Memorial Service Options
Arranging a funeral in a Christian community used to be a matter of your local funeral director asking if the deceased was Catholic or C of E and putting you in touch with the relevant priest. Between them they’d guide you through the long but well-trodden list of arrangements.
This is still largely the case, with the welcome addition of the Humanist, non-religious, service now offered as routine. And whilst there’s no obligation at all to deviate from this undoubtedly comforting pattern at such a distressing time, there’s no getting away from the fact that the choice of venues for funerals, both secular and religious, is becoming as diverse and creative as it is for weddings.
A building or piece of land does not have to be especially consecrated or licensed for a funeral and, in non-religious services; the celebrant does not have to be registered. Apart from the actual cremation, specifically relevant or beautiful venues or locations can be included at any stage of the proceedings.
To clarify, the most traditional procedure is for the chief mourners to meet at the funeral director’s address. From there they will travel in limousine procession behind the hearse to the church. If burial is to be in the churchyard it will take place as part of the service. If it is to be in the municipal graveyard or, as in most cases, the body is to be cremated; mourners will drive in a procession of cars behind the hearse to the crematorium/graveyard. Here there will be more prayers at the graveside or prayers and music at the committal. Alternatively, the whole religious service may be held in the crematorium chapel.
Humanist funerals or those arranged by family and friends (of any denomination or completely secular) usually take place in the crematorium chapel. The ashes will go to the funeral director and the mourners will go to a wake, either a buffet or a sit-down meal. At a later date, anything from a few days to several months, even years, the ashes will be buried or scattered in the garden of remembrance, or taken by the family to be scattered elsewhere, most commonly at the deceased’s favourite beauty spot.
Green Endings (www.greenendings.co.uk 0207 424 0345) is one of a growing number of funeral directors specialising in environmentally-friendly funerals. ‘Our aim is to ensure that each funeral reflects your feelings as well as the life of the person who has died, and their culture, their personality and their achievements. Arrangements can be made for any style of funeral, from a woodland burial using a cardboard coffin to a more traditional religious service and cremation. We can incorporate any beliefs, whether religious or secular, into a service of your choice. We have a wide experience of all cultures and faiths.’
Woodland Burials (www.woodlandburials.co.uk 01255 880040) plants a native, broadleaf tree for every full or ashes internment and supply a hardwood, inscribed plaque to mark the grave (replaced when it biodegrades). The choice of formal or informal service, religious, secular or no ceremony at all is left to the family. For details of local woodland burial sites, contact your local council or The Natural Death Centre (www.naturaldeath.org.uk0871 288 2098).
Ashes can be scattered anywhere, and permission is only needed if the land is private. Most national parks and famous beauty spots have published guidelines. The Woodland Trust (www.woodland-trust.org.uk 0800 0269650), for example, allows ashes to be scattered in their woods but they ask you not to hold any kind of formal ceremony in the wood and not to disturb the ground in any way. For as little as £10 you can dedicate a tree in one of their woods in memory of a loved one.
As more and more people are opting to arrange their funeral ceremonies before they die, funeral directors are becoming increasingly used to hearing unusual requests and some even specialise in them. ‘We have arranged so many funerals that it is hard to say which is the most unusual,’ says Heaven on Earth (www.freespace.virgin.net/heaven.earth/ 0117 926 4999).
‘We have buried wizards with their wands, spells and all and cremated Buddhists with chanting, incense and a strewing of flowers. On one occasion the committal was timed to coincide with an explosion of kazoos, whistles and party poppers and the releasing of hundreds of balloons. On another the coffin disappeared to Welsh miners singing ‘The Red Flag’.’
Fantastic Funerals (www.fantasticfunerals.co.uk 0113 269 7892) can arrange anything from a gentle woodland service to blasting the ashes into space. They have negotiated with hotels and venues for coffin access so that the whole ceremony can be held in a beautiful setting. ‘The proprietors of all the venues we have listed agree that the funeral celebration, including the coffin, can be held at the locations we describe. This means the celebration can be highly individual, creative and personal, designed to a specific theme and tailored accordingly. A civil celebrant may conduct the funeral if you wish.’
Venues include the Devonshire Arms Hotel in the Fells, Ripley Castle, and Old Hall – a 15th Century house at Sausthorpe, Lincolnshire, where the ceremony can be held either in the beautiful gardens or in the Music Room. For sports enthusiasts there’s the Rudding Park Hotel and golf club, where ashes can be scattered in the grounds, Ripon Race Course where a horse-drawn hearse can be driven down the six furlongs to the winning post and ashes scattered on the course, or Leeds United football club with ashes buried under the pitch. For cricket and rugby fans there’s Headingly where ashes can be buried in the Garden of Rest belonging to the grounds.
If you are looking for a venue for a wake, a professional venue-finding agency will not only help you in the search for the perfect location but also provide a one-stop base to assist with your catering and accommodation needs. You can select online from a wide range of venues from art galleries to zoos. As they are funded by the hotel and corporate facility venues,(www.jigsawconferences.co.uk, 0800 158 4400) offer their assistance to you at no cost. Other agencies offering interesting venues for hire include (www.funkyvenues.com 0207 735 9263) – the top of the Gherkin office building for a London lover, or Tate Modern for an art lover perhaps – 01580 715151).
Country house send offs plus fireworks
It’s a sad fact that many families only come together from great distances at the time of death. A funeral will sometimes be followed later by a memorial service or dedicated mass. Those who don’t belong to any religion who want to come together to celebrate the life of a loved one are increasingly choosing to make up their own memorial events. One way of doing this is to hire an exclusive-use venue. www.historic-uk.com/StayUK/HouseParties is just one of the many online agencies who provide private and corporate country house hire, for a day or a weekend, with or without catering.
A company who can perfectly combine a memorial gathering like this with a, literal, send-off for the loved one is Heavens Above Fireworks (www.heavensabovefireworks.com 01992 578993) whose speciality is incorporating the ashes into a firework display. ‘Our aim is to match the event and fireworks display as closely as possible to the client’s personality and wishes. Displays can be synchronized to favourite music pieces and/or supported by additional features.’ They can also arrange for a number of rockets (or other fireworks) to be modified to contain ashes so that you can let them off yourself at a location of your choosing.