Helping Someone To Plan A Funeral

Whether you are a friend or relative who is helping someone to plan a funeral or working in a professional role and supporting someone while they plan a funeral, you are in a very important and valuable position to help with the work involved in arranging a funeral. You can make a significant difference at a critical time.

It is helpful to be aware that the person arranging a funeral is likely to feel overwhelmed, confused and possibly stressed at times by the amount of things that need to be done. They are likely to be somewhat absorbed in their feelings about the death and their relationship with the person who has died.

Most people who take on the role of arranging a funeral want to get it right and give the person who has died a good send off. They are likely to want things to be perfect on the day and may feel at times that they are not up to the task. Your role as a supporter can be invaluable.

The information in this section is aimed at giving some pointers for you to use while working closely with the next of kin or person who is arranging the funeral. It is not intended to be a guide to bereavement but a useful source of information to assist you in helping someone to arrange a funeral that will pay tribute to their loved one or friend in a suitable way.

For most people arranging a funeral is a new task, one that they know little about, so you can help to fill in some of the gaps in their knowledge about making funeral arrangements. You can also use the information in this section to help them make some of the decisions that need to be taken about some of the following things:

  • Where to hold the funeral
  • How to inform people about the death
  • What type of funeral to hold
  • Who should lead the funeral
  • What music to play – hymns, songs
  • What poems or readings
  • Whether to include any prayers or blessings
    • Although there are likely to be deadlines for making these decisions it is important that the person arranging the funeral does not feel pressurised into making unsuitable decisions. You can act as a valuable buffer between the person’s feelings and the demands of others who may be involved in funeral services or other friends and relatives who may feel or see things differently. Sometimes others may want or try to take control of organising and arranging tasks and this can cause distress for the person who has taken the responsibility for arranging the funeral. If you are well informed about what needs to be done you can be a great help and support for the person organising the funeral.

      Where to hold the funeral

      Most people think that a funeral can only be held in a church or crematorium, or at a burial ground. But this is not the case – a funeral can be held anywhere with the permission of the owner of land or building.

      There is no need to have a licence to hold a funeral. Therefore the possibilities for venues can be numerous and the best place to start with making the decision about where to hold the funeral would be to think about what the person who has died might like or have wanted. Would they have liked the idea that their funeral was to be held in a favourite place, either an outdoor one or an indoor one? Did they ever mention even fleetingly in a throw away comments any wishes about where their funeral should be? Would they really have liked it to be held at home with just their family around them?

      The possibilities are endless when it comes to deciding where to hold a funeral – and yet most of us think it should be in one of the two most commonly used venues – a church or the crematorium.  For some people these might be the best setting for their funeral, but as we begin to personalise our funerals more – a wider range of venues are being used; local meeting halls, community centres, sports venues etc. Using these types of lo1cations will help to tailor the funeral more fully.

      How to inform people about the death

      If you are arranging a funeral with the help of a funeral director they are likely to ask you if you want to put a notice in the local newspaper to announce the death. Word of mouth, using e-mails and ringing people up to let them know someone has died are commonly used ways of informing people about the death of someone they know.

      There are also additional and alternative ways you can inform other people about the death of someone. More people are using Social Media sites to share information about a person’s death and their funeral. There are a small number of services dedicated to ensuring that information about a death can be circulated quickly and to large numbers of people when needed.  You will find information about these in the Information and Resources pages. 

      What type of funeral to hold?

      This might seem a bit of a strange question – most people have some idea of what a funeral should be like – a rather solemn gathering of people with a reading or poem, possibly some hymns and a speech about the person who has died.  For more people now the ability to choose between a religious or non-religious funeral is important, and within the non-religious category there are several options. People who hold particular beliefs about life and death can choose to have a funeral that reflects these beliefs, for example some people may want to have a humanist or a pagan funeral.  Many people want to hold a funeral that is a celebration of life rather than purely mourning the loss of the person. A funeral that celebrates the life of a person can allow a much greater range of choice about what to include in a funeral and how the funeral should be conducted.

      Some also want the gathering to incorporate colours and not be dominated by black, so mourners will be asked to wear bright colours or a favourite colour of the person who has died.

      Some people who plan their funeral before they die are choosing to use more contemporary methods of transport for their coffin to be taken to the funeral venue. Others leave instructions or guidance about including their favourite objects in their funeral – often having them placed on the coffin.

      If the person who has died has left any instructions or written wishes about what they want their funeral to be like decisions about what type of funeral to hold may in effect already have been taken by the person before they die. This can make the task of planning a funeral somewhat easier.

      The decision about the type of funeral is probably one of the most important things to be clear about. Once this decision has been made it will help with most of the other decisions that need to be made. If you are in a helping role you can guide someone through thinking about the type of funeral they need to plan, and by doing this you will be making a significant contribution to planning a funeral.

      Who should lead the funeral?

      The answer to this question is likely to be largely governed by the response to the previous question about what type of funeral the person should have. If a religious funeral is the right thing to plan, then the person to lead it is likely to be the minister of the religious faith or church that the person was involved in or affiliated to. If a non-religious funeral would be most suitable then the choice about who should conduct it is much broader. It could be led by a friend or members of the person’s family, or you could choose to use the service of a celebrant. Find out more about what a celebrant does…..( click to go to article “ The work of Civil Celebrants” )

      What music to play?

      Families and friends who have to arrange a funeral often know the favourite music, songs or hymns of the person who has died, but sometimes a funeral has to be arranged when this is not something that is known.  There are many sources of help for this situation. There are several websites offering help with choices about what music to play at a funeral. There are also a variety of guides to planning a funeral that include sections on choosing music. These are available through books as well as online. For more information see the Information and Resources section.

      If the funeral is to be held in a crematorium it is likely that it will be using an online music database that is provided by Wesley Music.  This system contains a huge selection of songs, hymns and pieces of music that can be played for funerals. You can ask for a piece of music to be added to the database so that it can be played at the funeral you are organising. You can also ask the crematorium to play music from an existing CD, tape or digital device for recording and playing music, however you will need to check the details of this with the crematorium you will be using.

      If the funeral is to be held in a different venue there is more scope for having either pre-recorded or live music, depending on the facilities available at the venue. But with the wide range of equipment that we have currently for storing and playing music the opportunity to play not only the pieces of music that are chosen, but to just play particular bits of certain tracks if they were favourite bits is now a much easier thing to do to really personalise music for a funeral.

      What poems or readings to include?

      Sometimes people will have a favourite poem or section from a book that they particularly like to read or hear someone else read. If someone has left instructions about their funeral they may have specified which poem or reading they would like to have included. But if they have not and the person arranging the funeral does not know where to get help with this you could direct them to a number of things to help. If they are using a minister, celebrant or other funeral officiant it is likely that they will be able to help with finding suitable poems or readings. There are also a number of books with readings or poems that have been chosen specifically for their suitability for use in a funeral. Have a look in the Information and Resources section for details of these. There are also lots of websites that offer help with finding the right poem or reading for a funeral. Details of these are also in the Information & Resources section.

      Whether to include prayers or blessings?

      If a religious funeral has been chosen – it is likely that prayers will be included in the service. However if someone has stipulated that they want a non – religious funeral the inclusion of prayers or blessings is not automatic, but can be discussed with the person who will be conducting the funeral and like all other aspects of a funeral if it is felt that it would be suitable to include one or more prayers or blessings in the funeral this can be done. As with the choice of readings and poems there are a variety of sources of help with finding the right prayer or blessing. A minister, celebrant is likely to have some that they use when they take a funeral. Many of the books and websites that have been designed to help with planning a funeral include prayers and/or blessings.