As you get older your friends start to die.

Charles 3 Comments

Posted by Sue Gill

We’ve been to some truly awful funerals and I’m sure we’re not alone in that. Sometimes the ceremonies were healing, but more often they were formulaic and irrelevant, and we left feeling sometimes angry, sometimes guilty, frequently in despair.

That’s what compelled us to write the Dead Good Funerals Book, to offer a no-nonsense yet respectful view of what an inspiring funeral ceremony might be. A guide for someone faced with arranging a funeral for the first time. To start with we unpick a traditional funeral and show how it is stuck in the Victorian mode. We spell out how much we can do away with and still be legal and dignified, to leave space to create a funeral that is personal and distinctive.

I get asked, therefore, what plans do I have for my own funeral.

I don’t feel I am at the prescriptive stage yet, but now we live in the Beach House – a wooden house on stilts directly above the shoreline of Morecambe Bay – I have become increasingly aware of the weather and tides, the extensive horizon, and this has had a major effect on me. At the moment I feel I would like my ashes to be dispersed into the vast expanse of this bay, probably using an urn that dissolves in seawater, which could be placed way out on the bed of the sea at low tide.

I imagine people walking out at low tide and holding a service or ceremony of farewell out there. My grandkids would doubtless build something or make a garden from what they had picked up on the way out – shells, feathers, sticks and stones – to decorate the space for the urn to be placed in. Live music too from the Fox Family Band – that would be a last request Once they had walked back to shore and the tide had turned, within an hour the urn would have dissolved and off I would go.

A text that really resonates for me is from John F. Kennedy’s book The Sea which he wrote in 1962:  ‘ I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea. I think it’s because we all came from the sea. It is an extremely interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean. And therefore we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean, and when we go back to the sea we are going back from whence we came.’

Sue Gill was born in Yorkshire and educated in Hull and Cambridge. After working as Head Teacher of the smallest village school in remote North Yorkshire and lecturing in Bradford Art College Sue evolved to be: an author, performer, secular celebrant, cook, saxophonist, truck driver, co founder of Welfare State International (1968-2006) and grandmother. After WSI was archived she was, for one year, Director of Ceremonies for Lanternhouse International. From 1998-2006 course leader for WSI’s groundbreaking MA in Cultural Performance created in partnership with Bristol University. Honorary Fellow of the University of Cumbria. Invited to be Celebrant for the Ceremony of Remembrance for Great Ormond Street Hospital (2001).  Co-author of the Dead Good Guides  – books on Funerals and Baby Namings. Presently leads Rites of Passage Summer Schools across the UK with Gilly Adams, and works as a secular celebrant for weddings and naming ceremonies and funeral officiant, particularly for woodland burials.

Find Sue’s website here.


  1. Charles

    Sue is an inspirational figure in the world of alternative ritual, and it is so good to see her here. Welcome Sue! I love your take on a sea scattering. I love the way the tides bookend the ritual, the withdrawing of the sea followed by its taking back of the sand, and with it the temporary altar of your ashes. Still top of your game.

  2. Charles

    Morecombe Bay – what a great choice we often camped at Silverdale on edge of the bay, the light there is quite special.

    Dissolvable water urn placed at low tide – like it. Although the peculiar Health and Safety streak I have (which doesn’t suit me at all) says watch out the sands in the bay are treacherous! Note to self: get a life.

    And the piece focuses on the ash ceremony away from the Crematoria. Love it.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>