We offer advice on how to plan the funeral service for your loved one and explore the options available, including non-religious and humanist funerals.

Who will conduct the funeral?

If the faith of your loved one or family doesn’t determine this, there are a number of choices.

  • Religious minister: many will be very flexible but will not want to include elements that specifically contradict their faith.
  • Civil celebrant: a civil celebrant will work with the family and can include prayers or religious music if this is what you want.
  • Humanist celebrant: humanist funerals include no reference to a god. Humanists UK  will put you in touch with someone in your area who can do this for you.
  • Member of the family, or colleague or friend: this makes the funeral very personal, but it’s also a considerable responsibility. It can sometimes be easier for everyone if the person in charge is slightly distant from the emotion of the event.

Your funeral director should be able to recommend local celebrants they have worked with.

What types of coffin are there?

Coffins can be made from many materials including:

  • solid or recycled wood
  • bamboo
  • woven willow
  • rattan
  • wool and other natural fibres
  • sturdy cardboard.

Other points to consider are:

  • you can buy the coffin from the funeral director or the local council, cemetery or crematorium
  • a carpenter can make one for you
  • caskets tend to be pricier as the lid is hinged
  • there are different style of fittings, such as the style of handle and lining
  • if the coffin is going to be cremated, the fittings must be combustible.

What should I dress my loved one in?

You can choose what your loved one is dressed in for the funeral. It might be a favourite outfit or something meaningful, such as a walking outfit or sports clothes. Remember that natural fibres are required for cremation, and many cemeteries prefer fabrics that are biodegradable. Bear in mind that shoes will be removed before cremation.

It’s not obligatory to provide clothes, as the funeral company can dress the body in a shroud if that is your preference.

Do I want the body embalmed?

Embalming delays decomposition and can improve the appearance of the body. If the body is to be viewed before or during the funeral, embalming may be necessary if the person has died after an accident or debilitating illness. However, funeral directors are also skilled at other methods of making the body look presentable.

Before a body can be embalmed, the doctor must have completed the medical certificate of the cause of death, and the death must have been registered.

Bear in mind that natural burial grounds and some cemeteries won’t accept embalmed bodies because of the chemicals involved.

Is it possible to view the body?

In some cultures, it’s traditional to see the deceased before and during the funeral ceremony. For others, it’s a very personal choice. Not all mourners want to see their loved one after they have passed away. Your funeral director should be able to advise on this.

How do I place an announcement in newspapers?

A public announcement is a good way of making details of the funeral known to friends and acquaintances of the deceased who may not be known to the immediate family. Your funeral director will usually ask if you want to place an announcement in the local or national papers, or online. They can help you with the wording and even place the announcement on your behalf.

You could include the following information in the announcement:

  • the full name of the deceased
  • the town or city (not the address) where they lived
  • surviving family
  • date, time, address of burial
  • date, time, address of memorial service
  • whether the funeral is private and for family only
  • whether there are to be flowers, family flowers only or the option of a memorial donation
  • memorial contributions, such as donations to a nominated charity in memory of the deceased, as well as, or in place of, flowers
  • the funeral director’s name and address.

Where will the ceremony take place?

Will the entire ceremony take place at the crematorium chapel, or in the cemetery chapel where there is one? Or will there be a main service at a place of worship or other venue, and just the committal at the cemetery or crematorium? Cemeteries and crematoria tend to set specific time slots for ceremonies. If you want more time, you can request a double slot at the crematorium, but this will cost extra.

If you think there will be a lot of people attending the funeral, consider planning for the funeral service to be in a large church or auditorium followed by cremation or burial, which is attended only by the family and close friends. Or a private funeral for the family only may be followed by a memorial service some time later.

What transport needs to be arranged for the funeral?

You might want to use limousines provided by the funeral director for immediate family and close friends. This can relieve the anxiety around timekeeping, as the funeral firm will be familiar with all the possible routes and local traffic conditions.

Decide if the funeral will start from the home of the deceased and follow a particular route, or will everyone meet at the funeral venue?

What happens at a funeral service?

If there is to be a church service before a burial or cremation, the coffin is taken into the church by the bearers and placed on a table or trolley in front of the altar.

Most funeral services in church take about half an hour, although a requiem mass or the funeral of a well-known member of the church congregation may take an hour or more. 

Afterwards, the bearers usually take the coffin either to the burial site or the crematorium for the committal (the moment when those present say goodbye to the deceased) and the mourners follow behind.

How formal do you want the funeral to be?

Is the tone to be one of sombre quiet reflection or a joyful celebration? This will be influenced by the wishes of the deceased, if known, but perhaps also the nature of the death and who will be present.

Do you want a printed order of service?

A good funeral director will be able to help with the design and printing of the order of service and they will be able to point you towards sources for poems, readings and hymns. You may also want to include one or two photos of your loved one.

What music will there be? 

Hymns are traditionally sung at a funeral, but if the majority of the mourners are not regular churchgoers, this may not be suitable. Many people do not sing regularly and may not wish to sing in a public setting.

An alternative is to play recorded hymns, but many other styles of music have become popular, including classical music and modern songs. Most churches and crematoria have music systems, so you can also provide music to be played. If you want to use your own CDs or music player give your undertaker and minister plenty of notice and label CDs or a music player carefully so the right track is played at the right time.

Will there be a sermon, tribute or eulogy?

A religious funeral might include a short sermon. But, in addition or instead, many funerals have a tribute or eulogy. It may be given by the person conducting the funeral, put together from information provided by the family, or there may be one or more contributions from family, friends and colleagues.

Even if someone is normally a confident speaker, having written notes will be helpful and they can also be read by someone else if the emotions become too much at the time.

What about prayers?

These can be traditional prayers or written for the occasion. They can be replaced by or put together with a period of silence in which people are invited to reflect or pray – this makes the time inclusive for those who have no faith.

Will there be readings?

As well as religious texts, there are many anthologies of poetry and readings collected specifically around the theme of bereavement that you can choose from.

Is the style of dress important?

The usual dress for funerals is darker colours, such as black, navy or grey, but it’s helpful for mourners if they know that the funeral is formal and black is a definite requirement, or that the preference would be for people to wear bright colours or a special theme.

Can mourners watch remotely?

Since the pandemic, many churches and crematoria have filming facilities so that mourners who aren’t able to attend can watch the funeral remotely. You may want to discuss if this is viable and how you are going to share a link.

Can mourners leave a personal message?

At some funerals a book of condolences or individual cards are provided for mourners to sign and record a personal message. This can be extremely helpful for the bereaved, who may not know many of the people present. It also gives an alternative way for mourners to express condolences.

What about hospitality after the service?

Many people organise an event after the service (sometimes referred to as a ‘wake’) so that family and friends can get together to remember the deceased. If people have travelled long distances, you might want to provide refreshments of some kind before everyone travels back home.

Depending on the number expected, it may be possible to provide a buffet meal at home or use a local venue (your funeral director will be able to make suggestions, if you wish). There is then a choice of whether to call on friends and family to assist with catering or to use a professional service. You might choose to provide food at a local pub or wine bar (which could reserve a room or cordon off an area for you), where mourners could purchase their own drinks.

It’s useful to provide maps (with a SatNav postcode) showing mourners how to get from the funeral to the venue, especially if some mourners are not familiar with the local area.

What do mourners need to know?

It’s helpful if the person conducting the funeral gives out instructions, if there are any, such as whether there is to be a collection for charity, whether everyone present is welcome to come to the committal, or if any refreshments are being offered. 

If there is a private committal followed by shared refreshments, mourners will appreciate being told where to assemble and wait for immediate family to join them.

Do you want to hold a memorial ceremony?

A memorial ceremony will include most of the elements of a funeral but without the committal. It will often be held sometime after the funeral, making more detailed planning and preparation possible.

Related pages

  • What to do after someone has died: while there is no need to rush to do anything in particular when a loved one has died, there are a few necessities over the following days; read this article to find out what to do.
  • Choosing a funeral director: find out the best way to choose a funeral director and the key questions to ask to ensure you get the funeral you wish for. 
  • Looking after yourself: advice for looking after both yourself and others following the death of a loved one.

The EPiC Resource Centre is kindly sponsored by Cleenol: working for a cleaner, safer, kinder world.