How can a funeral be made more personal?

What is a personalised funeral?

Whatever kind of funeral you are having, religious or non-faith, there are plenty of ways to reflect the person who has died.  You can include a few small touches or you can make every choice completely bespoke to their life, loves and beliefs.

We know from our own experience as funeral directors that being able to personalise a funeral creates an opportunity for people to find more meaning and feel more connected to each other and to the person who has died.  This continued bond (link) is important to many people after bereavement.  However, there is no pressure to make a funeral personal – this might not be the right time for you, or indeed some people may prefer for the funeral to be “deliberately impersonal”. The important thing to know is that you do have options and, when it comes down to it, there are very few ‘rules’ that absolutely have to be followed.

Where do you start?

Before making any decisions, we would encourage you to spend some time thinking about the person who has died.  As you reflect, consider what made them who they were. What did they enjoy?  What was most important to them?  Where there any places that they particularly loved?  Any objects they treasured?  Any teams, clubs, music, colours, or films that they liked?  Where there any books, magazines or shops that remind you of them?  Or did they have a favourite saying, meal or tipple?

You might choose one theme or aspect to direct your choices.  For example, you may wish to focus on years of military service, their job as a firefighter, their love of the colour orange or that everything they did was focused on protecting the planet.  Alternatively, you may want many aspects of their personality to be acknowledged during the funeral.  There is no right and wrong way to approach this – only what feels right for you.

Some ideas for you to consider

The tone of the funeral – if someone was quiet or reserved, flamboyant or cheeky then this could be reflected in the funeral. You have control over the flow and tone of the funeral.

Put a personal item on top of the coffin – this might be with or without a flower arrangement. For example, you may choose some binoculars, dancing shoes, a racing post or a gardening trowel and terracotta pot.

Choose a colourful coffin or ashes casket – there are a huge range of coffins available, decorated with different flowers, team colours, animals, colours, and themes such as sports and countries. Alternatively, you can create a fully bespoke coffin with photographs and other artistic media.

Decorate the coffin yourself – if you choose a white or manila cardboard coffin then you might choose to decorate this yourself. You can paint the coffin, create a collage with photographs, notes, and other graphics.  This might be something that you would like to do with other friends and family – so you are creating something personal together.

Photographs and videos – choosing one or more photographs to show during a service is a wonderful way to include many people, places, and life stages. It also helps those present to connect with the event and the person who has died.

A “funeral favour” – you might choose to give something to people who attend the service, in memory of the person who has died. This can be particularly poignant if there is something which immediately springs to mind – maybe they loved Tunnocks Teacakes, Dairy Milk or Werther’s Original.

Refreshments – choosing a favourite food or drink to enjoy during refreshments can be a lovely way to acknowledge the tastes of the person who has died. An afternoon tea, lemon drizzle cake, sherry or Martini may feel very fitting.

If you would like to find out more about funeral choices or if you are thinking about leaving wishes for your own funeral, you can contact us on 01943 262626 or at [email protected]

To receive our latest news and articles direct to your inbox every few months sign up to our newsletter

You may also be interested in our book Funerals Your Way which has plenty of information about arranging the kind of funeral you want and how to reflect the life of the person who has died.

What is a personalised funeral?

Whatever kind of funeral you are having, religious or non-faith, there are plenty of ways to reflect the person who has died.  You can include a few small touches or you can make every choice completely bespoke to their life, loves and beliefs.

We know from our own experience as funeral directors that being able to personalise a funeral creates an opportunity for people to find more meaning and feel more connected to each other and to the person who has died.  This continued bond (link) is important to many people after bereavement.  However, there is no pressure to make a funeral personal – this might not be the right time for you, or indeed some people may prefer for the funeral to be “deliberately impersonal”. The important thing to know is that you do have options and, when it comes down to it, there are very few ‘rules’ that absolutely have to be followed.

Where do you start?

Before making any decisions, we would encourage you to spend some time thinking about the person who has died.  As you reflect, consider what made them who they were. What did they enjoy?  What was most important to them?  Where there any places that they particularly loved?  Any objects they treasured?  Any teams, clubs, music, colours, or films that they liked?  Where there any books, magazines or shops that remind you of them?  Or did they have a favourite saying, meal or tipple?

You might choose one theme or aspect to direct your choices.  For example, you may wish to focus on years of military service, their job as a firefighter, their love of the colour orange or that everything they did was focused on protecting the planet.  Alternatively, you may want many aspects of their personality to be acknowledged during the funeral.  There is no right and wrong way to approach this – only what feels right for you.

Some ideas for you to consider

The tone of the funeral – if someone was quiet or reserved, flamboyant or cheeky then this could be reflected in the funeral. You have control over the flow and tone of the funeral.

Put a personal item on top of the coffin – this might be with or without a flower arrangement. For example, you may choose some binoculars, dancing shoes, a racing post or a gardening trowel and terracotta pot.

Choose a colourful coffin or ashes casket – there are a huge range of coffins available, decorated with different flowers, team colours, animals, colours, and themes such as sports and countries. Alternatively, you can create a fully bespoke coffin with photographs and other artistic media.

Decorate the coffin yourself – if you choose a white or manila cardboard coffin then you might choose to decorate this yourself. You can paint the coffin, create a collage with photographs, notes, and other graphics.  This might be something that you would like to do with other friends and family – so you are creating something personal together.

Photographs and videos – choosing one or more photographs to show during a service is a wonderful way to include many people, places, and life stages. It also helps those present to connect with the event and the person who has died.

A “funeral favour” – you might choose to give something to people who attend the service, in memory of the person who has died. This can be particularly poignant if there is something which immediately springs to mind – maybe they loved Tunnocks Teacakes, Dairy Milk or Werther’s Original.

Refreshments – choosing a favourite food or drink to enjoy during refreshments can be a lovely way to acknowledge the tastes of the person who has died. An afternoon tea, lemon drizzle cake, sherry or Martini may feel very fitting.

If you would like to find out more about funeral choices or if you are thinking about leaving wishes for your own funeral, you can contact us on 01943 262626 or at [email protected]

To receive our latest news and articles direct to your inbox every few months sign up to our newsletter

You may also be interested in our book Funerals Your Way which has plenty of information about arranging the kind of funeral you want and how to reflect the life of the person who has died.

Leaving funeral wishes

If Mandy’s story has inspired you to want to express your wishes and you would like some support then get in touch.  We know how helpful and important it is to leave and fulfil wishes so it is a pleasure to be able to help.  We can meet with you to understand and document your wishes free of charge and without obligation.

As a cartoonist, Martin Ross has seen his work feature in Punch, Private Eye and the Yorkshire Evening Post.

After a long career in the publishing industry, he knew that the next chapter in his life would take him in a very different direction.

He wasn’t sure what that path would be until he saw an advert for a vacancy with Full Circle Funerals.

What is a personalised funeral?

Whatever kind of funeral you are having, religious or non-faith, there are plenty of ways to reflect the person who has died.  You can include a few small touches or you can make every choice completely bespoke to their life, loves and beliefs.

We know from our own experience as funeral directors that being able to personalise a funeral creates an opportunity for people to find more meaning and feel more connected to each other and to the person who has died.  This continued bond (link) is important to many people after bereavement.  However, there is no pressure to make a funeral personal – this might not be the right time for you, or indeed some people may prefer for the funeral to be “deliberately impersonal”. The important thing to know is that you do have options and, when it comes down to it, there are very few ‘rules’ that absolutely have to be followed.

Where do you start?

Before making any decisions, we would encourage you to spend some time thinking about the person who has died.  As you reflect, consider what made them who they were. What did they enjoy?  What was most important to them?  Where there any places that they particularly loved?  Any objects they treasured?  Any teams, clubs, music, colours, or films that they liked?  Where there any books, magazines or shops that remind you of them?  Or did they have a favourite saying, meal or tipple?

You might choose one theme or aspect to direct your choices.  For example, you may wish to focus on years of military service, their job as a firefighter, their love of the colour orange or that everything they did was focused on protecting the planet.  Alternatively, you may want many aspects of their personality to be acknowledged during the funeral.  There is no right and wrong way to approach this – only what feels right for you.

Some ideas for you to consider

The tone of the funeral – if someone was quiet or reserved, flamboyant or cheeky then this could be reflected in the funeral. You have control over the flow and tone of the funeral.

Put a personal item on top of the coffin – this might be with or without a flower arrangement. For example, you may choose some binoculars, dancing shoes, a racing post or a gardening trowel and terracotta pot.

Choose a colourful coffin or ashes casket – there are a huge range of coffins available, decorated with different flowers, team colours, animals, colours, and themes such as sports and countries. Alternatively, you can create a fully bespoke coffin with photographs and other artistic media.

Decorate the coffin yourself – if you choose a white or manila cardboard coffin then you might choose to decorate this yourself. You can paint the coffin, create a collage with photographs, notes, and other graphics.  This might be something that you would like to do with other friends and family – so you are creating something personal together.

Photographs and videos – choosing one or more photographs to show during a service is a wonderful way to include many people, places, and life stages. It also helps those present to connect with the event and the person who has died.

A “funeral favour” – you might choose to give something to people who attend the service, in memory of the person who has died. This can be particularly poignant if there is something which immediately springs to mind – maybe they loved Tunnocks Teacakes, Dairy Milk or Werther’s Original.

Refreshments – choosing a favourite food or drink to enjoy during refreshments can be a lovely way to acknowledge the tastes of the person who has died. An afternoon tea, lemon drizzle cake, sherry or Martini may feel very fitting.

If you would like to find out more about funeral choices or if you are thinking about leaving wishes for your own funeral, you can contact us on 01943 262626 or at [email protected]

To receive our latest news and articles direct to your inbox every few months sign up to our newsletter

You may also be interested in our book Funerals Your Way which has plenty of information about arranging the kind of funeral you want and how to reflect the life of the person who has died.

Leaving funeral wishes

If Mandy’s story has inspired you to want to express your wishes and you would like some support then get in touch.  We know how helpful and important it is to leave and fulfil wishes so it is a pleasure to be able to help.  We can meet with you to understand and document your wishes free of charge and without obligation.

Although this career is very different are there any skills from your time in the publishing industry that have helped?

As a cartoonist, and later as a subeditor and content editor, accuracy was really important. I’m a perfectionist and that comes in handy in this job where every detail matters. The other similarity is the unpredictability. I’ll come into work with a rough idea of how the day will go and then the phone will ring and everything changes. That reminds me of my newspaper days and I enjoy the fact that no two days are the same.

What do you find most rewarding about being a funeral director?

One of the most rewarding parts of the job is the personal care element of looking after someone who has died. It feels like a really nice thing to do and I like giving the person that time and attention. It’s also a real privilege to meet people and hear the story of someone’s whole life. I find it satisfying when all the hard work that goes into organising a funeral pays off and everything falls into place. It’s lovely to get positive feedback after a funeral too.

 

You can find out more about Martin from this short video

Log coaster with flowers on

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.  

Biophilia

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.

Materials

“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.

Patterns

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.

Colours

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.

Wool hearts

Plants

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.

Close up of plants

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!

To receive our newsletters and information about new blogs – please sign up here.

Design for wellbeing

References:

[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”. 

How much does a funeral cost and what is the most expensive part?

When you are planning a funeral, the subject of money might feel like something that shouldn’t be discussed. In reality, the cost can be a very real concern for many people and having clear knowledge of how prices are broken down is important. It’s reassuring to have transparency and it also helps focus your mind when you are making decisions.

Never be afraid to ask about costs – it is your right to understand the cost associated with different options so that you can make the decisions that are right for you.

What is a personalised funeral?

Whatever kind of funeral you are having, religious or non-faith, there are plenty of ways to reflect the person who has died.  You can include a few small touches or you can make every choice completely bespoke to their life, loves and beliefs.

We know from our own experience as funeral directors that being able to personalise a funeral creates an opportunity for people to find more meaning and feel more connected to each other and to the person who has died.  This continued bond (link) is important to many people after bereavement.  However, there is no pressure to make a funeral personal – this might not be the right time for you, or indeed some people may prefer for the funeral to be “deliberately impersonal”. The important thing to know is that you do have options and, when it comes down to it, there are very few ‘rules’ that absolutely have to be followed.

Where do you start?

Before making any decisions, we would encourage you to spend some time thinking about the person who has died.  As you reflect, consider what made them who they were. What did they enjoy?  What was most important to them?  Where there any places that they particularly loved?  Any objects they treasured?  Any teams, clubs, music, colours, or films that they liked?  Where there any books, magazines or shops that remind you of them?  Or did they have a favourite saying, meal or tipple?

You might choose one theme or aspect to direct your choices.  For example, you may wish to focus on years of military service, their job as a firefighter, their love of the colour orange or that everything they did was focused on protecting the planet.  Alternatively, you may want many aspects of their personality to be acknowledged during the funeral.  There is no right and wrong way to approach this – only what feels right for you.

Paying for a funeral

As already mentioned, it is important to ask your funeral director for full visibility of costs so that there is nothing unexpected to deal with.  You should be provided with an estimate of costs at a time when you can still review your choices and this estimate should be updated as the arrangements evolve so that you have an accurate idea of the costs at all times.

Funeral costs can usually be reimbursed from the estate of the person who has died.  Some funeral directors are happy to wait until the grant of probate has been issued whereas others would expect this payment to be paid sooner.  If you are unable to meet the costs or if there is not enough money in the estate to cover funeral expenses there is help available. You can find out more about how to find support to pay for a funeral on the Registration and Financial Affairs page of our website.

If you have any questions, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch – we are happy to help whenever we can.

You may be interested in our book Funerals Your Way which has lots of ideas to help you feel in control and not overwhelmed when you are planning a funeral.

Flower seperator

What is a personalised funeral?

Whatever kind of funeral you are having, religious or non-faith, there are plenty of ways to reflect the person who has died.  You can include a few small touches or you can make every choice completely bespoke to their life, loves and beliefs.

We know from our own experience as funeral directors that being able to personalise a funeral creates an opportunity for people to find more meaning and feel more connected to each other and to the person who has died.  This continued bond (link) is important to many people after bereavement.  However, there is no pressure to make a funeral personal – this might not be the right time for you, or indeed some people may prefer for the funeral to be “deliberately impersonal”. The important thing to know is that you do have options and, when it comes down to it, there are very few ‘rules’ that absolutely have to be followed.

Where do you start?

Before making any decisions, we would encourage you to spend some time thinking about the person who has died.  As you reflect, consider what made them who they were. What did they enjoy?  What was most important to them?  Where there any places that they particularly loved?  Any objects they treasured?  Any teams, clubs, music, colours, or films that they liked?  Where there any books, magazines or shops that remind you of them?  Or did they have a favourite saying, meal or tipple?

You might choose one theme or aspect to direct your choices.  For example, you may wish to focus on years of military service, their job as a firefighter, their love of the colour orange or that everything they did was focused on protecting the planet.  Alternatively, you may want many aspects of their personality to be acknowledged during the funeral.  There is no right and wrong way to approach this – only what feels right for you.

Flower seperator
  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.

Emma Pickering
Flower seperator

What is a personalised funeral?

Whatever kind of funeral you are having, religious or non-faith, there are plenty of ways to reflect the person who has died.  You can include a few small touches or you can make every choice completely bespoke to their life, loves and beliefs.

We know from our own experience as funeral directors that being able to personalise a funeral creates an opportunity for people to find more meaning and feel more connected to each other and to the person who has died.  This continued bond (link) is important to many people after bereavement.  However, there is no pressure to make a funeral personal – this might not be the right time for you, or indeed some people may prefer for the funeral to be “deliberately impersonal”. The important thing to know is that you do have options and, when it comes down to it, there are very few ‘rules’ that absolutely have to be followed.

Flower seperator

Where do you start?

Before making any decisions, we would encourage you to spend some time thinking about the person who has died.  As you reflect, consider what made them who they were. What did they enjoy?  What was most important to them?  Where there any places that they particularly loved?  Any objects they treasured?  Any teams, clubs, music, colours, or films that they liked?  Where there any books, magazines or shops that remind you of them?  Or did they have a favourite saying, meal or tipple?

You might choose one theme or aspect to direct your choices.  For example, you may wish to focus on years of military service, their job as a firefighter, their love of the colour orange or that everything they did was focused on protecting the planet.  Alternatively, you may want many aspects of their personality to be acknowledged during the funeral.  There is no right and wrong way to approach this – only what feels right for you.

Flower seperator
  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.

Flower seperator
Openings
Flower seperator
Lucy Clay

Funeral directors are generally kind and compassionate people and want to give people the best possible support. However, like everyone they come with their own personal and professional experiences and some will be more confident in supporting people from the LGBTQ+ community than others.

What is different?

Many members of the LGBTQ+ community have experienced their romantic relationships being dismissed or misinterpreted. Often this is by individuals with no ill-intent, but sometimes some people struggle to see the whole picture.

Although misrepresentation is often not intended to cause offense, it can cause the feeling of not feeling acknowledged or respected. Extending this to funerals, I believe that the best way to ensure that our funeral needs are met, is to make sure that we do what we can to make sure that the right people lead the arrangements and that our wishes are known.

Who will make the funeral arrangements?

I know that some people worry about how they will be represented after they have died; those that are tasked with making funeral arrangements may not create an event that truly reflects their life and who was important to them (and in what capacity).

In theory, anyone can arrange and pay for a funeral.  However, it is usual for the executors named in a will to take responsibility for the funeral arrangements.  They may choose to delegate the responsibility to someone else and simply receive the funeral invoice, which can be paid from any assets in the estate.

If someone dies without a will (this is called “intestate”) then arrangements may fall to their next of kin, or anyone else who steps forward to make arrangements, and isn’t contested.

Funeral choices and wishes

Every funeral is unique, and it really is possible to create an event that truly reflects the beliefs, values, spirituality and personality of the person who has died.  Some people from the LGBTQ+ community may want the funeral to reflect their relationships and identity whereas others may choose for this aspect of their lives to be relatively private and understated.

The key is that the funeral choices reflect the person who has died and are helpful for their friends and family – and that they are not made by the funeral director.  If you know what you would like (or not like) for your funeral that we would strongly encourage you to write it down and let people close to you know.  This may be one or two simple wishes, or a more elaborate plan – any level of instruction is helpful and fulfilling those wishes is likely to be very consoling for the people who matter the most to you.

If you aren’t sure what you want, then I would encourage you to read “Funerals Your Way” – a funeral planning guide written by my colleague.  It is an easy read, which highlights your choices and prompts you to consider what you think works best for you.

Your funeral wishes can be included in a will, or as a separate document.  It is important to know that they are not legally binding however, in more cases than not, they are fulfilled by those responsible for making the funeral arrangements.

Some specifics about dressing and personal care

What we wear can be an important part of how we express ourselves.  Your funeral director should offer to dress you in your own clothes, so if there’s something specific that you’d like to wear, a particular style you’d like honouring (or one that you’d rather was avoided completely) it can be helpful to record these wishes. If someone is going to be cremated, then there are some restrictions about what they can wear (to minimise harmful emissions) but it is often possible to find an alternative in a natural material which will have the same effect.

Some people find it helpful and important to be involved in physically caring for someone after they have died.  This may include styling their hair, applying their make-up, or painting their nails in the manner they liked best. It can also include washing a person and performing other aspects of personal care for them. In most circumstances, your funeral director should facilitate this in the manner that works best for you. If it is important for you to be cared for by individuals of a particular gender, then this is usually possible.

Confidentiality

Funeral directors understand the importance of confidentiality and if they are a member of a trade association then they will be bound to their confidentiality standards.   They will aim to keep confidential information private and will not share any unnecessary information about gender, sexuality, personal and sexual relationships with colleagues, other professionals or anyone involved on the funeral arrangements.

My advice

Write a will and appoint an executor that you trust to respect your wishes

Talk to people close to you about what you want and why

Document your funeral wishes and leave them somewhere safe (and easy to find)

When my Uncle Tom died, some years ago, I rang my cousin to offer sympathy and love, to share a few memories and to see if she and her sisters needed any help with the practical details. Coming from a family with an infamously sweet tooth, and knowing my cousin’s particular weakness for cake, I teased: “I’m a dab-hand at funeral cake, you know!” Her response was immediate and positive, and I found myself unexpectedly responsible for some memorial baking.

Like my uncle and cousin, I grew up with the idea that providing for someone is an everyday opportunity to show love. My Grandma loved baking, and we never went short of cake, pies, puddings or scones. She passed that love to her daughters and grandchildren. When my cousin came among us with a tray and asked, “Would you like some of the funeral cake that Paul’s made?” nobody batted an eyelid. It was the perfect expression of a family culture of providing and sharing, of finding joy in sweetness, even when the times are sad ones.

As a food writer, I have come across recipes and anecdotes about funeral cakes in several sources. Although I was surprised at first, the idea of a cake that marks the passing of someone loved and respected has come to make more and more sense to me. We mark so many important moments with food. After the excesses of Victorian mourning and the traumatic losses of the world wars, it was perhaps natural that we tried as a culture to minimise all expressions of grief and loss and to avoid reflecting on the reality of death at all. Recipes for funeral foods were lost, as we did away with anything that seemed to normalise contact with death. I have perceived a change, though, in the last thirty years or so. Alienated from traditional forms of mourning, people are looking again at how to mark the importance of lives lived well and love that remains.

For many Christian families, especially Catholics, it is common to celebrate funerals with the Eucharist. Buried within the layers of meaning and theology, the Eucharist is at heart a ritualised meal. The community gathers around a table to share bread and wine. Many other religious communities will be used to sharing food at home or around funeral services. In Wales and the English midlands, it was once common to employ the services of “sin-eaters,” who were given food over the body of the person who has died and were believed to consume their wrongdoing with that food, thus ensuring an effective transition to the afterlife. The origin of the practice is not well understood, although it only died out in the later years of the nineteenth century. It is believed to be the forerunner of Victorian and more modern funeral cakes.

The recipes I’ve come across in my research fall broadly into three categories, according to their function: to announce a death, to thank guests for coming, and to show care for the bereaved. The first of these were usually simple shortcakes. Bakers and confectioners across northern England baked batches of such cakes, often impressed with designs such as crosses or hearts. Each was individually wrapped in paper printed with biblical verses or reassuring poetry and sealed with wax. Often, they would be delivered door to door by the baker’s boy, who informed the recipient of the passing and the funeral arrangements. I have seen examples of wrappers from many northern mill- and mining towns, so we can reasonably conclude these biscuits were relatively inexpensive.

At the other end of the scale is the recipe for funeral cakes to be found in Julie Duff’s wonderful book, Cakes Regional & Traditional. These are delicate sponge fingers, flavoured with fresh lemon peel and dried fruit. That they were, according to Duff, “served with sherry or wine” indicates they were enjoyed at wealthier homes than the biscuits just mentioned. These were offered as refreshment to those who had come to the funeral – a touch of luxury to thank people for coming.

Readers with Irish connections will be familiar with waking, and the importance it has in Irish culture. As soon as it is known that a member of the community has passed on, friends, neighbours and family will start to arrive at the family home to comfort the bereaved, pay their respects and keep vigil around the body. Most will bring a plate of sandwiches, a cake or some scones: nobody would expect the bereaved to cater for such numbers immediately after a death. The third sort of funeral cake I’ve come across comes from this desire to look after the newly-bereaved. Often, they are loaf cakes, easily sliced up for many visitors. Tea loaves predominate, as they are quick to make, requiring no time to “mature,” and are made from the kind of staple ingredients most home bakers have readily at hand. Given that the funeral will usually take place within a couple of days of the death, tea loaves make economic sense. They keep better than sponge cakes, so any left after the wake will do for the funeral tea, too.

To return, then, to my uncle’s funeral and the absolute right-ness of making a cake to mark his passing. What made it so right was our family’s experience of taking pleasure in sweet foods. I wonder what foods make sense to you and your experience of loss. To make a cake for family on these occasions is both a service and an honour, and I find the process deeply involving. Although it is a simple and familiar thing to be doing, it takes on particular significance. The actions, the smells the recipes, can all be evocative of the life of the person we’ve lost. Food, be it a cake or something else that it appropriate, is a gift of ourself: we have put time and care into it, and we are providing both real and symbolic nourishment to those we care for. We are doing for our bereaved family and friends what the person who has died is no longer able to do.

When you are planning how to mark the passing of those who have been significant in your own life, you might want to consider what part food should play. Who has fed you, and how? What foods speak to you of the love you’ve known, the joyful memories and stand-out moments? What foods might express your love and care for those who are hurting? I hope my reflections might provide a helpful starting-point for your own journey.

Paul Fogarty lives in the north of England, where he loves to have people gather around his table, to share good times and good food. He learnt to cook in school: he learnt to eat in France. He has hosted a private dining club for the last 28 years and we would encourage you to read his wonderful blog

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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”.

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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