Beautiful funeral readings and poems for the non-religious

by Sarah Jones

Poems and readings can be incredibly comforting at times of loss and their words and meaning can make them a very special part of a funeral. There are lots of well-known readings and bible verses that are traditionally used at funerals. If you are looking for a non-religious alternative, however, there are some beautiful poems to choose from. Here are 7 of our favourites – we have many other suggestions so please don’t hesitate to ask if you would like more ideas.

  1. Not, How Did He Die, But How Did He Live?

By Summer Sandercox

 This short funeral verse is an uplifting poem about celebrating life and remembering someone who has made a positive impact on those around them.

Not, how did he die, but how did he live?
Not, what did he gain, but what did he give?
These are the units to measure the worth
Of a man as a man, regardless of his birth.
Nor what was his church, nor what was his creed?
But had he befriended those really in need?
Was he ever ready, with words of good cheer,
To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?
Not what did the sketch in the newspaper say,
But how many were sorry when he passed away?

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  1. Death (If I Should Go)

By Joyce Grenfell

Joyce Grenfell was a British actress and satirical writer who became well known for her wry humour. This poem is often used as a funeral verse because of its sense of fun and positivity.

If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor when I’m gone speak in a Sunday voice

But be the usual selves that I have known
Weep if you must
Parting is Hell
But life goes on
So sing as well.

  1. Roads Go Ever On

By J. R. R. Tolkien

Life is often described as a journey and funerals are a time to reflect on this, making this passage from The Lord of the Rings a popular choice for funerals, particularly non-denominational or humanist ceremonies. In this beautiful reading, Bilbo acknowledges that his journey is complete.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

Roads go ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

  1. Dear Lovely Death

by Langston Hughes

 We chose to include this poem because it introduces the idea of continuing bonds. You can read more about this on the Continuing Bonds section of our website. We have also written a blog What are Continuing Bonds which talks about how ,when someone dies, our relationship with them doesn’t end, but it changes.  This poem talks about the way things take on new significance after someone has died.

Dear lovely Death
That taketh all things under wing—
Never to kill—
Only to change
Into some other thing
This suffering flesh,
To make it either more or less,
But not again the same—
Dear lovely Death,
Change is thy other name.

  1. Funeral Blues

BY W H Auden

This tender poem by Yorkshire-born writer W H Auden was introduced to a new generation by John Hannah in the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral. It is full of emotion and can be incredibly moving when used as a funeral reading. Although the tone is far from uplifting, it can be helpful to some people to acknowledge the hugeness of their grief and this poem does that very well.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let airplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message “He is Dead”,
Put Crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday-rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk , my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood,
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

  1. She Is Gone (can also be read as He Is Gone)

By David Harkins

People often choose this gentle poem for the funeral of a mother. It was in fact read at the funeral of the Queen Mother. The words can be changed to make it suitable for a father’s funeral too. We think it’s a lovely verse to celebrate the life of anyone, not just a parent.

You can shed tears that she is gone
Or you can smile because she has lived

You can close your eyes and pray that she will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that she has left

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
Or you can be full of the love that you shared

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday

You can remember her and only that she is gone
Or you can cherish her memory and let it live on

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

  1. No Matter What

By Debi Gliori

Debi Gliori’s children’s book No Matter What deals with the big worries that little children often have. In the book, Small’s mother says reassuringly, “I’ll always love you, no matter what.” The excerpt below can be used as a tender reading for a funeral where young children may be present. It is also very comforting for all ages.

Small said, “But what about when we are dead and gone, will you love me then, does love go on?”

…Large (replied) “Look at the stars, how they shine and glow, some of the stars died a long time ago. Still they shine in the evening skies, for you see…love like starlight never dies…”

These are just a few of the many non-denominational readings that can be chosen for a funeral. Sometimes, the person who has died will have had a favourite book, author or poem and this could have significance. They may even have shared an idea when talking about their funeral wishes. If you are thinking about making and sharing your own funeral wishes, you can find more information on our Funeral Plans and Wishes page.

By Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones

I became a funeral director because I believe that funerals are a very important opportunity for people to gain a growing acceptance of their loss, and to set the tone for a more positive bereavement.  Everyone we support has different needs that could potentially be met during the funeral arrangement process or by the funeral itself.  As a funeral director, I feel our contribution is to create a space for people to understand what would be helpful for them and to support people to create the event that is right for that unique individual and their family and friends.

In May 2018, I supported a lady to arrange her father’s funeral.  We met again in August 2018 because her mother had died, and she needed to plan her funeral.  In conversation, she mentioned that since May she had been involved in three other funerals in other parts of the country.  She told me that she had shared what she had learnt while arranging her father funeral and had been able to empower others as a result.  She also said that is was “like ripples on a pond” because the people who attended those funerals remarked how they identified with some of what they had seen and would hope to make similar choices when they were making funeral arrangements.

This conversation was the starting point for my book “Funerals Your Way – A Person Centred Approach to Planning a Funeral”, which I self-published in 2018.  I wrote this book to share with people what is possible and to provide a step-by-step decision-making framework to make the task of articulating funeral wishes, or planning a funeral, seem accessible and help people to feel more in control.  While articulating the choices and possibilities, I was very aware that I did not want the reader to feel that there was any expectation to personalise everything or participate, engage and reflect the individual if that is not right for them.  I hope that I have shared possibilities to create opportunities, not add more pressure to perform!

In the studio recording the audiobook

I hope that is helps people who would like to express their own funeral wishes or need to plan a funeral for someone who has already died.  Some people find it very important to articulate their wishes and the boxes at the end of every chapter are designed to help people to write down their thoughts as they evolve.  Some people who I have met are not able to speak to anyone close to them about their funeral and I hope that this book can help some of those people to still feel able to express their views but might not feel confident to approach a funeral director to do so.

I have also written it to be helpful for people who would like to feel more prepared because they know someone close to them is going to die soon.  Many people describe feeling out of control after someone has died and being able to gather information, understand the process and options can help to manage that.  Since the book was published in November 2018, I have received emails from people who have told me that the book made the process seem manageable, positive, and allowed them to see that the funeral could be a positive and helpful event, rather than someone that they simply “need to get through”.

I hope that is helps people who would like to express their own funeral wishes or need to plan a funeral for someone who has already died.  Some people find it very important to articulate their wishes and the boxes at the end of every chapter are designed to help people to write down their thoughts as they evolve.  Some people who I have met are not able to speak to anyone close to them about their funeral and I hope that this book can help some of those people to still feel able to express their views but might not feel confident to approach a funeral director to do so.

I have also written it to be helpful for people who would like to feel more prepared because they know someone close to them is going to die soon.  Many people describe feeling out of control after someone has died and being able to gather information, understand the process and options can help to manage that.  Since the book was published in November 2018, I have received emails from people who have told me that the book made the process seem manageable, positive, and allowed them to see that the funeral could be a positive and helpful event, rather than someone that they simply “need to get through”.

The first edition of Funerals Your Way on Kindle

In 2021, I wanted to update the book to include more information about green funerals, funerals in the digital age and to include what I had learnt from people about supporting wellbeing after bereavement. I have also included some changes suggested by people who were kind enough to give me their feedback after reading the first version.

I was very fortunate that a local publisher wanted to publish the second edition and it is now available from any bookshop in the world – which is wonderful because I am a strong believer in supporting local, independent businesses whenever possible.

There seems to be a growing awareness that it is helpful to discuss our funeral wishes with those close to us and it is something that people are increasingly being encouraged to do.  I believe that this is very difficult to do without a basic understanding of funerals, because without that you don’t have the shared language to communicate with.  “What would you like for your funeral?” is a very big and intimidating question.  However, “It would be helpful for me to know how you would like your beliefs to be reflected in your funeral?” or “Do you know that you can have a funeral service almost anywhere.  Do you have any thoughts about where you would like us to gather?”  are softer and more likely to result in a meaningful conversation.  People who have read the book have told me that they felt more confident to ask the important questions and subsequently the burden of “not knowing” has been lifted.

If you do ever decide to read “Funerals Your Way”, then please do get in touch to let me know whether you have found it helpful or whether you think it could be improved in any way.  All the book proceeds are donated to local charities and this year they are in support of The Swan Song Project – a wonderful Yorkshire based charity which write songs with people reaching the end of their lives, or after bereavement.

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By Sarah Jones

Continuing Bonds Theory

Grief is often described as a journey, although for many people it doesn’t have a clear start and end point. Everyone grieves in different ways and whereas many theories have been developed about the grieving process.

People have told us that they have found the theory of continuing bonds incredibly helpful and we thought it would be helpful to share some more information.  Many people have been unable to attend funerals in the last year and we believe that raising awareness about activities which might support the development of continuing bonds might therefore be even more important.


What does “Continuing Bonds” mean?

Put simply, continuing bonds theory States that when someone dies, our relationship with them doesn’t end, but it changes.  The relationship may continue to be very strong be we need to find a different way of relating to that person, and their memory. It helps people find ways to adjust and stay connected.


How can Continuing Bonds help?

Finding ways to stay connected can be therapeutic in its own right. You may explore ideas individually, as a group or family, or in many different ways. Some people find that these bonds develop naturally and with ease, others find it helpful to engage in activities and rituals which support their development or maintain them over time.

Maintaining this  connection might be very private and could be something as simple as keeping a photograph in a special place or a piece of clothing or jewellery to remember the person by. These connections provide comfort and can be very consoling.

Some people find it helpful to have a lock of hair, or item of jewellery to include the fingerprint of someone who has died.  This is a truly personal item which many people find very helpful and consoling.


Individual and group activities

You may decide to create some continuing bonds as a family or group. This could involve writing a song for the person who has died and performing it at special events, such as birthdays and anniversaries. You might agree a date each year to get together for a special walk in a location that was meaningful to the person who died.

If a memorial stone is places somewhere, or ashes have been interred or scattered, then you might choose to visit that place.  Alternatively, we have supported people to place a memorial bench in places of significance.  These are often beautiful and restful places and the bench might include an inscription, if you like.

On a personal level, you might find it helpful to use creativity make a connection. This might be a piece of art that you create as a way of expressing emotion and then hang on the wall in your home. It could be a rose that you plant in the garden that blooms every year and brings joy.

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Time for reflection

Special spaces and places can be used as a way of continuing your bond with someone who has died. This might be a quiet part of the house where you can sit and reflect, perhaps with a drawer nearby where you keep a meaningful piece of jewellery or clothing to hold as you sit and think about the person. It may be a bench in the garden or in the park where you can enjoy the view and watch the world go by.

You might decide that you would like a memorial tree in a woodland, a memorial birdbath in the garden or place some ashes in a small keepsake which you can hold and in the palm of your hand.


Using words

Some people find it helpful to write a letter to the person who has died or have a quiet place where they can go and have a chat. It can also be helpful to put your feelings into words, writing down how you feel and even any questions that you would like to ask yourself or the person who has died.

Maintaining a connection to someone also happens when you talk about them, share memories with someone, bake a recipe they loved or listen to a piece of music they enjoyed.


Is it unhelpful to dwell on the past?

People often worry that they should try and move on with their lives rather than dwelling on the past. Grief is often described as a linear process, which ends with acceptance or closure. In our experience, we have found that the process of redefining your relationship after loss is hugely positive.

Continuing a bond in a unique and personal way is natural, normal and can be incredibly helpful. It is not something to be ashamed of and it does not immediately mean that you are “stuck”. In fact, it is an important part of the grief process and maintains a natural attachment and bond which can continue even after death, just in a different way.

You may be interested in reading more about this topic and exploring some ideas and activities for Continuing Bonds.


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By Sarah Jones

A Day In The Life Of A Funeral Director

Traditionally, funeral directing has happened behind closed doors creating an air of mystery about the profession and everything surrounding it. Funeral directors often joined the family business having grown up in it, and it was deemed respectful and dignified for the care of people who have died (and arranging funerals) to happen privately and out of sight.

For this reason, and perhaps a post-war desire to be less exposed to death, choosing to work in  funeral care isn’t considered as proactively or readily as other branches of health and social care.

We recognise that the privacy surrounding funerals makes it very hard for people to know what it’s like to be a funeral director. It can be hard to know what questions to ask.  As a modern funeral director that is seeking to encourage more open conversation about funerals and funeral directing as a career, we are keen to answer some of the questions people have and talk about what a typical day in the life of a funeral director is really like in 2021. My personal experience tells me that most people are naturally very interested in what it is like to be a funeral director and have many questions.  Some people have many practical questions (often starting with “Do you also look after the dead people”), other are fascinated about funeral choices and many want to understand the emotional labour involved and what it “feels like” to help people to arrange a funeral.

As always, breaking down something complicated and human into its composite parts can end up oversimplifying it.  However, I believe that there are six key strands to being a funeral director and I’ll try to tell you a little more about each one below.

I must also caveat everything by saying that the UK funeral industry is unregulated and there are no minimum standards to adhere to.  This means that funeral directors can choose their own ways of working so it is hard for me to judge whether this blog would apply to every service.

We have also make a short video to compliment this blog so if you are interested, then please take a look at that too!


1) Looking after people who have died

After someone has died, we go to the place where they have died and bring them into our care (and usually look after people until the day of their funeral).  Depending on the circumstances and the wishes of the person who has died and their family, this may involve delivering personal care, dressing someone, or doing their nails, hair and makeup.

Sometimes people also need some care which is exclusively for people after death.  This depends on specific circumstances and we would always try to facilitate a family being involved in these decisions (gently and only if they want to).  Most people have heard of embalming, which is an example of such a procedure.


2) Supporting people to make funeral arrangements

We spend much of our time helping people to understand what is possible and then creating time and space to support them to work out what works best for them.  We start by trying to understand what is important to the person who has died and their family and friends and then expand on these ideas by structuring the decisions that need to be made and sharing ideas.

This might include needing to do some research about new options, places, or people so that we can suggest things which are specific to that individual.

Once the decisions have been made, then it is our job to pull everything together.  This usually involves sourcing some funeral products (like coffins and urns), liaising with other people like Minister and celebrants and ensuring all the necessary paperwork has been completed in a timely manner.


3) Support on the day of the funeral

On the day of the funeral, we are there to make sure that the event is as the family and friends wanted it to be.  In many cases, this involves ensuring that all the carefully prepared plans and timings are adhered to.  However, sometimes that also involves navigating the unexpected and being able to make quick judgements and decisions about how to adapt the plan in response to unforeseen circumstances.

Roadblocks which have popped up in the hour since you last checked the route, an unwell funeral attendee, a hearse that refuses to start or a last-minute change of plan about whether family members would like to carry the coffin, are all things which we need to navigate calmly and quickly.


4) Pre- and post-funeral support

As funeral directors, we are well placed to support people to understand and write down their own funeral wishes or purchase a pre-paid funeral plan.

We know the benefit of people leaving funeral wishes and see how consoling it is for people to be able to gift the fulfilment of these wishes after someone has died.  Many people we have supported to decide and articulate their wishes tell us that they have found it a positive experience and feel like an important task has been completed.

Similarly, because we support people who have been bereaved, we are well-placed to share helpful information about bereavement support, activities to support the development of continuing bonds and signpost to other services and organisations which might help.  We also run a peer bereavement support group at our services but that is not the case for all funeral directors.

Tea set


5) Raising awareness and standards

The more that people know about funerals, funeral choices and how funerals costs are calculated, the better.  We believe that sharing this information gentle and carefully while people are not immediately faced with planning a funeral is best because they can then call upon this knowledge when they need to make many funeral decisions in a relatively short space of time.

We spend time sharing blogs (like this one), raising awareness about funeral choices, hosting talks and workshops and other educational events.  We encourage other professionals allied to funeral care to come and share their perspective.

We also lead and contribute to funeral and bereavement research with several different universities so that we can help to gather the information that is needed to make sure that funeral directors know how to deliver the best possible (evidence-based) support to people who have been bereaved.

Sarah presenting at a conference


6) Having a positive impact on our communities and the environment

As funeral directors, you are an important part of your local community and it is rewarding to be able to make a positively contribution to this community.  We do what we can to understand what individuals, groups and organisations are doing and try to provide support where we can.  This can take many different forms, but the key is that is it driven by the needs of the community that we are in.

Like many people, we take our responsibility to the environment very seriously.  We consider how to minimise the impact that we have as a business, try to make a positive contribution to any sustainability work taking place in the community and work hard to raise awareness about greener funeral choices.

Every single day is different, every individual that we support is special and our job is truly a privilege.  We meet the most amazing people (personally and professionally) and are constantly reminded of how incredibly resilient people are – and it is an honour to be able to help.


If you have any questions about what it is like to be a funeral director (or anything else funeral related) then please don’t hesitate to get in touch via our Contact Us page or by emailing [email protected]

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By Sarah Jones

Wicker coffin

Green funerals – At a time when the environment is influencing so many of our everyday choices, interest in green funerals has never been higher. Whether you are arranging someone’s funeral or leaving wishes for your own, there are plenty of simple ways to make it more environmentally friendly.


Green funerals – what are they?

Green funerals are those where the environment has been considered in the choices that have been made. You may want to have a completely “green” funeral or it might be important to you to include some environmentally friendly elements without unduly restricting your options.

Some funeral choices are generally regarded as being better for the environment than others, but there also remain many questions still unanswered.  For example, natural burial is widely accepted as being more environmentally friendly than flame cremation, but the carbon footprint of individual coffins is less well understood (particularly if you consider the entire process from raw materials to their final disposal).


Why choose Green funerals over other types of funeral?

There are three main reasons why you might want to consider the environment in the funeral choices that you make:

A funeral can reflect the beliefs, values and individuality of the person who has died. If the environment has been important to someone during their lives, then it could be meaningful for this to be reflected in their funeral.

A funeral is often a time for reflection and including “greener” options can be a powerful signal to those present – it might even feel like leaving a legacy.

It is now widely accepted that we have a responsibility as individuals and as a society to minimise the detrimental impact that we have on the environment – a great number of small changes could add up to a truly significant contribution.

Green funerals – How to I make sure that I have a “green funeral”?

If you would like to make sure that your funeral is as green as possible then we would strongly encourage you to express your wishes (verbally or in writing) to the people who are most likely to be making your funeral arrangements.  Although these wishes are not legally binding, in most circumstances they are likely to be adhered to.  You will find some information about greener choices for you to consider below.

The process of fulfilling funeral wishes is often very consoling when people are arranging a funeral.  Making sure that your green funeral wishes are acted upon is likely to feel like a gift and this may have a meaningful and positive impact on the wellbeing of those people who are arranging the funeral.


Green funerals – Burial or cremation?

Burial, compared to flame cremation, is a greener choice (as it avoids the mercury, dioxin and carbon monoxide emissions associated with cremation). Furthermore, burial closer to the surface (such as in a natural burial ground) means that decomposition becomes aerobic and is more beneficial.  Although exact figures are hard to come by – the best information that I can find is that burial results in 100kg CO2 and flame cremation result in 200kg of CO2.

There are some alternatives to burial and flame cremation which are now available in other countries.  Water cremation (or “Resomation”) is a process whereby a body undergoes alkaline hydrolysis and is broken down into amino acids, which are passed through the water system.  After Resomation, ashes are available (although they look whiter than those that result from flame cremation).  Interestingly, many Resomators are manufactured in Yorkshire but they are not yet approved for use in the UK (although this is likely to change in the next few years).

Human composting was recently made available in Washington State.  Mixed with wood chips and alfalfa, a human body can be converted into compost in 30 days.  Again, this is not yet available in the UK but who knows what the future might hold!

Green funerals – What is the “greenest” coffin?

Choosing a coffin made from biodegradable materials (such as cardboard, willow or bamboo) is a common way to minimise your impact on the environment. However, it is also important to know how far these coffins have travelled as more locally grown and manufactured options may be preferable.

If you would prefer a wooden (or wood effect) coffin, then there are still greener choices such as locally sourced hardwoods like oak or cherry and softwoods like pine. Manufacturers will be able to advise where the wood has been grown and whether it is Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) registered.

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to use a coffin at all. Alternatives, such as a material shroud are an increasingly popular and green choice.

Green funerals –  What is the best way to travel?

You may wish to consider how far the body and the mourners travel and the type of fuel used in transportation. Choosing a local burial ground and having the service in the same location may be possible and people can be encouraged to travel together.

Funeral Directors are notorious for being proud of their large fleets of diesel-guzzling, enormous vehicles but times are changing, and more hybrid and 100% electric options are available.  This is our 100% electric Nissan Leaf eco-hearse, which has proven to be very popular since we brought it to Yorkshire in 2016.

It is also worth bearing in mind that you can transport a coffin in your own vehicle (if it is big enough).

Green funerals –  What else is there to consider?

There are several other things to consider when making greener choices:

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Avoid embalming to ensure that formaldehyde does not leak into the ground after burial

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Ensure flowers are sourced locally, or handpicked from your own garden

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Avoid use of cellophane and only use natural materials in floral arrangements

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Minimise the use of funeral stationery and ensure that any paper used is recycled

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Choose a memorial location which you can visit without having to travel far by car

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It is estimated that a single tree sequestrates 3,500kg CO2 over its lifetime. Planting one tree should therefore offset the CO2 emissions associated with any funeral – and we shouldn’t forget that trees are brilliant for nature, offer habitat and supporting biodiversity

Green funerals – What now?

The aim of this blog is to help you to feel more informed and confident about green funerals and some of the choices available to you.  We hope that is has also inspired you to consider the environment in your own funeral wishes, and the choices you make if you are ever arranging a funeral.

We have included some links below – you might find interesting if you would like to know more. Furthermore, we are also always happy to answer any questions that you may have (and be challenged on anything that we have said).

Together we can make a meaningful difference to the world that we live in.

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To find out more about:

Eco hearse –

How to contact us –

Human composting –

Natural Burial –

Water cremation –

Tree planting –



If you would like to know any further information or would like to discuss a specific option, please let us know.

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By Sarah Jones

Old people holding hands

The last year has been personally and professionally challenging and many people have been unable to engage in funeral rituals in a way they would have been able to do previously.

As our communities consider how to reconnect and recover, there is a lot we can learn and take forward from our experiences of supporting people who have been bereaved during this time.

Changes to funerals

Before 23rd March 2020, funerals were being arranged and conducted with no restrictions but thereafter churches closed and the numbers of people who could attend the crematorium or graveside were immediately and heavily restricted.  There was significant local variation in how many people could attend (mainly determined by venue specific risk assessments) and this has remained the case throughout.

In addition to restrictions in the number of people who could attend, there were also other changes – some of which were very significant to families and friends. In many situations, it was no longer possible for families to carry the coffin, touch the coffin before leaving, sing hymns and people could no longer gather after the funeral.  For many, the refreshments after the funeral can be a separate event – with storytelling, sharing of images and music or raising a toast in an atmosphere of warm, loving acceptance.  For many people this may feel like the time that they are welcomed back in the community after bereavement.

In July 2020, churches started to reopen. For many people this was a very positive and important change which was followed by slightly relaxed restrictions on funeral attendance and “allied event” (such as refreshments) numbers by October 2020.

When religion and a place of worship have been an important part of someone’s life, it can often be very important for their funeral to take place in this special place.  Religious traditions and rituals may be the most meaningful aspect of a service and although these can take place elsewhere, this is often not in keeping with what the person who has died (and their family and friends) were expecting.

Increased isolation and greater anxiety

It is also important to remain mindful that all of this took place while people had a lack of face-to-face interaction with funeral directors, ministers and others providing support, people were more isolated and had less community support and were often unable to spend time with the person who has died due to safety concerns.  Administrative tasks (registering death / banks etc) were also harder to complete as longstanding systems changed and staff were more likely to be unavailable.

Many people have found the last year anxiety provoking and have found that their mental health has deteriorated over the last year. People experienced bereavement with already lower levels of mental wellbeing and resilience, and it has been harder for people to reintegrate into society as their usual networks and activities have stopped.   This has meant that in many cases funeral and bereavement care services have continued to support people for a longer period than they may have done previously to try to compensate for this increased isolation.


How did we respond?

Funeral and bereavement care professionals have responded by encouraging pre-funeral, informal online gatherings, by adapting traditional services to be less structured and more intimate and by developing the skills to be able to offer live-streaming, recording and photographing.

We have also encouraged people to consider arranging memorial or thanksgiving services later and have tried to proactively share information about post-funeral ritual options.

Many people adapted their funeral choices so that they continued to create meaningful funerals despite the restrictions.  People lined the streets, met online to raise their glasses together, handed out take-away afternoon teas after services and are planning beautiful memorial services to take place in the future.

However, some people have really struggled with the restrictions and this has been particularly challenging when the person who died had expressed clear funeral wishes, which could not be fulfilled.


Some positives

It has been important to look for the “silver lining” over the last year and I believe that there have been some with funerals.

Services were more intimate and personal and may have allowed more free expression of emotions, some people have been more willing to speak because smaller numbers of people have lead to less performance anxiety. Also, recordings and photos (which would not have been taken otherwise) create keepsakes which may be consoling with long-term benefit

In fact, increased use of technology has enabled many people to engage with funerals and each other where this may otherwise not have been possible, and we have all developed new skills and resilience around more efficient communication methods.


What now?

As we all look forward and are considering how to recover, heal and reconnect with our lives and communities I have a few suggestions for each of us to consider.

1) Continue to raise awareness of post-funeral rituals

2) Share resources for bereavement support

3) Create opportunity for collective grief and acknowledgement of loss

4) Acknowledge grief may be expressed differently

5) Encourage open dialogue about death and dying

6) Try to embed learning and positive change


Sarah Jones – Full Circle Funerals – award winning Independent Funeral Director in Yorkshire.  Author “Funerals Your Way – A Person Centred Approach to Planning a Funeral”.

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By Sarah Jones

Woman in headphones looking at hills

Before becoming a funeral director with us in Harrogate, David Moon was a music teacher in South West London. He moved to Yorkshire with his wife and two young children to be closer to family. We caught up with him to find out more about his career change and discovered that there are more similarities between the two roles than you might think.

Has music always been a big part of your life?

I’ve been drawn to all things musical from a young age but it’s only been in later life that I’ve realised how much it has been my ‘soul food’. I have turned to music as a way to manage stress, practice mindfulness, gain support from others and to also celebrate key achievements.

When did you first notice a big connection between music and wellbeing?

During my music degree I worked as a freelance performer and guitar tutor. I took a personal interest in bringing live music into settings that offer a welcome distraction and can provide a positive impact to wellbeing. I would regularly perform solo guitar and sing on mental health, elderly and amputee wards at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Roehampton. Music’s benefit to recovery, mood and wellbeing made me feel like I was giving more than just a performance, I was connecting with people.

Did you learn anything about music from your students?

They taught me a lot about current music and artists and in doing that, they showed me how important music is as an outlet. I supported students to compose their own music and the lyrics were often very personal and sometimes quite dark as they channelled their emotions through music. I felt very privileged that they felt able to share such deeply personal moments and it helped me gain a real understanding of how music and lyrics can be a powerful vessel of expression.

Of all the possible career changes you could have opted for – why funerals?

It was quite by chance! My sister lives locally and spotted an advert in the window of Full Circle Funerals on Skipton Road. She knew that the part of my job I enjoyed most was having a positive impact on people’s lives, so although it might seem like a big change there are a lot of similarities.

Did you have any doubts?

I’ve faced challenging situations as a teacher and supported students and families through difficult conversations but I did wonder if I would know the right thing to say to people who have been recently bereaved. I now realise it’s all about trusting myself to navigate the conversation and my past experiences in school have proved to be very helpful.

Are there any parts of the job you have found difficult?

I come from a family of nurses so caring is all around me. That’s given me a really good grounding in lots of ways and has helped me with some of the more physical aspects of the job. I’m very mindful of being gentle and thoughful when carrying out my work.

Is there anything that has surprised you?

Full Circle Funerals does something called reflective practice where we talk through our work to reflect on what went well and whether there are things we could learn to improve the experience for us and the people we support in the future. There are parts of the job that can be challenging and this process is incredibly helpful. I didn’t expect to feel so supported. On top of that, I find the admin and systems that the company has in place very reassuring, giving me confidence that I’m following the right procedures.

How do you feel now you’ve made the move to a new career?

If you had told me last year that my next career move would be into the funeral industry, I would not have believed it. As a high school music teacher for the last 10 years I feel extremely privileged to have shared in some of the most significant moments in the lives of the young people I have taught.

Working as a funeral director means I am offering support and guidance to people during what can be a very difficult time. The time I have spent with families of school age children has afforded me some of the transferable skills which I have benefited from during my time at Full Circle.  As a former Head of Performing Arts, I am no stranger to organising and facilitating community events and concerts and should a family have a strong interest in how music is incorporated into the funeral, I am confident I can enable them to make positive and meaningful choices.

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By Sarah Jones

Participants needed

We are developing a questionnaire to support research and good practice


Why funerals?

Most people will need to arrange a funeral at some point in their lives and funerals are regarded as an important event for individuals, families, and wider communities. Funerals are a key rite of passage and getting them right is clearly important. However, there has been little robust clinical research on the long-term impact on wellbeing of funerals going badly or going well.


Do we need a funeral satisfaction score?

There is currently no validated method to measure funeral satisfaction.  Without this measure, it is very hard to do any meaningful research to understand the impact that a funeral has after bereavement.  It is very hard to understand what good funeral care looks like, and how services can be improved to best meet the needs of bereaved people and families.  It is also hard to try to establish whether funeral satisfaction has any impact on long-term mental or physical wellbeing.


What are funeral factors?

A large qualitative study in 2019 identified five “funeral factors” that people consistently stated were important to them, and which they felt had an impact on their satisfaction with the funeral.  This study was the first of its kind as it focused on the accounts of bereaved people, rather than the opinions of the professionals who support them.  These participants were true “funeral experts by experience”.  These factors included:

  • The funeral followed the wishes of the person who died;
  • All the right people were involved in decision-making around the funeral;
  • A funeral director who was responsive to the needs of the people arranging the funeral;
  • Being able to be with the body – or not – depending on preference;
  • Having a funeral service that met expectations.


Are funerals really that important?

The way that participants spoke about the funeral arrangements gave credence to the idea that funerals really are important and can have a meaningful impact on the people who arrange and attend them.

One participant reflected on her grandfather’s funeral, and how she was left with a positive feeling:  “It was just, you knew he’d be alright, you could picture him having a little dance down the aisle, you knew it felt ok.”  In contrast, one participant still articulated a strong sense of regret, sixteen years later:  “It’s so important to the person who has a funeral to organise. It’s their one chance to get it right. It doesn’t play on my mind at all, but it could’ve been so much better, it could have been a lot different.”


How do you create a funeral score?

In the next phase of this research, the five factors that have been identified are being used to create a funeral satisfaction score.  This score can then be used in a variety of different research, academic and practical settings to better understand, and improve, services and outcomes for people arranging funerals.

Once a reliable score has been developed then its uses are far-reaching. In medical research, scores such as pain scores or measures of function are commonly used to better understand people’s treatments, and how they can be improved. Similarly, funeral scores will help us to understand the long-term impacts of getting a funeral right or wrong, and what changes might need to be made to ensure that the impact of funerals is always positive.

The development of a score involves developing a questionnaire and then testing it on as many people as possible.  The results (the more the better) are then analysed using statistics and mathematical modelling.  The best questions and structure then becomes clear.  The more thorough this testing process is, the better and more reliable the final score will be at measuring funeral satisfaction.


What can I do to help?

We want the process to develop the score to be as thorough as possible and are looking for people to volunteer to complete the questionnaire.  To take part, you need be over 18 years old and to have arranged or attended a funeral in the UK at any time.  The questionnaire is anonymous, online and should only take between five to ten minutes to complete.

The first phase of the study has now been completed and we are analysing the early results to see what we can learn from the first 300 competed questionnaires.  We will be looking for more participants to complete the survey once we have received ethical approval for the next phase of the study.  Please email [email protected] if you would like take part.

The link to complete the survey is:


Who is involved in this research and how can I contact them?

The project is a collaboration between Dr Peter Branney (Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology at University of Bradford, Dr Sarah Jones (Independent Funeral Director at Full Circle Funerals in Yorkshire and Dr Julie Rugg (Senior Researcher in Social Policy at University of York).

Dr Sarah Jones, Full Circle Funerals – Full Circle Funerals is an award winning, modern funeral director supporting the wellbeing of bereaved individuals across Yorkshire.  Dr Pete Branney works at the University of Bradford and you can find out more about him here.  Please contact [email protected] with any enquiries.

Dr Julie Rugg – Dr Rugg is a Senior Research Fellow in Social Policy and Social Work at the University of York. She is a leading expert on cemeteries and has had over thirty years’ experience of researching death, funerals and commemoration.


Funeral satisfaction score infographic
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By Sarah Jones


Can our physical environment really make us feel better?

People often refer to locations or spaces as their “happy place”. Places can hold special memories and certain surroundings can make us feel good, even if we’re not entirely sure why. In fact, there is a lot more to the connection between physical environment and wellbeing than you might expect.

Our physical environment has a significant impact on our mood. It is increasingly accepted that wellbeing can be improved by incorporating nature in our direct environment where possible.  Where it was not possible to have a building surrounded by woods, water, meadows etc. then bringing elements of nature inside is the next best thing.

Over the last few decades, more attention has been paid to how health and wellbeing could be improved in homes, the workplace and care settings. Following the principles of design for wellbeing can help us to feel more open, optimistic and resilient.

When we became funeral directors, we wanted to create spaces which would promote wellbeing and resilience, and which would be welcoming and comforting.  We are also very mindful that using some of the principles of design for wellbeing might be helpful for people who have been bereaved, or face other challenges in their lives.

Here is a brief guide to some of the key principles of design for wellbeing and how to create a sense of connection for yourself at home and work.  


I recently read an excellent book entitled “Biophilia: You + Nature + Home” by Sally Coulthard [1].  What this book has taught me is that we were instinctively applying the principles of biophilia at Full Circle.  Imagine my delight when we found out that our belief in the importance of creating a beautiful space, inspired by nature, has a scientific foundation.

The term Biophilia was first used in 1960s by Erich Fromm.  He used it to articulate the idea that humans have an innate affinity with living things and natural surroundings.  Since then, this principle has been embraced by many schools of thought within psychiatry, architecture and neuroscience.  It is widely accepted that there is a direct link between contact with nature and our wellbeing.

Nature makes us feel good.  What I learnt from Sally Coulthard is that science has actually shown that spending time in nature reduces stress levels, reduces anxiety and depression [2] and that nature can help us heal.  Patients who can look out over green spaces have quicker recoveries and need less painkillers [3]!

There are many ways that we can create nature inspired spaces and harness the positive effects that this can have on our health and wellbeing.  You might want to bring some nature into you home, work or community spaces – small changes can have a meaningful impact.


“Natural” means something which is as close to its natural form as possible.  Pebbles and plants are easy examples, but it also includes using wood is its most natural form, rather than painting it and altering it to the point that its natural origins can barely be seen.

Wood is an amazing material and several studies in different countries have shown that the presence of nature can have a stress-reducing effect [4].  Fresh flowers have also been shown to have a notable positive impact on wellbeing and mood and adding flowers to indoor spaces has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety [5].

At Full Circle we have wooden floors, use natural pine furniture as much as possible and we use tactile displays of driftwood, pinecones, chestnuts, dried flowers, and wall wreaths made from all kinds of natural products.  Our blinds and rugs are natural tones and made from natural materials such as linen and cotton.   Some of this can be included in any space and even small changes can have a meaningful impact on the sense of nature, and on how we feel.


There is so much choice if we want to include natural patterns and textures inside.  For example, at Full Circle we have wallpaper with large birch trees, smaller circular trees and smaller twigs with leaves and small buds, all in repeating patterns.  You can find an abundance of flowers, animals, foliage, and shell patterns in all the elements required to decorate an indoor space.  When you are next choosing a lampshade, rug, blanket or even a notebook – choosing a pattern inspired by nature could have a small but meaningful positive impact on connection with nature.


The colours that we choose for our indoor spaces can also be inspired by nature.  There is no clear evidence about which colour has the most positive impact on mood, concentration, and wellbeing – the general consensus seems to be that it is complicated and varies with age, life experience and many other factors.

However, choosing colours which are common in the sky, sea, in plants and in the earth seem intuitively like a good place to start.  Blues, greens, greys, browns and a tendency towards softer tints (rather than bright and vivid) are more likely to simulate our experience of being in nature.


Spending time in places which are full of plants can be very positive.  In a recent study, residents with paved front gardens were given two planters with ornamental plants and  Over a period of one year, we found that having plants in previously bare front gardens resulted in a 6% drop in residents’ perceived stress levels [6].  The number of people of people with healthy Cortisol (stress hormone) levels also increased from 24 – 53% over the course of the study.

This support the results of similar studies.  So, if you would like to look after yourself, promote better wellbeing for yourself and your family – maybe this is one positive step to consider.

Small steps, big impacts

I would highly recommend reading “Biophilia: You + Nature + Home” by Sally Coultard if any of this has resonated with you.  She has many good suggestions and really emphasises that small changes can have a big impact.

We are more mindful of the importance of our mental and physical health and wellbeing than ever before so let us let natural light into our homes and workplaces, choose nature inspired patterns and buy that houseplant or small bunch of flowers!

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Design for wellbeing


[1] “Biophilia: You + Nature + Home” by Sally Coulthard

[2] Collaboration for Environmental Evidence.  “The Importance Of Nature For Health: Is There A Specific Benefit Of Contact With Green Space?” 

[3] Ilrich, R.S.. “View Through A Window May Influence Recovery From Surgery.” Science 224 (1984): 420-421

[4] Fell, David Robert.  “Wood In The Human Environment: Restorative Properties Of Wood In The Built Indoor Environment.” PhD thesis, The University of British Columbia, 2010

[5] University of North Florida in partnership with the Society of American Florists.  “The Impact of Flowers on Perceived Stress Among Women.”  

[6] Lauriane Suyin Chalmin-Pui, “Green Front Gardens reduce physiological and psychological stress”. 

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By Sarah Jones


Christmas card

Writing a Christmas card after bereavement can be difficult. You might worry about what to write, whether to mention the person who has died, whether to mention Christmas or you might be wondering if you should send one at all.

If you are writing to someone who has been bereaved:

There are no hard and fast rules, but we would always suggest that a kinder gesture would be to send the card. If you don’t then there is a danger that the individual or family might feel ignored or avoided.

If you would like to steer away from too much overt Christmas sentiment, then you could choose another type of card with a blank inside. This still shows that you are thinking of them and avoids any worry about feeling insensitive with Christmas wishes.

We would encourage you to mention the person who has died on the card. Some people choose to include their name with the person / people the card is addressed to – possibly saying “I hope you don’t mind me including Jim, it didn’t feel right to leave him out”, or you could acknowledge their name in the body of the card. Alternatively you could use the family name – “Dear Family Jones”…

You should include a message that feels right to you and it is okay to say that you weren’t sure what the right thing to write was but you just wanted them to know that you are thinking of them! Messages like “I am thinking of you all – I image the holidays might be a difficult time for you”, “I really want you to know that I am here for you, whenever you might want to talk” or simply “You are in my thoughts”.

If you have been bereaved:

Again, there are no rules or accepted etiquette about whether to send Christmas cards after you have been bereaved. We would suggest that you send them if you want to and don’t if you would rather not. Everybody will understand if you choose not to.

If you do choose to send cards, then you might like to send it to a smaller group of people and feel that it is important to acknowledge your grief in the card or you might just want to share Christmas wishes and feelings of hope. Many people choose to write the name of the person who has died within the card or included in who the card is from or sign off using the family name – “Best wishes from Family Brown”.

As with so much after bereavement it is very hard to know how you feel hour-to-hour and day-to-day. There is not right or wrong way to send, or not send, the cards so we would strongly encourage you to do what feels right for you.

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