Other Decisions to make
Further information on the common decisions required when arranging a funeral.
The choice of who to officiate at the service is an important one as it will have a profound effect on the service itself. In some cases, the location of the funeral will determine who officiates (for example, it would be usual for the incumbent minister to officiate in a Church of England church) however it may be a choice that can be made. It may be that it is very important to you for your chosen officiant to be present at the funeral and that you would not want it to take place without them, therefore they are another factor in booking the date and time for the funeral. If you don’t know an officiant, your funeral director will establish the type of service you would like and engage a suitable officiant for you.
Some of the options available are:
Church of England minister or other service leader within the parish
Every residence is within a Church of England parish, and every parish will have an ‘incumbent’ (resident) minister unless the parish is in a period of transition, called ‘interregnum’, in which case there will be arrangements made for someone else to take services. Large parishes may have more than one incumbent and there may also be other people who take services on behalf of the minister such as a lay reader or curate.
Anyone who lived in the parish has the right to have their funeral conducted by the incumbent minister or other service leader. It must be remembered that the minister’s availability will have to be considered when making the funeral arrangements as they often have regular commitments to groups within the parish, and usually have a day off in the week too. It is not usually possible to have a funeral in a Church of England church without the incumbent minister – or someone they designate – officiating, unless at their discretion and with prior consent. It should not be assumed that a previous incumbent minister will be able, or willing, to return to their ‘old’ parish church to officiate at a funeral service.
There is a set Church of England funeral service, which a minister will need to follow, and this means that there are some components that need to be included such as prayers, The Lord’s Prayer and at least one Bible reading. Many of the words of the Church of England funeral service will be familiar to many people as some of them (for example, the idea of ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’) have moved into ideas about funerals generally. There are options to customise the service (choosing music, hymns, and Bible readings, and adding other parts such as poems and tributes) but none of the fixed aspects can be excluded. If you only want to include some aspects (for example, The Lord’s Prayer but no other prayers, or sing a hymn in an otherwise secular service) a Church of England minister may not feel able to officiate. It may be possible to have a thanksgiving service in a church with less fixed content, but this should be discussed with the minister in advance rather than being assumed or relied on.
Funeral directors often know retired clergy who are no longer attached to a parish but are still willing and able to take funeral services. They can be asked to officiate at a funeral when a Church of England service is required but the local parish minister is unable to take the service: for example, when the funeral needs to be on a specific date but the incumbent minister is unavailable. This being said, incumbent ministers do feel a responsibility to lead funerals in their parish and to offer pastoral care before and afterwards.
It may be that someone in the family resides in a different parish and has a good relationship with their parish’s incumbent minister, in which case he or she can certainly be asked to officiate at the funeral.
Other denominations and religions
All religions have their own beliefs around funerals. The funeral director will always be happy to liaise with an officiant of any faith and will always try to find an officiant of any denomination if the family doesn’t know someone to ask: this can happen if the person who has died was of a different faith to the person arranging the funeral or if they considered themselves part of a religion they no longer practised. It must be noted, however, that within some faiths there is a reluctance for a funeral service to be taken within that faith for someone who wasn’t in the officiant’s congregation or no longer practised.
Humanism is a belief system akin to religion in which there is an emphasis on reason and a positive attitude to the world. It is not the same as atheism. Humanists do not believe in an afterlife so the focus of a funeral is the life lived by the person who has died. Many Humanist officiants will not be prepared to lead a service that includes hymns or prayers (in the same way that one would not ask an Imam to read The Lord’s Prayer) however some may allow religious music if it has a particular connection to the person who has died, rather than in a spirit of praise.
Semi- and non-religious (but not Humanist) funerals
When the person who has died and/or those who will be attending the funeral do not have a specific religious belief, or have mixed beliefs, a civil celebrant can be a good compromise. These professionals carry out funeral services and, sometimes, other family celebrations such as weddings and baby namings. In contrast to a Humanist officiant, a civil celebrant will probably be more flexible about what they are and aren’t prepared to include and, in contrast to religious officiants, will probably not mind mixing religious elements into an otherwise secular service. Your funeral director will know several celebrants, and the types of service they carry out, and can make a recommendation, perhaps by talking to you about the mood of the service: some celebrants will be especially good at creating a service with a celebratory feel while others may be more serious or reflective in tone.
A friend or family member to officiate
There is no reason why someone who knew the person who has died or those arranging the funeral cannot officiate, however it should be remembered that funerals can be emotional – sometimes unexpectedly so – and taking the service does require a level of detachment to ensure that everything happens in the right order and within the allotted time. It is wise for anyone offering to officiate at the funeral to consider this carefully, and to make clear to anyone who is asked to officiate that they should be free to refuse if they feel they may not be able to carry out this role for any reason. It may also be sensible to have an alternative plan in place in case emotions overtake events on the day, for example, the funeral director present could be asked to give some sort of signal when there are ten minutes remaining in the service time, if that applies.
No officiant at all
There is no need to have an officiant or, indeed, a formal funeral service at all. Some people prefer to sit and listen to music or to allow anyone attending to say anything they would like to without the formal structures of a service. Again, it may be practical to ensure someone is keeping an eye on the time or is designated to move events along.
Choice of music.
You may have set ideas about your choice of music at the funeral but, if not, your officiant can guide you. In crematorium chapels, there is often an organ (the organist may be at an additional charge) as well as a music system enabling your choice of music to be played electronically. Hymns can be played through these systems and you can often choose a version sung by a choir, which may be useful if the congregation is likely to be small or there are not many confident singers. There is no reason why you cannot sing to a secular piece of music, instead of a hymn, if this would be preferred.
In other settings, the facilities will vary depending on availability: churches may only have an organ and some cemetery chapels may only have electronic facilities, for example. Some religious funerals may have requirements for certain types of music to be played at certain times, but your officiant will guide you. Music to enter and leave by is often called ‘voluntary music’.
In all cases, the music will need to be determined in advance; your funeral director will tell you the timescales for your decision, which are often dictated by the venue.
A means of transporting the coffin to the funeral will always be required and a hearse is the usual method, although your funeral director will be able to work with you to discuss the alternatives that are available: a horse-drawn or motorcycle hearse may be preferred, or less purpose-built means such as a tractor or van.
The main decision to be made is whether you wish to meet the hearse (or other vehicle fulfilling that function) at the funeral venue or to follow it for all or part of its journey. If the latter, consider where you wish to start from and whether attendees would prefer to use the funeral director’s limousine(s) as transport or make their own way in their own cars.
Where there is more than one venue (for example, a service in a place of worship followed by a short committal at the crematorium) a combination of those arrangements can be made: for example, everyone can travel to the initial service in their own vehicles but then use the funeral director’s limousine(s) to follow the hearse to the committal.
The Chapel of Rest.
People may wish to come and pay a last visit to the person who has died in the days before the funeral. Most funeral directors have a Chapel of Rest for this purpose, where visitors may come for a private spell to use as they feel they need to.
It is often difficult to decide whether or not to visit the Chapel of Rest and no-one else can advise what is right for you because it is a deeply personal matter. Some people feel they need to visit the Chapel, regardless of relationship or circumstances, while some people might only wish to do so in certain circumstances or for certain relationships.
It might be helpful to think ahead to a year’s time and consider how you might feel if you had not paid a visit: would you regret it? Or might you be content that you had done everything you could? Decisions may also depend on the circumstances of the death itself, and if you were with the person, or if you had seen them looking peaceful since they had died (for example, in a hospice).
It is important to some people to see the person who has died in the hope that they will find them more at peace. While the funeral director will always strive to achieve this, it regrettably cannot always be guaranteed. Sometimes, in spite of efforts made by the funeral director, the person who has died might be very different in appearance from how people might wish to remember them. This can be especially true after accidents, or some illnesses, and sometimes medication that the person was taking before they died can have an effect. Your funeral director will discuss such concerns with you. There is always the option of coming and sitting beside the closed coffin, which is a good option for anyone who wants to spend time with the person who has died without seeing them, for any reason.
It is very common to want to leave a small token with the person who has died: a flower, photo or farewell note, or something that has a private or jokey meaning such as a regular newspaper or cuddly toy. This can either be done independently when paying a visit to the Chapel (the funeral director will need to know so they are confident that any articles in the coffin are meant to be there) or by the funeral director on your behalf. Although there are more implications for doing this for a cremation funeral than a burial, there is usually a way to facilitate such a request.
There is no easy answer as to whether children should be brought to the Chapel of Rest. Situations and individuals vary as much within children as adults, and some seven-year-olds might be able to cope with this in a way that some 14-year-olds might not. Adults accompanying children might be concerned about frightening them if the visit is upsetting, but hiding emotions from children can often cause confusion. If the child has been involved in discussions about the death and funeral, particularly if the person who has died is close to them, then they may have their own thoughts about this that should be taken into account. Where the death was expected, an external agency may already have been involved in supporting children; their guidance on how to treat visits to the Chapel of Rest might be useful.
Funeral directors’ practices vary, but at Freeman Brothers we tend to embalm someone when we know that there is a wish to view as we feel this is the best way of keeping them at their best and preserving them. Embalming is a skilled practice that involves replacing the body’s natural fluids with carefully-mixed chemicals to maintain the person’s condition and, sometimes, improve their appearance. Sometimes embalming is not possible (for example, if someone is being buried in a natural burial ground that doesn’t allow it or if their internal systems have been compromised in an accident). If you wish to know more about embalming, we have produced a leaflet about it and can arrange a discussion with one of our professionally-qualified embalmers who are best equipped to answer your questions.
Jewellery and other personal effects.
You will be asked by the funeral director whether any jewellery or personal effects the person has with them when they are brought into care should stay with them or be returned. You will also be asked if there are other effects to be placed with them.
It is important to remember that anything in the coffin at the time of the funeral will not be recoverable afterwards so leaving anything of sentimental value with the person who has died should be carefully considered.
You will be asked to sign a confirmation of receipt for any returned items, which are usually handed to you at the earliest opportunity once it is known that they are not to remain with the person who has died.
Many people like the person who has died to wear their own clothes. Ideally, these will be brought in when the funeral arrangements are made to enable the person to be dressed and ready for any viewings in the Chapel of Rest (if these are taking place) as soon as possible.
The choice of clothing is entirely down to your own preferences and, while some people like to provide a favourite outfit or something smart that was worn on a special occasion, others like to think of the person being comfortable in nightwear or the clothes they wore casually. We are often asked if underwear should be provided and our answer is that this is your choice, but we would always use it if supplied.
If clothes are not provided, we will dress the person in what is called a closing set (but more traditionally might be described as a shroud) which is a long, one-piece garment with a high neck and long sleeves, ensuring they are covered and their modesty protected. The only barrier regarding dress is that shoes are not suitable to for cremation so do not need to be provided.
Choice of coffin.
Coffins broadly fall into four main categories:
- Veneered coffins are traditional in appearance but, because they are not made of solid wood, can be available at a lower cost. They would usually be of a traditional coffin shape with a tapering head and foot and the widest point at the shoulder. The colour of the veneer and the available fixtures and fittings vary considerably, but a good rule of thumb is that a more ornate appearance (for example, panelled sides or a raised lid) will be more expensive. A veneered coffin is usually not suitable for burial in a natural burial ground.
- Solid wood coffins are still available although elm – once one of the most common materials used – is less readily available now. Freeman Brothers makes coffins using traditional methods and designs in oak, but is also able to obtain coffins in a wide variety of other materials or in a rectangular ‘casket’ shape.
- Coffins made of natural materials, such as willow or rattan, were once relatively unusual but are now increasingly popular. They are often thought of as being environmentally-friendly and, while this depends on your considerations, it is certainly true that they are often made from materials that would otherwise be destroyed and do not involve wood. There is a wide variety of styles available in different shapes and finishes, and at different prices. Some coffins can be completely customised in a choice of colours (for example, the willow coffins we sell are made by Somerset Willow and are entirely bespoke to your requirements).
- Other types of coffin include those made of cardboard (either plain or in a variety of designs, including customisation with pictures provided by those arranging the funeral) and there are also suppliers who will ‘wrap’ veneered coffins in a similar way. American-style caskets, made from various woods and metals, are available although they can often be costly due to the amount of materials required in their construction and the cost of arranging for them to be delivered. Please ask your funeral director if you have an interest in any particular type of coffin.
We offer a wide choice of coffins that can be incorporated into any of our funeral arrangements, however simple. It is often assumed that non-traditional coffins (such as those made of willow) are able to be obtained at a lower cost than their more traditional counterparts, but this is usually untrue for a variety of reasons: often, they are handmade, which is reflected in their price, and usually have to be ordered specially by the funeral director so delivery costs must be factored in.
Any coffin that has to be specially ordered will take time to arrive; it is worth bearing in mind that it may, therefore, affect how soon the funeral can take place.
We are sometimes asked if the person arranging the funeral can provide their own coffin; we are reluctant to allow this for several reasons. Firstly, if the funeral is a cremation, a coffin must pass certain standards to be allowed to be cremated. We only use accredited suppliers for all of our coffins, which means this issue will not arise, but we cannot guarantee the same will be true for every manufacturer who sells such products. Similarly, coffins bought on the internet may not be of good quality or may not include all of the components we would expect such as lining fabrics and a nameplate. In addition, all coffins have to be robust enough to withstand the journey to the funeral as well as being moved prior to the funeral and during it. Some willow coffins can be poorly constructed and can alter in shape during transit or storage: this is a particular problem for burials as the dimensions of the coffin have to be provided to the gravedigger or cemetery but, if the sides sag or warp, the overall width and the ability of the coffin to be lowered into the grave will be affected. If, in spite of this advice, the applicant proceeds in ordering their own coffin, we will not be prepared to take any responsibility if it subsequently proves unsuitable and may require a signed disclaimer confirming understanding of this point.
Flowers or donations.
Some people feel that large quantities of flowers are not necessary for a funeral while others feel that they are very important to show they are thinking about the person who has died.
Receiving donations in lieu of flowers has been an increasingly popular option for some time and it is often normal to nominate a particular charity or charities that are preferred for donations. Many funeral directors will have a donation website specifically for this purpose.
Freeman Brothers’ site is created in partnership with MuchLoved and also enables tribute messages to be left; this is our preferred method as it is secure, the money is sent to the charity very quickly and it also gives the opportunity for taxpayers to ‘GiftAid’ their donation, which increases the amount of money the charity receives at no cost to the donor. Donations are also accepted by cheque, payable to the charity, and are forwarded approximately five weeks after the funeral. Cash can also be accepted if there is a collection box at the funeral.
Sometimes, it is quite hard to choose a charity but all kinds of factors can be considered such as whether the person who has died supported any particular groups or benefited from any charitable help. You may wish to nominate a cause that helps others facing similar circumstances or has aspirations to help people achieve something that the person who has died was proud of in his or her own life.
Most funerals do have some floral tributes, even if it is asked that only one is provided by those closest to the person who has died, perhaps for the top of the coffin. Some funeral directors have an in-house florist but Freeman Brothers suggests you use a firm with whom you have had a previous good experience; we can, of course, offer recommendations to anyone who doesn’t have a preferred florist or who is not local.
It would be usual for the florist to deliver the flowers to the funeral director at a designated time beforehand, enabling them to be arranged in the hearse with the coffin and shown to best advantage on the journey. If there are lots of flowers, a special car can be provided to carry them. Cards from the flowers can be kept after the funeral and floral tributes may be taken away: it can be a nice gesture to place them on a family grave or cremation plot.
There are many alternatives to conventional floral tributes, such as smaller plants, foliage and even vegetables; a creative florist will be happy to work with you to produce something fitting. There is no need to use a florist if someone in the family or circle of friends has the skill and willingness to produce a tribute.
It has become increasingly difficult for nursing homes and hospitals to accept flowers from funerals as there is insufficient time for staff to arrange them. If there is a special connection to a nursing home, they may be willing to accept them, but this should be checked in advance and cannot be assumed.
It can be hard to keep track of everyone who attends a large funeral. Books of Condolence can be ideal for people to leave messages in one place, which then become a keepsake in themselves. Personalised and bespoke versions of these, as well as more traditional designs, are available: please ask your funeral director for more information.
Orders of Service.
A printed Order of Service is becoming increasingly popular, both as a memento of the funeral and to help guide attendees through the service. Words of hymns and songs, photos and other images, and thanks to attendees, as well as information about any charitable donations and a reception afterwards, can all be included. Freeman Brothers offers an in-house design and printing service that is able to meet most requirements, but we are also able to recommend a printer for those occasions where your preferences extend beyond our abilities.
Many newspapers still print funeral notices to advise readers that a death has taken place and give details of the funeral and/or funeral director. Although these are becoming less popular as people communicate more via the internet, they are still available and many newspapers will ask for death notices to be provided by the funeral director.
There is a relatively standard wording that can be used as a starting point; your funeral director can supply this, together with advice on how to customise the text to suit you. The Times and The Daily Telegraph are the most common national newspapers used for notices, but the cost is greater than for local papers so we recommend choosing one or the other and keeping the wording short.
How much does a funeral cost?
It can be hard to know how much a funeral might cost, especially as third-party fees can vary considerably and are sometimes not included in our competitors' quotes. Our easy-to-use estimation tool takes all aspects of the arrangement into account, giving you a realistic view right from the outset, so there are no surprises. Additionally, our statutory information page offers further detail regarding our standardised pricing.