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Arranging the ceremony

Planning a service or memorial event is an opportunity to celebrate the person who has died as creatively as you or they feel is appropriate. 

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You might want to start thinking about what the person might have wanted, and asking family and friends:

  • Did the person who died talk about the sort of ceremony they wanted or leave written guidance?
  • Did they have favourite songs, poems, prayers, hymns or readings that you could include?
  • Was the person who died from a different culture or religion? If so, are there any special requirements you need to think about?

If it's not clear what the person who died wanted then family, friends, faith leaders or funeral directors may have ideas. You may also find suggestions in books, on websites and at local libraries.

Choosing the time

Think about whether to have the burial or cremation at the same time as the memorial service.

Such events can provide a chance to reflect and say goodbye. But only you know what’s right – for you and for the person who died.

Here are some options:

  • Have the burial or cremation as soon as possible – some religions require this.
  • Keep the burial or cremation as a private event, and arrange a memorial or other event for a wider range of people at a later date.
  • Have the burial or cremation with the funeral and a more celebratory event another time.
  • If the person was cremated, bury or scatter their ashes at a later date.
  • If the person was buried, be there or have a ceremony when the headstone is put up.
  • Create a memory of the person in some other way, for example plant a tree or dedicate a park bench to them. Check if you need permission from the council or landowner.

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Choosing the location

  • A memorial and funeral service (although not the actual burial or cremation) can be held anywhere. You might want to have this somewhere the person enjoyed spending time, such as your home, garden or local community centre.
  • Most crematoria include the use of the prayer room in their costs. The room will be suitable for all religions and for people with no religious belief.
  • Talk to crematorium staff beforehand (or ask the funeral director to do so), to ensure the setting is appropriate on the day, particularly if you have special requests.

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Hearses and transport

If you’re organising the funeral yourself you may be able to rent a hearse or other suitable vehicle from a funeral director to transport the coffin to the funeral. You don’t have to use a hearse – lorries, tractors and other vehicles have been used in the past.

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Gifts in memory

A gift to a charity in memory of a relative or friend is one way to remember them and to make a real difference in their name. Some people choose to make a donation instead of having flowers at a funeral. You can arrange the collection yourself or ask your funeral director to help you organise one.

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Music

Music is usually an important part of a funeral service or ceremony. You can have people sing hymns or play a recording:

  • as friends and family arrive
  • when the coffin leaves the church (burial) or the sight of the mourners (cremation)
  • when people leave the ceremony
  • between readings or speeches

You may have your own ideas or the funeral director can advise. For other suggestions ask family or friends, especially if music was particularly important to the person.

You may be asked to choose downloadable music rather than CDs. If you want music that’s not available online, such as a personal composition or an old record, ask how this may best be arranged. Many crematoria have music download systems and can search for rare tracks.

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Readings

Like the music, the readings at a funeral are an opportunity to reflect the person’s interests or character and help people remember them. If you can’t think of any specific book extracts or poems they might have liked, you could ask someone to write something personal for them.

There are also many popular funeral readings online. Try the Natural Endings   or Lasting Post     websites for ideas. The Co-operative Funeralcare has also produced a video guide to writing a eulogy, which you can watch on its website  .

Religious or secular services

If you’re still unsure what’s appropriate or allowed after checking the person’s last wishes and asking family and friends, here is some guidance around faith and secular services:

Religious setting (eg church, synagogue, mosque). There may be certain requirements, which the minister or other faith leader can tell you about. They can also give guidance about the content and order of prayers and/or the service.

Non-religious setting (eg crematorium). There may also be guidelines but these are usually fairly relaxed.

Read more about religious and secular ceremonies ‘How to write a Eulogy’ (PDF 576KB).

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Including vulnerable people

You may want to think about how to include people who could find the day particularly difficult or confusing.

Including children

Involving children or young people in the funeral arrangements and service can help them feel included and give them a chance to grieve. If you’re happy for them to be there, here are some things you may want to bear in mind:

  • Give them plenty of time to choose whether and how they want to be involved in the funeral.
  • Explain what will happen and who will be with them on the day.
  • Arrange to have someone to support them in case they or you become upset and/or wish to leave the funeral.
  • They may find it comforting to put something in the coffin for example a card, a toy, a drawing, photo or letter. The funeral director or crematorium staff can tell you what items may or may not be included if the person who died is being cremated or being buried in a natural burial ground.
  • Don’t worry if they see you upset – it helps them understand the importance of what is happening.
  • Read more about supporting children.

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Including someone with dementia, a learning difficulty or mental health problems

The death of a relative or friend can be especially hard for someone with dementia, learning difficulties or a mental health problem. They may process the bereavement quite differently or struggle to understand that someone they love has died.

Dementia

If someone has dementia:

  • They may forget that you have told them about the death meaning that you have to repeat yourself again and again.
  • If this becomes too distressing, try not to feel guilty if you want to avoid the issue.
  • You might still be able to encourage their memories without needing to remind them the person has died.

Learning difficulties

If you need to explain the death to someone with a learning difficulty:

  • It’s best to do this in stages, over time. This will allow you to build on what they already understand each time you give them a new piece of information.
  • Encourage them to ask lots of questions to ensure they understand what has happened.
  • Be guided by what they say and ask. If they’re asking after the person who died, you’ll need to say something to explain why they’re absent. For example, you could reassure them that the person who died is safe without actually saying they’re dead.
  • If you would like more advice on breaking bad news Mencap   is a charity that can help.

Mental health problems

Mental health problems are wide ranging and complex, and have different impacts on the individuals affected. The most common mental health problems relate to anxiety and depression, but you may also need to tell someone with a less common mental health problem about a death.

Only you or someone close to the person with difficulties will know how best to tell them what’s happened. You may want to ask a professional involved in their care about their level of understanding and how to involve them in proceedings. It’s a good idea to think about whether attending the funeral or another ritual could help them process their grief and if so, how best to make arrangements.

Here are some questions you might like to ask yourself:

  • If they could choose for themselves, would they want the opportunity to say goodbye?
  • If you don’t think they’ll be able to cope with attending the whole funeral there might be other options – for example attending part of the funeral (eg the service but not the burial) or holding a local memorial service instead.
  • If they’re able to take part in the funeral they may grasp the significance of the occasion while it’s happening. You may want to say something on their behalf if they cannot do so.
  • It may distress you to see them grieving at first. But you may later find it comforting that you were there to share their grief.

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Useful links

Lasting Post   – funeral readings

Mencap   – breaking bad news

Natural Endings   – funeral poetry

Respond   – specialist support for people with learning difficulties

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