How do I organise a funeral?

Organising a funeral for someone you love can be stressful and overwhelming at a very emotional time. However, many people find funerals are a chance to gather with those who cared about the person who has died and celebrate their life.

Image of a funeral flower arrangement

Organising a funeral during coronavirus lockdown

Please note that during the coronavirus lockdown there are new guidelines that restrict what kind of funeral you can have. This means that some things discussed on this page might not currently be possible. The new guidelines say that only members of the person’s household and immediate family can attend. People attending the funeral should stay two metres apart and avoid physical contact with anyone from outside of their own household.

For more information on the new funeral guidelines, please see the advice for planning a funeral during the Covid-19 pandemic from the National Association of Funeral Directors.

Many people will find these restrictions difficult to cope with, and may feel that they are not getting the chance to grieve or say goodbye as they would wish. It may be helpful to find alternative ways to mark the occasion for those who can’t be there. For example, there is advice and suggestions on what to do if you can’t have or attend a funeral on the Quaker Social Action website.

Where should I start?

Before you start organising the funeral, it is worth doing a little bit of thinking and planning to give you confidence and reassurance.

Check if the person who died left any instructions about what they wanted – some people leave instructions in their Will (although this is the only part of a Will that is not legally binding). Or they may have left some informal notes, or simply have talked it through with someone close to them.

They may have left instructions on whether they would like to be buried or cremated. There might also be a particular place (such as a church or crematorium), where they would like the service to be held. They may have chosen readings or music that they would like to be played. If they have not left any instructions, you may want to talk with family members about these different choices.

You can discuss what is practical and affordable and what they think would be appropriate. This is a time when emotions are often very raw, and the funeral can be the focus through which people express some of their grief. As a result, it is common for family members not to completely agree what the funeral should be like. Try to remember that everyone is dealing with their grief in their own way and that these differences are normal.

Most funeral directors and clergy or celebrants will be happy to come and talk to you about your options and the kind of funeral you want. Many hospitals and hospices have chaplains on site too. You don’t need to wait until the person has died to start planning their funeral. Sometimes it can give the person approaching the end of their life reassurance to know that some of the arrangements are already in place.

Do I need a funeral director or can I plan the funeral myself?

You don’t have to use a funeral director if you don’t want to – you can arrange the funeral yourself, or at least make some of the arrangements yourself. This can cost you a lost less than using a funeral director. The Money Advice Service has a helpful page setting out the essential elements of a funeral, common things which people include, and the typical costs of these that you can use to help you plan. However, most people do choose to use a funeral director.

How can I find a funeral director?

You can find a funeral director near to you through either The National Association of Funeral Directors or the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors. Funeral directors from these associations operate under a code of practice and have an established complaints procedure. They should respect your choices, give you a full range of options and not put you under pressure to spend more than you can afford.

A quote for a respectful, basic funeral will include:

  • The funeral director’s services
  • Transfer of the deceased person from the place of death, and care of them before the funeral
  • A hearse to the nearest crematorium or cemetery
  • All necessary arrangements and paperwork.

There are a wide range of optional elements – such as funeral flowers and putting a death notice in the local paper - which can add substantially to the cost. Prices can vary a lot, so it is worth getting several quotes.

What should the funeral include?

People often have ideas about what they think a funeral should be like, or must include, but in reality there are no set requirements. Every person and every family is different. The most important thing is that you have the funeral that feels right to you for the person who has died.

Lots of people feel that they don’t want a very religious service. But they often want it to include a spiritual element and some sense that there is something beyond our journey through this life. If you choose a service in a church, it does not necessarily need to be very formal and religious.

Or, you can have a service at a crematorium that is held by someone from your faith, such as a chaplain or vicar. If you choose a humanist ceremony, it will focus on celebrating the person’s life. It will not include a spiritual element, as humanists don’t believe there is anything beyond this life.

Sometimes people think that children won’t be allowed or shouldn’t attend, but most celebrants will welcome children. If you are worried that they may not sit still or may be noisy or distressed, you might like to have a person who will take them outside if necessary. This could be a friend, so close family do not have to leave during the ceremony.

Talk as much as you can with the person who will conduct the service and with the funeral director. They can help to make sure that the service feels personal to the person who has died, and is an authentic reflection of them.

Some of the options you may like to think about for the service include:

  • Would you like someone (a relative, friend or the celebrant) to read out the story of the person’s life?
  • Would you like people who knew and loved the person to speak about them?
  • Is there someone who perhaps isn’t comfortable speaking, but who might write down something that the celebrant can read out?
  • Would you like to include different people’s memories and thoughts, perhaps by encouraging them to choose a poem, or music, or to write something to be read out?
  • Is there particular music that the person loved that you would like to be played at the funeral?
  • Would you like to include some quiet time for people to reflect or say their own prayers?

How can I cope?

Funerals are a chance to gather with those who cared about the person who has died and celebrate their life. However, it can feel very overwhelming at a time when your emotions are at their most raw. It is completely normal to worry about being upset at the funeral and whether you will be able to cope. Often people feel supported through the funeral by the other people who have come.

Some of the things that can help you are:

  • asking people to wear bright colours and not just black
  • getting someone (it could be a friend, relative, or the person conducting the funeral) to walk with you to your seat
  • thinking about where people will sit and making sure that you have the right people around you to support you
  • playing joyful music
  • talk with the person who will be conducting the service and together you can plan the service according to what you feel you can manage.

My husband used to sing and we had lots of recordings of him singing. He would have been well pleased with his voice coming over the speakers for all to enjoy."

'Funeral poems, readings and music' - a quote from our Online Community