These ideas can be applied to traditional, contemporary and green funerals.There are lots of ways to be as involved as you wish and feel able to be. You can be involved in making the arrangements, caring for the body, preparing for the funeral ceremony, choosing words and music, decorating the coffin or the space. We describe some of these in the following pages:
Involve family and friends
- Involve family and friends
- Involving children
- Holding a vigil
- Using your own vehicle
- Bearing the coffin
- Care of the body
- Home Funerals
Not only family, but also friends may like to be involved in helping to arrange the funeral, providing food for the gathering after, bearing the coffin, decorating a space, saying something, making a slide show, looking after the family with food, shopping, solace.
This is a real opportunity for a community to be involved and we would really encourage you to allow people to do things for you because they want to.
One family with 5 children had a meal cooked for them by a variety of people every Wednesday for 6 months after the father died. Not only was the food welcome, but the feeling of being cared for and loved was very important and appreciated.
It is a good idea to encourage bereaved children to be involved in the preparations for the funeral and the funeral itself, without making it an obligation. A close death is unsettling and can make a child feel powerless.
Research has shown that they benefit from involvement. It is generally not advisable to ‘protect’ children from the reality of death, but instead to give them clear and factual information suitable to their age, avoiding confusion and scope to imagine things and to discuss the funeral arrangements with them.
Helpsheet: children and funerals (pdf)
You may wish to spend some time with the person who has died to say your last goodbyes. This often takes place at our beautiful riverside funeral home where you can gather, have tea and biscuits or bring something stronger, take your time and reminisce as a family, or just come and sit quietly with an open or closed coffin. Or if you wish you may hold a vigil at your home, or in church or where the funeral is to be held. Keeping a vigil the night before the funeral is an ancient ritual and a powerful experience. It gives a chance to say goodbye, reminisce, laugh and cry, and often enables mourners to be more present on the day of the funeral. The coffin can be open or closed.
We also encourage children to be allowed to come and see the person who has died. We set up the room with the coffin at a height they can see over, have lots of drawing paper and coloured pens available to them or they can play with our dog, Tati, so they have a distraction if they want. Before they go in we tell them exactly what they will see so there are no surprises or shocks. Actually seeing the person, especially if their last experience was of Granny or Mum with lots of activity, tubes and monitors around her, can allay their fears and stop their imaginations conjuring up frightening images. But it is important that the child has choice. If the child is offered the opportunity to view the body but chooses not to, then this must be respected, the important thing being given the opportunity gives some control over a life which at that point feels chaotic and out of control.
Research has shown that people rarely regret seeing the body of the person who has died, even in challenging circumstances, if they can talk through what they are going to see. We would explain to you exactly what to expect and set up the room to make this as easy an experience as possible for you.
You can choose for the coffin to be taken to the funeral in any vehicle of your choice, driven by anyone who would like to do this. A woman who loved her camper van was driven by a friend in that vehicle, a young man went in the van he used to drive, others have used the family car or a hired one.
Many families and friends choose to bear the coffin to the funeral or the last resting place, as a final act of love. When asked, most people feel honoured to participate. It keeps the funeral intimate and close to those who loved the person who has died. Depending on the weight of the load, there can be 4 or 6 bearers and of course women can participate too.
Mostly, the body of the person who has died is brought into the care of the funeral director, but we can also help you to look after your loved person at home. Our aim is to provide a high level of care, just as the person had before they died if they have been poorly. We tend to the person who has died, wash, use moisturiser on the hands and face and make them comfortable and secure. We may dress them or wrap them in a soft unbleached cotton shroud, and prepare them to be seen by family and friends. We never forget that the person is not ours, but yours, and you may wish to care for them in death as you did in life. We invite you to be present and assist with any of these final acts of care, and, if you wish, to take the person to lie in honour at home the night before or for some time before the funeral.
We tend not to embalm unless it is really necessary or requested. We find that with careful attention we can avoid this and still enable family and friends to visit and see the person if they want to. The natural burial sites won’t accept embalmed bodies.
Listen to an extract from a radio interview with Simon Smith of Heart & Soul Funerals and Green Fuse
Some families want to take total control of the funeral, making all the arrangements, transporting and caring for the body of the person who has died themselves, devising and holding a ceremony. We call this a ‘home funeral’. We recently visited people in the home funeral movement in California where it is a burgeoning movement. We support the idea of families taking control.
If you wish to do this, you may find our book, We Need To Talk About The Funeral, a useful resource.
And, of course, there is a lot of information on this website.
If you would like some advice about any aspect of a home funeral, we are happy to help and charge you an hourly rate for our time.