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Planning a non-religious funeral

When it comes to planning your own funeral, or carrying out the wishes of a loved one, you should consider that everyone is different and therefore no two funerals should be the same.

The demand for non-religious, or a humanist, funeral is increasing, but often people don’t know how to pay homage to their loved one outside of the traditional, religious order.

With the boundaries of funerals being broken all over the world, the allowances for funeral wishes are more accepted and expected by families and funeral companies. Here are some suggestions on how to plan a non-religious funeral.

What is a humanist funeral?

A humanist funeral is a non-religious ceremony that is both a celebration of your loved one’s life and an honourable farewell.

It pays tribute to your loved one without religious connotations and recognises the grief of death, whilst also celebrating the life and heritage of a loved one.

Humanist funerals endeavour to keep the ceremony as personal as possible, focusing on the loved one lost rather than anything else. A humanist celebrant can help guide you through the process of arranging a non-religious funeral.

How can you personalise a funeral?

Not many people know that a funeral can be personalised. There are no set rules as to what needs to be included, especially for a non-religious ceremony. There are, however, some popular elements which you could include in a service, regardless of your beliefs:

  • Celebrant or Officiant’s introduction
  • Tributes to the deceased from family and friends
  • A moment for reflection
  • Readings from family and friends
  • Introduction and closing music
  • Closing word from the Celebrant or Officiant
  • Committal
  • A wake or memorial to finish the ceremony 

Who will lead and speak at the service?

Often the person who leads a funeral is a minister or someone of the faith. However, there are many options if you decide to have a non-religious funeral.

You could look at finding a funeral celebrant – a non-clergy professional who is dedicated to preparing and executing the highest quality of funeral ceremony, without being tied to any religion or belief.

Or why not ask a member of the family or a close friend of the deceased? This is a touching and personal way to allow someone who knew your loved one to speak on their behalf.

Lastly, a public figure within the community could also be asked to speak at the service.

Choosing a non-religious funeral reading

Words are an important outlet to show your admiration and grief, and so should be chosen wisely when planning a loved one’s funeral, or your own. An officiant probably wouldn’t have known your loved one directly, so inputting your personal touch will help build a fitting tribute.

Finding non-religious readings can be a challenge, but you could consider turning to poetry.

Or, if you wanted to steer clear of poetry, there are many other options for readings at a funeral. You could combine memorable quotes from the deceased, or create a reading based on a catchphrase your loved one used to form an effective and thought-provoking tribute.

Alternatively, why not incorporate a ‘favourite memories’ section to the service, allowing the opportunity for several guests to say a few words and share memories?

A substitute for hymns at a funeral

Hymns have a long relationship with funerals and are often a good way to bring the congregation together through song. Yet hymns by nature are often a tribute to religion and you might not feel they’re appropriate to represent you or your loved one.

Instead, why not make it personal and include a university anthem, or your loved one’s favourite football anthem? Alternatively, for the really patriotic you could play the deceased’s national anthem.

Music choices for a funeral

Musical taste is a very personal decision and therefore another important aspect of a funeral. A good starting point would be the favourite song or songs of the deceased. Everyone has a favourite piece of music that can represent them originally and wholly.

If you’re struggling for ideas, you could consider one of these popular choices:

  • ‘Always Look On The Bright Side of Life’ – Monty Python
  • ‘My Way’ – Frank Sinatra
  • ‘Angels’ – Robbie Williams
  • ‘My Heart Will Go On’ – Celine Dion
  • ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ – Sarah Brightman & Andrea Bocelli

Including special locations in the tribute

Place also plays a huge role in our lives and its often the key to our most precious memories. For practical reasons, funerals have to be held at specific locations, such as a crematorium or church, but there’s nothing to stop you including special locations within the tribute, either through the wake or a separate memorial.

The idea of holding a ceremony at the deceased’s favourite place is a simple way to remember them at their happiest. These could be:

  1. Your local community centres
  2. If you or the deceased were active in the community this could be a great place to celebrate life and be easily accessible for guests.
  3. Your local football stadium
  4. A lot of people are proud supporters of their local football team, this could be a fitting tribute to yourself or your loved one.
  5. Outdoors
  6. Weather permitting an outdoor private memorial or wake could be a great space with lovely scenery to get everyone together to pay their respects.
  7. There’s no place like home 
  8. Holding the wake where you or your loved one lived allows guests to feel closer to the person who has passed away, creating a safe space for family who may be feeling too overwhelmed to face the public early on.

What happens after the funeral?

When the wake or private memorial is finished you might want to think about how you will create a lasting tribute.

If the deceased decides to be cremated you could consider spreading the ashes somewhere special, or storing them at home so you feel close to them.

It’s a very personal choice that needs to be considered carefully.

You could also consider placing a photo collage in your home to preserve your favourite memories. Personal items could be added to this and placed in a private place that allows loved ones to reflect when they wish to. 

Every funeral, wake or private memorial is individual and personal to you or your loved one, therefore planning and preparation should be considered carefully to make sure you or your loved one have the appropriate ceremony.

An Age UK Funeral Plan is no different and you can plan and arrange your funeral in a way that you’d like to be remembered.

Planning ahead not only helps lessen the financial worry of a funeral, but it also relieves your loved ones from having to make difficult decisions about your last wishes.

There are 4 types of Funeral Plan, to accommodate differing levels of budget and service. If your requests fall outside of the services set out in your chosen plan, there may be an additional cost, but your Nominated Funeral Director will work with you as much as possible to create a fitting tribute. Find out more about Age UK Funeral Plans.


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