What is a direct cremation?
A direct cremation is where the body of the person who has died is taken straight to the crematorium, where it is cremated without a funeral ceremony.
A direct cremation is the most pared back of funeral services, a straightforward transfer from A to B, with minimal involvement by staff or bereaved families. Arrangements can be made over the phone, if need be, with paperwork completed and returned by post, and the ashes delivered to your doorstep some weeks later.
There is no choice of crematorium, nor of the time of the cremation. No visits to the chapel of rest. It’s a ‘no funeral’ funeral. It is also significantly cheaper than a traditional type of funeral.
Over the last few years, direct cremations have increased significantly in the UK. The latest Sun Life Cost of Dying Report 2021 suggests 14% of all funerals are now direct cremations. Nobody is quite sure why. The marketing departments of many direct cremation providers seem to have settled on the attraction of direct cremation being the much lower cost, which is often less than £1,500, rather than around £4,000 for a more conventional type of funeral. We are not so sure that the lower cost is the main reason.
Anecdotally, most funeral directors will tell you that clients who want a direct cremation could easily afford to pay for a traditional funeral, but simply don’t want to. This could be for all kinds of reasons, all of them perfectly valid.
Direct cremation is now an accepted funeral choice option, and the funeral market has responded by almost all companies offering it as one of their services, alongside online specialist providers who operate exclusively in the direct cremation market.
What do you need to know about direct cremation?
Essentially that once the person has died, that’s it. There is no public event with their body present. You won’t see them again; you won’t be in the presence of their body again. Any public farewell will take place without their body present.
You will probably not know who is collecting the body, nor when, nor whereabouts they are taken to, or when they are placed in a coffin and taken to a crematorium. You may not know when they are being cremated.
None of this may matter to you. If any of it does, but you still prefer the idea of a direct cremation to a traditional funeral, then we recommend choosing a funeral director rather than an online provider and talking to them about any of your concerns.
You will normally be asked to pay for the full costs involved before the direct cremation takes place.
What might you want to take into consideration?
If you are thinking about direct cremation, either for your own future funeral or for the funeral of someone you love, you will need to consider the impact that the absence of a funeral ceremony might have on family and friends.
As a society we are accustomed to a public ceremony with a coffin present which enables us to begin to process the loss of one of our community. A direct cremation does away with this, and some people might find this difficult. It is important to talk to those closest to you to discuss your thoughts and any implications your choice might have.
Some people may really want to visit the person who has died before they are cremated. Some may balk at the idea of there being no final rites and rituals. Some people might worry about where the person is taken to, and how their body is being treated. Some may feel that being in the presence of the coffin at a funeral ceremony is important in order to really appreciate the reality of the death, while others may feel a need to have a collective gathering, where those who knew and loved the person can come together and share their grief and support each other in their sadness.
Some people may have strong religious reasons for wanting a funeral ceremony. Some people just want a chance to say goodbye at a funeral. For all of these reasons, and others, there may be a strong resistance to the idea of a direct cremation. Think carefully before coming to a final decision.
Separating the goodbye from the disposal
Choosing a direct cremation frees you to organise a commemorative event anywhere and anytime that you choose, without the constraints of a venue that will allow a coffin to be present.
This is appealing to some people, and all of the elements that make a really meaningful funeral can be incorporated into a memorial ceremony – the music and poetry and memories and stories can all be shared just as they would have been at a funeral. The knowledge that there will be a memorial ceremony of some kind might help allay some of the concerns of family and friends and help people find a way of saying goodbye to the person who died.
Alternatively, you can choose to commemorate the person in any way you like; a family trip to somewhere special to you all, a gathering in a favourite pub or restaurant, a party at home – the choice is yours. You can have the ashes present or not, it’s entirely up to you.
Who to choose?
All of the funeral directing companies on our Recommended list offer direct cremation as an option, and most UK funeral companies have now added direct cremation to their services.
There are also a multitude of direct cremation specialist companies who have appeared online in recent years.
It is important to remember that the funeral industry in the UK is unregulated and there is no way of assessing the calibre of the online providers. We suggest that if, after browsing a website, you don’t feel you have a clear idea of the identity of the owner or how your person would be looked after, avoid them. Likewise, if there is no postal address of a head office, avoid them.
We currently recommend only one specialist direct cremation service, Simplicita Cremations, the company founded by Nick Gandon, the pioneer of direct cremation.