Do it all yourself

When someone dies and you need to arrange a funeral, it is perfectly possible and legal to do everything yourself without employing a funeral director.

The more prepared you can be in advance, the better. To begin from scratch will be really difficult. We recommend getting hold of a copy of The Natural Death Handbook if you can.

It will take some planning and organisation and assistance from others, but if you want to do it all yourself, and if circumstances allow, then read on.

Don’t be dissuaded

When someone dies, most public officials advise you on the assumption that you will want to use a funeral director.

Some will express amazement that you want to do it all yourself, some may try to dissuade you, some will disapprove – and some will try to stand in your way.

If anyone tries to tell you it’s against the law, put them right. It’s not.

Tell them you are the funeral director. Check out the legal position using the button below.

What needs to be done?

“Someone will wash the body. Someone will dress the body. Someone will close the eyes for the final time. Someone will. At the critical moment of death, someone will perform these tasks for the person whom we have loved and cared for all our lives. Why would we give those meaningful rituals away to a stranger? Why do we give away the best stuff?” 

Anne O’Connor

Verifying the death

When someone dies at home and the death has been expected, you will need to contact their GP to arrange verification of death.

English law allows that any competent adult may verify that someone has died but does not place them under a legal obligation to do so. In the past, a doctor would usually attend to verify that death has occurred. Call the person’s GP and follow their advice.

Looking after the body

Caring for the body of someone who has died is nowhere near as difficult as you might think. It is a lot easier than caring for a bedridden adult or a helpless child.

If you have the supplies you need (towels, bowls, washcloths, sheets, dry ice or freezer packs) and willing hands to help you, then looking after your person after they have died is likely to be easier than looking after them while they were ill.

Detailed information about caring for someone after death can be found here.

The paperwork

Once you have carried out the initial care of the body and your person is resting peacefully in a cool room, you will need to deal with the administrative side of organising the funeral. Detailed information about the paperwork involved can be found here.

Registering the death

The death will need to be registered within five days. It is quickest and easiest to contact the register office in the area where the death occurred, although you can contact any register office.

Booking the burial or cremation

You will need to call the crematorium or burial ground to book the date and time of the funeral. If you intend to hold a ceremony at a separate venue you will need to coordinate the bookings, allowing time to travel from one to the other. If you are planning to employ a faith leader, celebrant or someone to help you with the ceremony, call them to check their availability before making any bookings.

Obtain a suitable coffin
or shroud

Detailed information about coffins and home funerals can be found here.

Notifying the burial ground
of the coffin size

If you’re organising a burial, you will need to ensure that the burial ground is given the exact external coffin size. When the coffin arrives, measure the height and width (in feet and inches) and phone this information through to the burial ground office. Make sure you specify that this is the exact external  measurement. If you are in contact with the gravedigger directly, it is probably worth letting them know the coffin size too.

Organising transport

Depending on the size of the coffin, many larger family cars (estate cars or SUVs) will be suitable to transport a coffin to the crematorium, burial ground or ceremony venue. If you don’t have a suitable vehicle available, you can hire a large car (Chrysler Grand Voyagers are excellent) or hire a hearse or an alternative form of transport from a funeral director or from the supplier directly. More information about funeral transport can be found here.

Organising the ceremony

You will find many ideas and suggestions for creating a funeral ceremony yourself on this website, or you may choose to hire a celebrant to work with you. Google funeral celebrants in your area, have a look at the websites and call any you like the look and sound of to see if they are a good fit for you.

Be realistic

When the death occurs, you will need to take stock of the reality of the situation. Go through the questions below and then assess whether you are able to do everything that you hoped:

We recommend anyone intending to look after a person who has died initially considers the following:

Do you have the support of other family members or friends?

Do you aim to look after the person yourself until the day that they are buried or cremated?

Has the death occurred at home?

Do you have a suitable room where the person’s body can remain for several days?

Can you keep this room cool?

Is the person’s body in a fragile condition (e.g. bed sores or other wounds)?

Have you sourced a supply of dry ice, or obtained a number of freezer packs?

Will you be able to register the death and book the burial or cremation within a reasonably short period of time? (Over Christmas and New Year there may be extended delays in getting an appointment at the register office).

Have you sourced a supplier of a coffin or a shroud? Can they deliver in time?

Do you have access to suitable transport to take the body to the funeral venue?

Have you made contact with the crematorium or burial ground to advise them that you will be organizing the funeral yourself?

Do you have all the relevant forms that will need to be completed?

If the person is to be buried, have you made contact with a gravedigger?

Do you have access to a local funeral director prepared to advise you and step in if required?

Have a back-up plan

For all kinds of reasons, it might not be possible to do everything that you would like for your person. We recommend that you have a Plan B in place, with a supportive funeral director who will be able to advise you if you are concerned, or step in and take over if you need them to.

Many funeral directors are happy to act as a consultant in the background – you may need to pay a small fee, but it will be worth it for the peace of mind. Some are willing to come and check your person on a daily basis, others will be there to answer questions if they arise. Almost all will be happy to come and collect your person and look after them in refrigerated conditions if there is a delay or a change in weather that means that natural processes make it difficult for you to keep looking after them at home.

Finally, if you do find that you can’t fulfil all of your hopes for a home funeral, please don’t see it as a failure. Instead, be proud that you have managed to do what you can.

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