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Plan the funeral

Photos by Rachel Wallace Photography

Rise to the occasion

Too many people get home after a funeral feeling empty and lonely. It doesn’t have to be like this. A good funeral will do you a lot of good. But only if you do your bit and work hard at it. So don’t let others do for you what you can do for yourself. When you get home afterwards you need to feel incredibly proud of what you have achieved.


If you want a religious funeral you must put yourself in the hands of your faith leader. A religious ceremony has a fixed format called a liturgy which you will be able to personalise only to a certain extent. If you’re not really religious you’re likely find it unsatisfactory – as will the minister taking the service. See below and find a celebrant.

 Do you really have to have a funeral?

No you don’t. Think it through: download and read this document: Do you really have to have a funeral

Funeral or memorial service?

A funeral is a farewell ceremony at which the person who has died is present. A commemorative event at which the person who has died is not present is called a memorial service. Some people have both a funeral and a memorial service. A memorial service is adaptable to all manner of circumstances. You can get good advice and support from Hugh Thomas at 

If you opt for direct cremation or direct burial you can hold a commemorative event wherever and whenever you please. You may decide to scatter the ashes at this event – or you may not. 

Find out more about direct cremation and direct burial here: Direct cremation and direct burial

Starting with a clean sheet

If you don’t want a mainstream religious funeral you get to start with a completely clean sheet. You can do anything you like. A good funeral ceremony will be as unique as the life lived. Non-religious and semi-religious funerals are popular because they do what people want: they focus on the life of the person who has died and give thanks for that life. 

Do it your way

A funeral is one of those rare events which is not necessarily improved by professionals. Your funeral needs to be created and conducted according to the culture, customs and language of your family. A real funeral couldn’t give a damn what anybody else thinks of it. Read : Keeping it real  &  Making sense of loss & this article by Jonathan Taylor: What Will You Actually Do When Someone Dies?

What do you want to achieve?

A funeral has a big job of work to do. What do you want your funeral to accomplish? 

Make a list of goals: Set your goals  &  Create a sense of occasion

Style your funeral

Traditional or innovative? Formal or informal? Plain-speaking and down to earth, or poetical and full of beauty and mystery? What will be the mood of those who come? What will be the dress code? Who will carry the coffin? 

Download the checklist here: Style your funeral

Can a funeral be fun?

You want to celebrate the life of the person who has died… but is it okay to be funny? Yes. Humour has its part to play in a funeral, but not as a coverup for sadness. Jokes cannot displace sadness or paper over it: a grief-bypass funeral is likely to miss the point. But an account of someone’s life will almost certainly contain funny episodes, and good, happy memories will always make people smile. 

Choose your ingredients

A good funeral is likely to appeal to the heart, the head and the senses. There are all sorts of ingredients you can bring to your funeral which will enable it to do this. Music. Poetry. Prayers, perhaps. Candles. They need not cost you more than a few pence. But if you want to push the boat out the sky’s the limit. 

Choose your ingredients here: Choose your ingredients

Construct the ceremony

If writing a funeral ceremony is too big a task, then engage a celebrant (see below) to help you or do it for you. Not many people would have the confidence to go it alone. 

If you want to do it all yourself, here are some tips about how you might structure your funeral ceremony:  Construct the ceremony  &  How to write a really good eulogy

 Find a celebrant

If you do not want a religious minister to lead the funeral you can hire a non-religious celebrant or an atheist (humanist) celebrant. Some are brilliant, some are dreadful. Only you can judge who is on the same wavelength as you. So don’t get fobbed off with just anyone, make an effort to find the right one. You don’t have to hand over completely to the celebrant. You remain in charge and, of course, you have the last word on all decisions. 

Find out how to choose a celebrant here: Find a celebrant

Raise money for charity in memory

Read our factsheet to find out the best way of fundraising: Fundraising in memory

Create a slideshow

Works really well with music. Do this at home — download software or create your slideshow+text+music with PowerPoint.

If you want a professional job, cost £95, contact Jane Legate.

Film it or photograph it

It’s not the done thing to photograph a funeral, is it? Oh yes it is. More and more people want to share and savour the funeral they made. Take your camera and/or invite others to bring theirs. Alternatively, book a professional. Here’s a superb specialist:

Rachel Wallace

You need to support us…

The Good Funeral Guide is a labour of love not a nice little earner. If you find our website helpful please consider making a donation to keep us going. If you do it’ll really help — just a £1 or £2. We can find good uses for more of course!