When we lose someone we love and begin planning a service for them, we want that ceremony to reflect the wishes of both the deceased and the loved ones left behind. Imagining them through the words that have been written. Hearing music that reminds us of them. Feeling their presence once again through the emotion of the day.
A non-religious funeral serves to help mourners express their sadness and offer their condolences to the family. The funeral service is also a celebration of the life that the deceased person lived.
Because there are no traditions set for non-religious burial ceremonies, they are highly personalized. The guests can expect, among other things, inspirational readings and stories about the deceased person’s life as told by friends and family. There are often moments of sadness and moments of laughter, as important memories are shared.
Each humanist (non-religious) funeral ceremony is unique and created to mark the life of the particular person that has died and the wishes of those who are remembering them. This means there is no set script. However, having a clear structure to organise the funeral around is very helpful.
This is an example of how I might organise a funeral ceremony. You do not need to have any of these components, and you may want to include other aspects. I will guide you through the various options and together we can create an occasion that’s entirely fitting for the circumstances. This could be at a crematorium, a cemetery, or a woodland burial; The choice is, of course, yours.
Outline of a humanist funeral ceremony
- Introductory music
- Words of welcome
- Thoughts on life and death from a non-religious perspective
- The tribute – an outline of the life and personality of the person who has died
- Readings of poetry and prose
- Reflection – a few moments for private thoughts about the person who has died, either in silence or accompanied by music
- The committal – when the curtains are closed or coffin lowered
- Closing words – including thanks on your behalf
- Final music
If possible, I will meet family members or friends who are organising the funeral, and together we will plan a meaningful ceremony. Otherwise, the ceremony can be arranged by telephone or skype. I will take the time to learn as much as possible about your loved one, and the family will usually contribute readings or music. I will spend as much time as needed with you prior to the service, usually within the comfort of your own home, building a relationship with your family, listening to your wishes, hearing your stories, your memories and the significance of your grief, to gain a true sense of the person who has died. I will work alongside you and with great care compose a truly uplifting service which is totally unique to any other. This service will reflect the true character & nature of the person who has died, sensitively respecting and acknowledging any challenges they may have faced along life’s pathway, but most importantly celebrating the life which has been lived.
Whilst I am a Humanist first and foremost, I understand that the needs of each individual family are of paramount importance. Although my ceremonies are non-religious, I recognise that there are aspects of religious reference embedded in our culture and day-to-day experiences. For example, certain hymns can remind people of their youth or even of their favourite rugby team. I am happy to include such content where they help reflect the person, but I do not include them as an act of worship.
The deceased may have left their body to medical science, or in the tragic circumstances of a body not being located, or maybe your loved one decided to opt for what is commonly known as direct cremation. You may still want to acknowledge their passing and celebrate the wonderful life they lived and I can work with you to create a personal service to help you say your farewells. These services can take place anytime, anywhere, with absolutely no restrictions on time or what you can and can’t do. For instance, you may wish to go to your favourite pub, use a hotel or other venue, a field in the great outdoors or how about your local football or cricket club?
I hope you have found this information helpful. Throughout the many, many funerals I have conducted, I have come to know a great many people whom I wish I had met sooner. People who were kind, generous, thoughtful, hilarious, learned, or simply great family members who were much loved. Each and every one of us is different, and deserve a fitting tribute to mark our passing. If you need more information, or would just like to have a chat with me, I am very happy to meet you, without obligation, to discuss the type of ceremony you’d like so please feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
“My wife Sarah Prince died at the age of 43. It was relatively sudden, very hard to come to terms with for me and her parents (my in-laws). Kate was the most amazing rock, the voice of calm, reason & a shoulder to lean on over these difficult times. She is a brilliant mind who takes an interest in you & the person who has died. She is sensitive to your spiritual beliefs, or (in my case) a lack thereof. I have had so much positive feedback from family and friends on Kate’s celebration of my Sarah’s life, which has been such a comfort to me. I make these comments 2.5 years after Sarah’s death, that is how much I value Kate’s support.”
Dr Patrick Burn