What is a humanist funeral?
Offering a dignified, comforting alternative to a traditional funeral, a humanist funeral is simply a funeral service without any religious content. The popularity of humanist funerals grows year on year and there are now humanist funeral celebrants working throughout the UK. If you are considering planning a humanist funeral for yourself or a loved one, you’ll want to know what’s involved in a typical humanist funeral.
Humanist funerals are designed to focus on and celebrate the life of the person who has died by paying tribute to their relationships and achievements. When it comes to planning a funeral, you are under no legal obligation to hold the funeral in a church or crematorium, so whilst a funeral director can help with the practical side of funeral planning, the type of ceremony you decide to have is entirely up to you. Find a local funeral director who specialise in humanist ceremonies in your area.
A humanist funeral can be held in huge range of different places and again the choice is entirely up to you. Funerals don’t have a legal status and unlike marriage ceremonies, they can be held on unlicensed premises and the range of possible funeral venues is very wide. However the majority of humanist funerals are held in crematoriums, woodland burial sites or cemeteries. Once you’ve decided to plan a humanist funeral, you’ll need to find a humanist celebrant in your local area. The number of humanist celebrants continues to grow and humanist funerals are now held throughout the majority of the UK. Humanist celebrants provide focus and will encourage you to arrange a dignified ceremony that is both fitting to the circumstances whilst also celebrating a life well lived.
The funeral planning process is likely to begin with an initial meeting, attended by close family and friends of the deceased and the celebrant will use this meeting as an opportunity to learn as much as possible about the person who has died. They’ll also want to hear any ideas you may have on readings, music or poems etc. - anything that reflects the life of the deceased. Practical matters should also be covered during your initial meeting and the funeral celebrant will advise matters such as the amount of time available for the service, flowers, charity donations and funeral transport.
After your initial meeting, the humanist funeral celebrant will write a funeral ceremony that is unique to the person who has died and for the circumstances of their death. On the day of the funeral, they will offer support and guidance whilst leading the ceremony with dignity and empathy. Humanist funerals aren’t for everyone and the majority of funerals in the UK still include a religious element. However, if you’re looking for an option that focusses on the life of the deceased and is without an emphasis on faith, a humanist funeral could be ideal. The information above comes courtesy of local experts and we would also recommend that you visit Bill Jenkins also.
What are the options for ashes?
After a cremation has taken place, the ashes can be kept, buried or scattered in many different ways and whilst there is no rush to make a decision as to what you do with your loved one’s ashes, you might want to think about the wide range of options available.
Many people find that burying ashes is simply too final, so it’s worth bearing in mind that the average cremation results in up to 3kg of ash which makes it possible to choose to keep some of the ashes and bury or scatter the rest according to the wishes of the deceased.
If you’d like to keep some or all of the ashes, a huge range of different specially designed urns are available to buy, either from an undertaker or a specialist store. Urns can be made from almost anything and whilst funeral directors and undertakers tend to offer the more traditional metal and wood options, a wide range of unusual urns can now be found online. Urns can be personalised with photos or keepsakes and a huge selection of sizes are available: from large urns designed to hold the ashes of more than one person, through to miniature urns designed to be distributed amongst family and friends - the choice is endless.
For something more unusual, a little of the cremated ash can be incorporated into molten glass and then made into anything from jewellery and vases, through to paperweights and book marks. A beautiful way to create a very personal, physical memorial of the deceased, ‘memorial glass’ as it has become known is proving to be an increasingly popular option.
Scattering ashes is the most usual way to disperse ashes in the UK. There are many options for dispersing ashes - not just in the garden of remembrance at the crematorium - but because many people simply don’t know what to do with ashes, the majority of ashes end up being stored on a mantle shelf or at the bottom of a wardrobe.
Ashes can be buried almost anywhere you choose, provided you have the permission of the landowner. As long as you stick to the appropriate rules and regulations, ashes can be buried in your back garden, in a woodland burial ground or country park. Many people choose to have their ashes scattered in a local beauty spot or favourite place and whilst there aren’t any strict regulations which have to be adhered too, it’s important that you show consideration to others. For example, if you want to scatter ashes into a river, make sure that it’s away from a drinking water supply and away from where people swim. Over-scattering of ashes has become a problem in some areas and mountaineering groups in Wales and Scotland have asked bereaved relatives not to scatter ashes on some mountain tops as high levels of ash have been damaging eco-systems. Whatever you decide to do with your loved one’s ashes, the range of different options available is wider than ever before. A wealth of information is available on the web and for further information on urns and the storage of ashes; your local undertaker will be more than happy to help.
Choosing hymns, music and readings for a funeral
Music plays a very important part in lives of many people and whether you’re a professional musician or simply enjoying singing along to the radio, the changing trends in funeral music are an indication of the emotional power of music and song.
The demand for unusual music at funerals is increasing and people are no longer content with the more traditional funeral hymns or sombre classical music. Whether it’s a power-ballad, rock song or something quirky, the choice is endless. In fact some songs have become almost synonymous with funerals over recent years: think of My Way by Frank Sinatra or The Wind Beneath My Wings by Bette Midler for example. We’ll Meet Again by Vera Lynn is another popular choice whilst Angels by Robbie Williams has also proved a particular favourite.
Funeral hymns are still very popular though and many people choose a combination of traditional hymns and one or two songs. Abide With Me is still the most popular funeral song whilst old favourites such as Amazing Grace, All Things Bright and Beautiful, The Lord is My Shepherd and Jerusalem are still a feature of many funerals. A funeral is a very personal, emotional occasion and it’s important to remember that the choice is up to you.
Classical music is still widely played at funerals and when a funeral is held in a church or crematorium it’s usual for a classical piece to be played whilst mourners enter and then leave the church. Nimrod from Elgar Variations by Elgar is still one of the most popular choices and Canon in D by Pachelbel and Pie Jesu from Requiem by Faure and also widely used. Again there’s a huge choice of appropriate classical music for funerals and your funeral celebrant will be able to offer more advice if required.
Poems are often read out at funerals but you don’t have to stick to a traditional funeral poem as there are many other poems or readings that will successfully convey sentiment and emotion. A good way to choose a poem for a funeral is think about what a particular poem might have meant to the deceased. ‘Do not stand at my grave and weep’ by Mary Frye is a very well-known funeral poem as are ‘Stop all the clocks’ by WH Auden and ‘Death is nothing at all’ by Canon Henry Scott-Holland.
Writing a eulogy for a funeral often fills people with dread but if you remember that it need only contain a condensed history of the life of the deceased and can also include a poem or reading, hopefully this should take some of the stress out of writing a good eulogy. It can also be helpful to talk to the deceased’s friends and family as they may have stories or anecdotes that help to portray a life well lived. A eulogy can include humour and including the odd funny story can help raise a smile and bring back fond memories at an otherwise sad time.
Choosing and buying funeral flowers
People are often daunted by the prospect of choosing and buying funeral flowers; although there is a wide choice available, finding a tribute that’s suitable for the occasion doesn’t need to be complicated.
The choice of funeral flowers is usually decided by your relationship with the deceased and it is usual practice for larger casket sprays or floral funeral crosses to be chosen by family members, or by the people who have made the majority of the funeral arrangements.
Nowadays there is a trend for more personalised, unusual funeral ceremonies and it’s not unusual for a theme to be used for funeral flowers. This could consist of just one variety of flower or a particular colour scheme and the deceased’s next of kin should advise mourners accordingly. When it comes to choosing the arrangement for funeral flowers, you’ll find that there is a wide choice available. A posy style floral tribute is simply a circular arrangement and offers a lovely way to display both the flowers and foliage to their best advantage. Floral arrangements displayed in a basket are available in a huge range of sizes and designs; from small, delicate arrangements, through to large displays, designed to be displayed in a church or crematorium.
Floral funeral sprays have long been a popular way to express sympathy and this style of floral tribute is available in either single-ended or double-ended designs. Funeral sprays can be ordered in a huge range of different styles and can be displayed on top of the coffin to great effect. Hand-tied sheaves are yet another option and this style of floral tribute is also ideal for sending to the deceased’s family to express your sympathy.
Coffin wreaths are available in a wide range of sizes, styles and designs - these can be displayed on top of the coffin and it is usual for this type of floral tribute to be chosen by the next-of-kin or by those who have arranged the funeral. It’s not unusual to see wreaths in unusual shapes and some of the most popular designs include funeral crosses, letter tributes, hearts or bespoke shapes.
When it comes to the variety of flowers used for funeral flowers the choice is almost endless and needn’t be limited to the traditional choices of lilies or chrysanthemums. As already mentioned, choosing the deceased’s favourite flowers can be a great way to add a very personal touch, whilst bright flowers are no longer seen as ‘disrespectful’ but more of a way to add a positive note to an otherwise sombre occasion. You could also consider a wildflower, natural-looking arrangement or, for a very unusual option, an arrangement made entirely from greenery, fruit or vegetables. Remember that your local florist will have plenty of experience in helping customers choose appropriate floral tributes and will be very happy to offer advice and guidance. A floral tribute is a lovely way to express sympathy and show the deceased’s next-of-kin that you care so whichever wreath or spray you choose, it is sure to be very much appreciated.
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