you want or feel your loved one deserves;
  • You would rather keep the funeral simple, or small, or immediate family-only, and then have an occasion when wider family and friends can pay their respects and make tributes, afterwards, whether the same day or a while later;
  • You would like to hold a ceremony which cannot be organised in a short space of time – because it involves too many people, or some guests cannot come at short notice, or the venue is not available, etc.
  • And at the moment of course, coronavirus has made larger gatherings out of the question, so you may want to organise a second ceremony when they are allowed once more.

Whichever route you decide to take, please get in touch. I can answer your questions and help you create a ceremony which is appropriate and meaningful.

“A hard day but you made it bearable. Many, many thanks.

Ash Ceremonies

If you would like to create a ceremony around the scattering or burial of ashes, it can be a good opportunity to do something informal and special, eg a chance for children to say goodbye in their own way, or to be with relatives, say from overseas, who couldn’t make the funeral. Or it may be that you are finally ready to lay to rest the physical remains of your loved one and would like to mark the occasion. Returning ashes to the earth or running water makes us feel a deep connection with nature, and how each one of us is at home in the universe.

Planning Your Own Funeral: “pre-planned funerals”

You may be thinking of planning your own funeral if you have been given a life-limiting diagnosis, or because you want to put your affairs in order. While funerals are for those left behind as well as the dead, friends and families can find it helpful to know what the person would have liked. It may be enough to have a conversation, or leave a letter, asking for particular poems or pieces of music. But if you think it will be helpful to plan your funeral out in more detail, then I can help you. As the Humanist Ceremonies website advises, you can start with a consultation and then add script writing, and funeral delivery, if you wish.