What do you want at your funeral?

Charles 28 Comments



Guest blogger RR writes today for ‘the silent majority of consumers’.

With the plethora of funeral options, some people choose to give their own send-off advance thought and leave instructions to their next of kin. This brief survey aims to focus the mind on some of the boxes that might need to be ticked. If answering this questionnaire, feel free to give additional comments. For example, if you want music at your funeral, and already have specific favourites, do share…

1 Have you been involved in planning a funeral before?

2 Did the dead person leave instructions for the funeral?


3 Do you intend to leave instructions for your own funeral?


4 What are your preferences for the ‘disposal’ of the body?
Donated to medical science

5 Where do you want your funeral to take place?
Church and crematorium
Woodland burial ground
Alternative venue
At home
Direct cremation with no funeral service

6 Who do you want to officiate at your funeral?
Religious celebrant
Humanist celebrant
Civil/secular celebrant
Family member

7 Which of the following do you want included in the funeral service?
Full religious liturgy
Exclusively secular format
Mix of religious and secular
Bible readings
Secular readings
Classical music
Contemporary music
Moment of silence
Collective call-out of memories

8 How do you want funeral guests to dress?
Specific theme
Anything goes

9 What are your coffin or urn design preferences?
Other (eg cloth shroud)

10 What transport do you want to your funeral?
Traditional hearse
Horse-drawn carriage
Alternative hearse (eg motorbike and sidecar)
Own transport

11 Who do you want to carry the coffin at the service?
Undertakers’ pallbearers
Family and friends

12 Do you plan a committal ceremony after the funeral?
Graveside (burial of coffin or urn)
Scattering of ashes
No committal

13 Do you plan a memorial service or gathering some time after the death/funeral/committal?

14 If your body/ashes are to be buried, how do you want the resting place commemorated?
Planted tree

No marker of the spot
Not applicable

15 Do you plan to budget in advance for your funeral?
Specific funeral plan financial product
Regular financial product (eg ISA)
Instructions in a will for the next of kin
Agreement with next of kin to cover costs
No plan

16 How much do you envisage spending on your funeral?
Up to £1,000
Over £10,000

17 Which of the following do you want at your funeral?
Big turnout of family, friends and aquaintances
An intimate gathering
Funeral venue hire
Social venue hire
Service sheet
Burial site
Memorial stone or plaque
Musicians and choir/singers
Food and drink
Catering staff and waiters
Memorial slide/video screen

18 Before the funeral, where do you want your body to rest?
Cold storage in hospital/undertaker’s morgue
At home
No preference

19 What are your preferences for viewings of the body at a vigil or wake?

Closed coffin
Open coffin

20 If viewings are welcomed, which options do you prefer?

Visit to undertakers’ chapel of rest
Viewable any time at home
Embalmed body
Temperature-controlled, un-embalmed body

21 Do you believe in some form of life of the soul after death?



  1. Charles

    There seems to be a lot missing from this long list, RR – and I don’t mean even more menu items, but the chance for your survivors to respond spontaneously to their own grief and create something for you that works for them, rather than drag themselves along with your own ideas of your own party for yourself. It’s often comforting to have a broad idea of ‘what would have pleased him’, but more than that takes the joy out of creatively celebrating someone’s life and the poignancy out of communally mourning his death.

    If I were an expert chef and I ran a restaurant, I wouldn’t have a menu at all. I’d come out to my customers and get them to talk about what their hunger feels like, and create a meal around their needs. Okay, they’d have to go home for a couple of hours while I went shopping and they’d probably end up at McDonald’s and not come back, but you get the point?

    1. Charles

      (Since the ‘replies’ format changed some time ago, reading them in any sort of order is like trying to work your way backwards through a game of chess – is there a button that puts them in Krono-Logical format?)

      But to get back to the point: Yes, James (if you can find James’ comment without being checkmated), wouldn’t it be lovely if the word ‘funeral’ had never been coined! All the etymologists can come up with is ‘Latin funus, meaning…funeral’.

      What it definitely doesn’t mean is what it generally is used to mean: ‘A list of requirements to accompany the disposal of our dead’.

    2. Charles

      I would tend to agree with James. But hold on a minute. If all funeral directors posed all of these questions to their clients we might see a more rapid move away from ‘Victorian’ funerals.

      The questions make for excellent inclusion in a piece of academic research.


  2. Charles

    Interesting responses so far.

    I don’t really see how a questionnaire giving people funeral options is a ‘depressing’, ‘dismaying’ display of overt materialism or traditionalism, worthy of a ‘riposte’ (meaning: quick retaliation against an insult!!).

    Such hyperbolic language makes me wonder how you’d describe the plight of the Syrian refugees I’ve recently visited in Jordan.

    If anyone actually printed out this as a tick list they could just as easily vote ‘no’ as ‘yes’: ‘no’ to leaving any funeral instructions, ‘no’ to any celebrant, ‘no’ to a hearse etc.

    And as well mentioning some ‘stuff’, there are questions leaning towards ‘spiritual’ choices, too: religious or humanist ceremonies, burial or scattering of ashes etc. Surely, it’s more democratic to pose such questions than to censor them?

    Also, is presenting the option of spending a bit of money on choirs or caterers really so controversial, especially as the green and abstaining options are included? Skilled, creative people of all persuasions oil the wheels of commerce: they meet need for products and services and, in return, they earn money to house and feed themselves.

    I’d be interested to hear more about this ‘anti-funeral’ alternative. I’d also like to see proposals for the social contracts of a New World Order!

    All said, I liked Jonathan’s initial comment. The shopping list was intended to be neither comprehensive nor compulsory. It would be great if some people started with a blank canvas and felt their way through to responding to their dead in their unique ways.

    The chef’s no-menu analogy might indeed prove problematic, but yes, I do get the point!

    1. Charles

      We had a family whose climber husband/father died in a climbing accident. They organised an ‘anti-funeral’ event – no ceremony, no service, no FD, no hearse, no coffin, they did everything themselves.
      They collected the husband/father from the coroner’s mortuary in the morning. Wrapped him in sheepskins and his cotton sleeping bag liner. Carried him in a sling made from his climbing ropes to their car and drove him straight to our burial ground where they carried him to the grave and lowered him in.
      They invited people to come to the burial ground to say their individual goodbyes and they stayed there all day, around a camp fire, some distance from the grave, sharing memories, hugs, joy and tears. When they left, they left no trace… that’s how he’d have wanted it. No funeral products or services anywhere to be seen.

      1. Charles

        Choice implies rejection. While these people seem to have enacted what was ideal for them in its minimalism, this is only one way, James, yes? Perfect for them, but not a template for all.

        While I’m on, does this rejection of ‘the material’ (balloons doves, grieving bling) not have somewhat of a whiff about it of… snobbery? Given the nature of the commenters, no. But it’s how it might be received by people who want to send Mum into Eternity with all the trimmings.

      2. Charles

        Sounds truly lovely, James but I’m sure you agree it wouldn’t be for everyone and that other choices should be respected. You seem like a gneteel and sound fellow who wouldn’t want to arrest Mr Armani, Mr Sainsbury and Apple’s CEO for actually making things, selling things and employing people. You wouldn’t want us to all wear sackcloth uniforms in state-run agrarian communes and be forced by law to have one child families. Such totalitarianism would not only be depressing, it would lead to suffering on a global scale due to collapsed economies. Maybe even WWIII. Beauty makes the soul sing, whether bunny rabbits frolicking in the fields or good art and design. A dismayingly material riposte, Kathryn!

  3. Charles

    In addition to RR’s list of ‘stuff’ the GFG offers readers similar lists on its Create the Ceremony page. They’ve only been there for three weeks or so and already we’re getting very favourable reports from people who have felt empowered by them — the latest a woman who got fed up being given the runaround by the People’s Undertaker and by dint of taking the whole shooting match into her hands created a funeral she was very pleased with.

    I’m inclined to think that lists like this stimulate exactly the sort of thinking that Jonathan and James desire well before they go and see an undertaker. They give them the opportunity to assess ‘what their hunger feels like’.

    1. Charles

      And I’m inclined to think there’s a big difference between what’s on the Create the Ceremony page – ‘how do you want the funeral to taste and to nourish you, bearing in mind it’s you who’s eating it?’ – and RR’s list, which says ‘it’s a foregone conclusion you’ll have to eat this, so do you want a cheese one or a salad one, or be really bold and have a bacon one?’

      And I think James is being misunderstood here – he said he liked that version, not that it was a template.

      1. Charles

        Jonathan, or ‘None’ or ‘Other’, meaning readers can do exactly what you’re advocating and go free flow.

        At the end of the day, I really don’t care what people choose. We all have lives. I’m glad the list stimulated a mini-discussion but, when some of us churn out copy for this exact purpose, it can be tiresome when criticism occasionally takes the form of sneers rather than constructive disagreement (not your comments, I add).

        Moving on, I’m not sure if anti-funeral is a particularly catchy phrase. Ditto DIY funeral. DIY marmalade? Home-made funeral perhaps?

        1. Charles

          I’m sure my negative, knee-jerk reaction to a check list is because we are so close to this every day, and hear about so many set-piece, churned-out funerals.

          ‘Anti-funeral funeral’ was the term used in conversation by the family whose event I described. Other family members asked them when the funeral was going to take place – they said ‘we’re not having one’. They held an event which suited their self-sufficient, independent, free style.

          Lists do help, as do suggestions and stories told by others. They help people get through what seems to be an unthinkable task. The anti funeral isn’t for everyone – but I put it forward as an alternative.

          Surveys to collect data are important too. They can be really influential. (try Survey Monkey, it’s a good tool).

          1. Charles

            James, I entirely agree with you about people having the courage of their values. Going through the motions can be a cowed thing to do likely to yield little value. The downside of familiar rituals is that a ritual, by definition, means, for people who do not attach special value to a ritual, shuffling through the same old same old. Take weddings: all that differs is the colour of the napkins at 99% of them (and WHAT is all that father of the bride, best man thing all about, ffs). A good friend is shortly off to Gretna for a no-wedding wedding. It means defying the expectations of all manner of family members (mums in uproar, etc). That can be tough.

            Over in NZ a nice-sounding old man has been virtually bankrupted by his wife’s funeral. The comments on the story are well worth reading. Here’s the story: http://is.gd/GS9uXS

            And here’s one of the comments:

            Funeral venue hire – friends or rellies at no cost
            Food – Bring a plate
            Hearse – Friend with a ute or station wagon
            Casket – Wrap in funeral shroud (sheet) or cardboard casket – just a few bucks
            Embalming – No need to as the body can go straight from the morgue to the funeral
            Event planning – Friend & rellies on mobile phone or email
            After hours – see above
            Viewing – not needed
            Printing stuff – Friends & rellies
            AV equipment hire – not needed
            Council fees – already covered by the rates we pay
            Funeral celebrants – paid services not needed, there will always be someone with something nice to say.
            Musicians – Everybody knows someone with a guitar.
            Paperwork & legals – already paid for with our taxes
            Newspaper notices – not needed when we have social media
            plaques/headstones – provided by the state as a sign of appreciation for the contributions made by the deceased during their life.

            There is no one more qualified than an empathetic friend, relation or even social worker to assist a bereaving person through this time.

  4. Charles

    Totally unconnected to this post but mentioned by someone – what the hell has happened to the comments list? It used to be chronologically ordered, like all the best eulogies, but now it’s all over the chuffing place.
    After a hard week churning out generic funerals I want to be able to follow the action easily, my head hurts enough as it is.
    Sort it out please Charles, there’s a love.

  5. Charles

    Lol, the comments used to be top to bottom, but now they’re bottom to top. What complicates it is if people respond to others’ comments, in which case their response will not appear in chronological (north-facing) order. When the website goes for a spring clean, which we are saving up for, we’ll try and get something done about this unsatisfactory situation.

    I am now going to respond to James halfway down just to be difficult and annoy you and Jonathan, the feisty men of death.

  6. Charles

    (… queen from knight’s bishop four, un-mate …) I and a former wife of mine had a no-divorce divorce, Charles – forty quid all in, the young woman at the council office looked at the clock behind us and announced, “it is nine twenty-seven on the ninth of December, you are now divorced”; we then went for a Costa and some Thorntons, and back to work that afternoon.

    That’s what I call a ceremony. No one went through a check list about fighting each other over the house, sawing the dog in half or visiting the children. Life simply went on as normal, mission accomplished.

    Now that’s the sort of thing I’m trying to explain – if someone had helpfully suggested choices from a menu, the whole thing would have been fundamentally different and utterly pointless.

  7. Charles

    James, I don’t want to flog this one to death but I must ask your something.

    Your response to the questionnaire guiding readers to some of the choices out there (cremation or woodland burial, civil celebrant or family member/friend, wicker coffin or scattering of ashes, horse-drawn carriage or own car) was as follows:

    ‘I don’t know, but this list depresses me… I want an anti-funeral funeral – none of the above!’

    Fair enough, I thought, if you’re an anti-consumerist eco-warrior.

    I then visited your superb website, Needam Natural Heritage, and admired the beautiful burial meadows. I don’t pretend to know you but the tone projected (excellent design, photgography and copy) was more that of a conservationist of the conservative variety (green wellied landed gentry acting as custodians of the land). Less urban hippy and more proper countryman, a realist who is not against a bit of culling every once in a while, perhaps.

    Given the comment, I was also struck by moderate, choice-offering advice such as this:

    ‘Decide how much or little you wish to do for yourselves, and plan ahead. Participating in the funeral arrangements can help people come to terms with their loss, but there is a lot to organise in what can often be stressful and difficult circumstances. Pre-planning is helpful if there has been an opportunity to do that, as is a willing and able support team. You may find that having an experienced funeral director to assist and make sure that nothing has been overlooked reassuring’.

    And this:
    ‘Choose the right structure, readings, music, ceremony and style to suit the person who has died, and the natural setting will add the final touch…
    Traditional or unconventional, informal and celebratory – remember that this is an opportunity to celebrate a person’s life…
    Ministers and humanist celebrants can provide a framework for the event. This can often help put people at ease and allows for planning what is said, who will speak, the choice of music, and opportunities for children to be included’.

    Will the real Mr Needam please stand up? 🙂

    1. Charles

      Richard, thank you for looking at our website and your comments are appreciated – (it’s Leedam by the way, not Needam…).
      We are burial ground managers offering natural burials in beautiful, unspoilt landscape with good stewardship for generations to come. We want people’s experience to be as good as it can be and for the happening to reflect who they are, not what convention dictates.
      Our main advice is that people should slow down their decision making so that they are not automatically swept along the set piece route. You will have seen that we are great advocates for the Good Funeral Guide book and website. Providing good, helpful, straightforward information is our goal.
      The advice we offer goes out to a very wide range of families. We have learnt that people choosing natural burial have really different backgrounds and the event that’s right for one wouldn’t suit the next.
      My personal desire for an anti-funeral event reflects my own unclubbable, mildly rebellious nature – but that’s just me, and that’s exactly what we are suggesting – do what’s right for you.
      A checklist can be helpful, but it can also lead to us making automatic decisions rather than considered choices – did you see HORIZON BBC2 – “How to make better decisions” http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/horizon/broadband/tx/decisions/highlights/

      1. Charles

        James, so sorry that, in haste, I referred to Needam instead of Leedam. I understand the choice-offering service and the statement of personal preferences. No conflict there. Thanks.

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