Being faced with arranging the funeral of a loved one is never easy. Whether you’re dealing with this task now or it’s something you’ll face in the future, knowing exactly what needs to be done can make the process a little easier. Armed with some knowledge of how funeral planning works, you can hopefully minimise any unnecessary stress and confusion at a difficult time.
It’s also useful to understand how funerals work if you’re putting together your own funeral plan. Having your plans and wishes organised and paid for in advance can save your loved ones a great deal of work.
Here, you’ll learn more about how to arrange a funeral, from the first steps to those crucial finishing touches.
What happens at a funeral?
A funeral is a very personal occasion, designed to honour the life of the person. They may leave particular wishes behind, explaining what they want for their funeral. These wishes, along with a person’s religion and personal beliefs, mean that each funeral can be unique.
However, in the UK, most funerals tend to follow a similar format. The funeral director and their team will carefully prepare the deceased person for the funeral, before placing them in their coffin. The coffin will be put in a hearse (a special kind of car designed for funerals) and driven slowly to the venue for the service. This may be a place of worship, such as a church or mosque, or another venue if the person wished for a non-religious funeral. Alternatively, the coffin may be taken straight to the crematorium, where a service takes place before the person is cremated.
There is often a procession consisting of the hearse, any limousines that may have been requested to transport the mourners and the cars of other family members or friends that wish to attend.
During the service, there will often be readings and eulogies by friends and family of the loved one. Depending on the type of service, it could be led by a religious minister or Imam. If you’re looking for a celebrant for a non-religious service, a funeral director will often be able to point you in the right direction.
The content of the service may depend on the religion or be a mix of personal and religious readings and hymns.
After the service, the person will either be buried at a burial ground or cremated at a crematorium. This is usually followed by a wake in a separate venue. The wake is a gathering of friends and family to celebrate the life of their loved one. Mourners will gather to reminisce and share stories about their loved one over refreshments.
Arranging a funeral - the first steps
- Find a funeral director
The first and most important thing to do is to find a funeral director. It isn’t compulsory to use one, but an experienced funeral director can make things a lot easier. They can help you to make key decisions and understand what happens next, arranging a lot of things on your behalf. Take your time when choosing a funeral director as it’s important that you deal with someone you feel comfortable with and who can give you the services you require.
- Choose the services you need
The funeral director will explain the types of funeral packages you can choose from. You can opt for a basic funeral or something more elaborate with lots of extras. Basic packages usually cover the coffin, transport of the person who has died, the hearse and the care of the person who has died until the day of the funeral. It should also cover all the paperwork. You can ask your funeral director to provide extra services such as flowers, the use of the Chapel of Rest or an organist. Once you’ve had a detailed discussion, you should receive an estimate of costs. You can then compare prices with other funeral directors if you wish. Once you’ve decided what you want, you’ll likely pay a deposit and sign a contract.
- Book venues
Another important step is to arrange the venues for the service and wake. Think about what the person would want, as well as what’s affordable and practical for friends and family. Can they get there easily, and does the venue have the facilities you need? A simple phone call will answer most of your questions. You can check availability and hopefully get booked in. If your loved one was religious, they may have wished for their funeral service to take place in their place of worship. If they weren’t religious, a , village hall, garden, hotel events hall or woodland burial site may be more appropriate. A funeral wake could be held at a church hall or other religious building. It could also take place at the home of a relative or friend or in a hotel, pub, restaurant or sports club.
What other funeral arrangements will I need to make?
Just like a wedding, funerals can involve lots of bits and pieces that need to be organised. Don’t worry too much about these details at first. Focus on the main things like choosing a venue and funeral director, then you can work your way gradually through this list:
- Headstone and memorialisation
Memorials come in all shapes and sizes and typically could take the form of a memorial headstone or bench, an Urn, or something that is special to that person like a painting or poem. A headstone is designed to identify the person buried in a particular plot. Headstones can be purchased from masons, who will personalise them with the materials, colours, inscriptions, lettering and shape of your choice.
- Notice/obituary in the local newspaper
Publishing a death notice in a local newspaper is a way to announce the passing of a loved one and to let people know about their upcoming funeral arrangements. An obituary is a news article that reports the recent death of a person. While they do differ in terms of length and detail, typically they aim to celebrate the life of the deceased by describing their personality, significant life events and their impact on the people and world around them. Writing an obituary may seem like a daunting task but there are templates available online if you don’t know where to start. It’s a good idea to get ideas and feedback from family and friends of the deceased person too to help create a portrait that does the person justice. You can usually submit a death notice or obituary to a newspaper online via the publication’s website. Sometimes funeral homes will submit these documents on your behalf.
- Messages or calls to loved ones, informing them of the funeral details
Once the funeral is booked, it’s important to communicate the location, date, time and any other relevant details with family and friends. Depending on the person, an email, text message or group chat message may be appropriate. However, a phone call may be more fitting in some cases. If there are a lot of people to contact, perhaps delegate this task to a few family members and friends.
- Transport for mourners
You may decide to hire a limousine for immediate family members. You’ll need to think about how many limousines you’ll need and if there are any guests with mobility issues who may require adaptations. You can usually book this transport through the funeral home.
- Flowers and music
Flowers and music can help to create a fitting tribute for your loved one. Commonly used funeral floral arrangements include wreaths, coffin sprays and casket sprays. You might decide to use the deceased person’s favourite flower or a bloom that had a significant meaning to them. In any case, a funeral director or florist will be able to talk you through your options.
Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for poignant and uplifting modern pop songs to have a place at funerals. You might want to think about your loved one’s tastes, their favourite artists and any songs that had a special meaning to them when choosing funeral music.
Much of the above can be arranged by your funeral director. But remember, not all funerals have to have all of these things. It’s a very personal occasion, based around the wishes and beliefs of the person.
How long does it take to arrange a funeral?
Funerals tend to take place, on average, around one or two weeks after the death. This means that decisions about funeral arrangements need to happen reasonably fast.
Contacting the Funeral Director and registering the death should be your first priorities. Once you have the dates confirmed you can then start to look at booking venues and making decisions about the arrangements for the wake.
What to do after a funeral service
After the funeral service, your loved one will either be buried or cremated according to their wishes. The final stage of the day is the wake. Funerals can be very draining so by this point everyone will be glad of the chance to relax. The wake is a good opportunity to celebrate the person’s life and to share memories and stories with other mourners. Wakes can either be sombre events, allowing family to get together and grieve, or quite upbeat occasions, as people let off steam after a very sad day and focus on the happy memories of their loved one.
There are a few things that will need to be arranged for the wake. Most important is to book the venue, making sure it’s available on the same day as the church and/or crematorium. The next consideration is catering. If the venue provides a catering service, this can be the easiest option.