A funeral is usually a sad time, sometimes difficult and even traumatic, but increasingly people want it also to be a celebration of the life of the person who has died.
Unlike a marriage, where you must have a licensed celebrant, legally anyone can lead a funeral (and you are welcome to use the guidelines here if you find them useful), but many people feel more comfortable with someone who has experience in the job.
Usually I come and visit the family, to find out what they want and to get to know something of the person who has died. It’s my job to support the choices made by the people who the funeral is for. That means I support the choices of the person who has died, which are not always easy to be sure about, and the choices of those they leave behind. I’ve done a large number of ceremonies, and I have suggestions and advice that can be given. But the decisions are yours.
The story of the person who has died should usually be central. A good ceremony talks about what the person did, how they enjoyed themselves, where they lived and worked, what sort of person they were, their humour, their peculiarities, their strengths.
My funerals usually centre on the idea that we continue to be linked to people and can even have a new kind of relationship with them after their deaths, through memories we have of them.
At the bottom of this page there are some links to a draft funeral service usable as a starting point in many circumstances, and some more specialised passages for more unusual or difficult situations, but all these are designed to be changed to meet the needs of individual people.
Religion & spirituality?
It is for you to decide how formal the ceremony is, and how much or little religious or spiritual content is right. A celebration can be perfectly dignified and right with none at all, and many people chose a celebrant rather than a minister or priest precisely because they do not want any religion. Other people make this choice because they don’t want to be confined to the limitations of a particular church. Perhaps they want one or two traditional prayers, or perhaps nothing traditional but a sense of spirituality or continuing life.
Photos & mementos
A funeral is a personal thing, and it is good to find ways to personalise the venue with photographs, ballet shoes, footballs, gardening forks, or even ornaments or a favourite armchair from the home of the person who has died.
How long will it be?
Funerals have generally become longer over the last thirty years, and it is a good idea to get some clarity about what you expect about the length of the ceremony, so that you and the funeral director and the celebrant and the caterers and everyone else know what to expect, although perfect planning is impossible. An hour is not at all unusual these days, depending on how many people speak, and even quite a lot longer is acceptable as long as it is clear in advance.
Who will speak?
Some people don’t have the kinds of friends who get up and speak in public. That’s OK because I will talk to members of the family and friends, meeting some and telephoning others, and will prepare a speech that tells the story of the person’s life and character.
More often, after I’ve given a short introduction, members of the family and friends get up to say a few words. There may also be emails to read from overseas and messages from people who do not feel able to get up and speak in public.
Frequently there is a chance for anyone who wishes to say a few words, which is actually necessary when nobody actually knows all parts of someone’s life. If there is an appointment for a burial or cremation, or another booking for the venue, or if there is a sense of restlessness (which is actually rare), there will come a time when I have to say, “We’re running out of time now”, in order to wind things up.
Readings, music & individual flowers
Although talk about the life of the person who has died is central, we can have whatever readings, poetry, music, prayer, hymns or silence seem right.This can help people experience the range of emotions beneath the surface at the time of a death, and allows different kinds of participation in the event, and changes of pace. Another frequent practice is to have a time when people can come forward to the casket to put a flower on it, as a kind of way of saying a personal goodbye.
The service usually ends with a few formal words of committal, and then the curtains close on the casket, or it is carried out to the hearse. There may be a brief committal service at the graveside or the crematorium.
HELP IN PREPARING FUNERALS
- Draft funeral ceremony. A framework to plan from.
- A funeral for a baby.
- Opening remarks at a funeral after a drug overdose.
- Opening remarks at a funeral after a suicide
- Changing world, changing funerals. On the development of funerals in New Zealand.
- Rangimoana Taylor. Bi-cultural ceremonies.
- Before Burial or Cremation Information Brochure. The Registrar of Births Death & Marriages’ pamphlet to help a family organise things with very little funeral director input (or even none at all).
- Skylight. A charity to support young people in times of trauma, loss & grief.
- The Coroners. What they do and how they work.