You may not know this but, if you Google ‘What to do when someone dies’ you’ll get a whopping 400,000,000 results.
If you ask ‘What funeral options are there’ the number of hits plummets – to a mere 16,000,000.
More than enough, you might think.
However, many of those hits only tell you the practicalities of what to do. Others assume you’re asking about the difference between burial and cremation.
Few recognise that you genuinely want to know about different ways of celebrating or commemorating your loved one’s life – the ceremony – rather than how to dispose of their body.
Perhaps funeral workers think that’s a good thing. Why give infinite choices to a grieving family when grief makes decision-making feel overwhelming?
But look at it another way. Losing a loved one is the ultimate in loss of control – why not give back control to the family by sympathetically empowering them to make choices themselves?
This leads us to one of your most important choices – should you choose your celebrant first or your funeral director?
When it’s the celebrant first – the person who is going to help you create the ceremony as a loving and meaningful final act of remembrance – you can be sure of finding exactly the right ‘fit’. Most celebrants are independent and can give objective information about all the funeral directors in the area.
The best funeral directors and arrangers listen and respond genuinely to each individual family’s needs and expectations when taking care of your loved one’s body. They help you through the bureaucracy and make arrangements to take the body to the crematorium or cemetery. However, many funeral directors simply shoehorn a family into their own business model according to a recent report into the funeral sector from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
Furthermore, it’s important to understand that the ceremony on the day of the funeral is not created by the funeral director. It’s created by the officiant. A faith person will make it completely religious; a humanist will include no religion at all. A civil funeral celebrant will give you the ceremony that you want.
A civil funeral celebrant liaises with the funeral director but, in the main, they are the person who concentrates on you. They respect your wishes and any wishes of your loved one, asking the questions that open up your choices.
Do you, for example, want a traditional ceremony but one that is more about mum and less about god? Do you want a light-hearted ceremony with smiles alongside the tears? Is there a theme or a colour that everyone will feel is right? Are there other people who would like to speak or read?
Most importantly, remember that the celebrant is your voice on the day. You want to be sure that your choice is someone who will write and say the words that truly express your love and grief and who vividly brings the spirit of your loved one to the ceremony.
There are many, many choices around the funeral service or ceremony itself, and a good celebrant will make you aware of all those that may suit you. It is through careful questioning and, more importantly, listening during the family meeting that your options and choices will become clear.
Better still, make a few choices before you have to. When someone dies, your thinking and emotions are not in the best place for decision-making. Research your funeral celebrant in advance, work with them and be comforted knowing that the ceremony will be personal and unique, something special.
Researching and choosing takes time and commitment, however sympathetic and helpful the celebrant. Some mourners welcome the energy and control that this process brings and take comfort in creating the perfect ceremony as their last gift.
Alternatively, you can ease the burden for your family by taking ultimate control and planning your own ceremony now, knowing that you will have the ‘send-off’ that you want.
You do have a choice beyond Googling ‘funeral options.’
Susan Flipping – Institute of Civil Funerals