Book Review: The Little Book of Humanist Funerals

Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex. Since the company was set up in 1855, much has changed within the wider world. The business has also grown, with three further offices now also open in nearby Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. The Freeman Brothers team works to educate and support […]

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hand holds copy of 'The Little Book of Humanist Funerals' up in front of Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors's Horsham office, there are many sticky notes seen marking various pages of the book

Freeman Brothers was first established as a funeral director in Horsham, West Sussex. Since the company was set up in 1855, much has changed within the wider world. The business has also grown, with three further offices now also open in nearby Billingshurst, Crawley and Hurstpierpoint. The Freeman Brothers team works to educate and support the community, as well as providing funeral services. Today, Community Co-Ordinator, Becky, reviews a book that customers may find useful…

We at Freeman Brothers were intrigued by the idea of The Little Book of Humanist Funerals so recently purchased and read a copy to review it. As an organisation, we’re big fans of tools which get people talking about death, dying and bereavement in a way which suits them, so we’re open to hearing new ideas as a result.

In the past, we’ve read books such as With the End in Mind, and helped to facilitate GraveTalk sessions at local churches. We’ve also hosted our own events, based around the simple idea of discussing the details of the funeral you’d like to have.

The Little Book of Humanist Funerals isn’t intended as a funeral planning guide. Instead, it offers a variety of insights regarding our relationships with death and dying, and how we process bereavement. One of my favourite things about the book was that, predictably, it uses realistic and honest language from the first page and throughout. Whilst I am often happy when having a conversation with someone to use their linguistic preferences (some people are well and truly resistant to using words such as ‘death’ and ‘died’, and if using euphemisms will encourage someone to have a conversation rather than not, I will work with that), I much prefer to use upfront language. Not only does it enable everyone to be clear on what is discussed, it also shows that there is no harm in these words, and normalises their use.

The book continues by offering thoughts on the topic from historical philosophers and thought leaders, as well as those within the Humanist community. There are suggestions for poems and speeches, thoughts offered via lessons learned through work, and stories of helpful ideas shared. Some of the particularly useful sections included ideas on why it is that many people find death and dying such a difficult thing to discuss. For those of us who work in the funeral industry, some of these things seem fairly obvious, because we see them regularly due to our frequent contact with those who are bereaved. We have the privilege of being able to notice patterns and commonality of experience, which shows us how normal it is to experience these kind of thoughts. I think that if the wider public knew that they weren’t alone in being frightened of the process of dying, or of not leaving anything meaningful behind, it might provide some comfort to them.

There are more useful ideas within the book in the form of suggestions for readings and poems – I’m going to choose not to spoil them, partly because we are always on the lookout for more options for our annual Community Remembrance Service, so you may see one make an appearance then!

Overall, I think that this book is a great one to sit down and read from cover to cover, as I did, or use as something that can be dipped into for more random inspiration. Those who might find it most useful are people such as celebrants, and those who are anticipating a bereavement or who are recently bereaved. It’s important to remember that everyone is different, and that reading something like this might not be something you’re ready for – self-awareness is what will help you use this book to it’s greatest potential.

Towards the end of the book, Humanist celebrant, Ewan Main, offers a particularly powerful thought on why many of us feel it’s important to honour the wishes of those who have died: ‘I think, deep down, it’s because we believe we only have one life. The very fact that we will reach the end of ours makes it all the more urgent to do something worthwhile.’

You can find out more about The Little Book of Humanist Funerals and buy a copy here

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Written by Becky Hughes

Community Co-Ordinator

July 26, 2023

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