Here are some guidelines you may find helpful.

You will want the funeral ceremony to have a logical structure – a beginning, a middle and an end – and a sense of forward movement.

There is no right way to structure a funeral ceremony but here is a workable template. Follow it if you like it. If you don’t like it, your reaction against it may show you the way ahead.

You can intersperse these sections with songs, hymns, poems, readings, a candle ceremony and music.


Welcome and any practical points

Thank everyone for coming and tell them what that means to you.

Invite them to come along to refreshments / make a donation / attend the dove release afterwards.


Why we are here

Tell everyone what is going to happen and why.

Describe the purpose of the funeral.

Acknowledge different beliefs.


How we feel

Deal with the really sad bit now. Talk about the death and how you all feel about it. Once you have done that, you are free to give your entire attention to the life of person who has died and talk about nothing else. Consider concluding with a poem or reading about life and death.



Tell the life story and celebrate the life. This is often called the tribute or the eulogy. If forms the big heart of the ceremony.

Recount episodes from the life of the person who has died which illuminate their virtues and uniqueness and unforgettableness.

Find some tips on writing a tribute below.



It is often called the committal. It is the part of the ceremony when everyone says goodbye to the body of the person who has died.

At a crematorium it is customary, at this stage, for the coffin to be hidden by curtains or for the coffin to descend.

It is, of course, an intensely emotional moment. Many people assume that, once the coffin is hidden from view, it goes straight into the cremator. It doesn’t. At most crems it just sits there til you’ve gone.

The coffin does not have to disappear like this. A farewell can work just as well when the coffin stays in full view. At the end of the ceremony people can come up to it, touch it, place a flower on it, and say their own last goodbye. If this is what you want, be sure to tell people in advance otherwise they might think there’s been a mistake.

If you decide you would like the coffin to disappear, and you have engaged a celebrant to lead the ceremony, do you want to push the button that operates the curtains? If not, why not?

At a crematorium the organist may ask you if you would like to have music play as the farewell words are spoken and the coffin descends. By this, he or she means a few blurry, atmospheric chords. Do you think this will be distracting or do you think it may add to the mood of the moment? Would you like to play your own recorded music? If you do, remember that everyone will probably be standing. You won’t want to play it all; you’ll have to fade it out. This can be unsatisfactory.


Closing words

Words which speak of acceptance and looking forward may, you feel, be an appropriate way to end the ceremony.

Carefully chosen words help people to leave what should have been a positively meaningful funeral.