Arranging a funeral without a funeral director
Most funerals in the UK are organised by funeral directors but they don’t have to be. Some people choose to do the hard work themselves, getting involved with every aspect of a loved one’s final send off. This very personal approach is referred to as an independent funeral.
Why do it yourself?
There are various reasons why people decide on an independent funeral. It could be because they feel uncomfortable passing the responsibility of a loved one’s body over to strangers, or that they would like to dedicate their time and energy to creating a more personalised tribute. It could also come down to money. Funeral directors have to operate commercially and so can be expensive. However, doing-it-yourself is quite complicated and it’s worth considering what the funeral process is likely to entail before you make any decisions.
A funeral director will usually collect and move the body, arrange embalming and viewing of the deceased, provide a coffin and hearse and guidance throughout the ceremony wherever it takes place. If undertaken independently such tasks may prove unpleasant as well as difficult. The average coffin will not fit in most cars and will need four people to lift it. The deceased will also need to be kept somewhere cool leading up to the service. It is not a decision to be taken lightly and it is advisable to discuss the options with family and close friends before making any final decisions.
Although there will be a lot of work to do with an independent funeral you will have complete control over content giving you the chance to create a very personal goodbye and costs can be kept low.
You will need to register the death (see our How to register a death section), obtaining several copies of the death certificate. And if the body is to be cremated you will need to get three forms from the crematorium. You will also need two doctor’s certificates. If the death occurred in hospital, the hospital will provide a release form and you may then make arrangements with the hospital mortuary to collect the body.
What needs to be done?
You will need to decide whether the service is to be held at a cemetery, crematorium chapel, other religious building or alternative venue (see our feature on venues). Make a booking as soon as possible.
Decide who you would like to officiate at the ceremony. Appoint a priest of a particular religion or a humanist celebrant. Alternatively, you can ask someone who knew your loved one well to conduct the ceremony. They do not need any qualifications but do they do need to be confident.
Music is a particularly good way to personalise a service. From traditional hymns to Sinatra’s ‘I Did It My Way’ – anything goes.
Decide what you’d like to do regarding flowers (see our feature on floral tributes), and organise grave-digging if necessary.
You can get friends or relatives to act as pallbearers. You will need at least four people to carry an average coffin. And you will also need to organise transport for the coffin (see our feature on funeral transport for ideas).
Providing your own transport, coffin and pallbearers will save money but you will have to pay for the cremation or burial, the grave and memorial.
Looking after the body
In the past it was quite common for various members of the community to help prepare a body for funeral but now it is rare.
Some undertakers will look after the body until the funeral or if the deceased died in hospital it might be possible to store the body in the hospital mortuary until the day of the funeral. If you are keeping the body at home, the deceased needs to be kept in a cool room. In summer, you may need to have the deceased embalmed by a professional.
The choice in coffins has greatly increased in the last few years (see our feature on coffins). You can choose to make your own but do check with your local crematorium or cemetery to ensure you use acceptable materials.
If you would rather bury your loved one in a shroud check with your local crematorium or cemetery to find out if this is acceptable.
The day of the ceremony
Check traffic reports and make sure you leave in good time at the venue.