The Dead Good Funerals Book

Pages 63-66

A Dozen ways to improve funeral arrangements at very short notice

  1. Think about where the funeral should be. It does not have to be in a church (unless you want a C of E service). It could be for a small gathering at home, at a community centre, in the cricket pavilion, outside in a garden or woodland.

  2. Think about whether you need a minister of religion or celebrant, or whether you have someone who could lead the funeral ceremony. Make no mistake. This is a sensitive and difficult function. It must be someone experienced enough to maintain their composure throughout the proceedings.

  3. Pick up the telephone and speak to the manager of the crematorium or cemetery or a representative from any church or chapel you may be using. Tell them when you are coming for the funeral. Tell them if you have any particular requests.

  4. 4 Decide if you would like extra time for the service for any reason and negotiate a suitable time of day. Ask about any extra charges.

  5. Find time to visit the place in advance and talk through with a member of staff what will happen when and where. Make sure you ask what the normal proceedings are (curtains close automatically? Coffin glides away? Coffin remains?) and be sure you are comfortable with this. Find out the limits of what is possible.

  6. Look at the artefacts displayed in the space (crucifix etc.). if you do not want them, ask for them to be removed or covered up. Ask them to show you what lights are usually on.

  7. Consider what you might bring in form home and talk to the manager about this. Candles, a special cloth or banner to drape the coffin, a lantern, decorations, a photograph in a frame, any characteristic personal object belonging to the person who has died. Who will bring it? When?

  8. How is the seating arranged? In a modern crematorium the seats are not always fixed, therefore there is no need for straight rows with everyone looking at each other's backs. Maybe a semicircle or a circle would be good for a moderate size of congregation. If you request this, help the staff by agreeing to be the last funeral of the day, or the first.

  9. Do you want any music? The sound of the organ is inextricably linked for most of us with church services. Only book the resident organist if that is what you want. In some crematoria their services come free, and the use of the cassette player or CD player is charged for. In others, it is the other way round. You may prefer your own choice of pre-recorded music. Check what facilities exist. For the entry / arrival it is usual to have 6-8 minutes of music: for the committal only a few bars are needed: exit music usually lasts about five minutes. Label each tape or CD clearly showing what is to be played when. Tapes should be set so your piece of music starts immediately it is switched on. Getting the music right is important. It is a good idea to make this the job of one person who will get there early. If you want no recorded music, you must say so; otherwise it could be switched on automatically as you arrive. If you want live music, read the section HOW TO FIND A MUSICIAN.

  10. Think about individual contributions to the funeral service, such as one or two people getting up to give an address, read a poem or tell a favourite story. Remember the film Four Weddings and a Funeral and the powerful W H Auden poem "Stop all the clocks"? Make definite arrangements that are clearly understood. Give a brief written running order to anyone involved. Avoid using microphones if you possibly can. If you must, then arrange a practice.

  11. If you would like everyone to do something at the funeral, i.e. gather at the gate to walk together to the graveside instead of driving, or throw a single flower into the grave, make sure you mention this clearly in the newspaper announcement. You will not have time to telephone everyone. It is possible for a few people to get practically involved after a burial by filling in the grave themselves, but only if you request this in advance, so they can supply enough shovels. Discuss these plans with the cemetery / crematorium manager and your funeral director. The best and simplest thing you can do, in our opinion, is to take the flowers out of the cellophane wrapping for a start.

  12. Consider some ideas for the gathering afterwards. You may encourage everyone to bring along their photographs or souvenir albums to display on a table for people to browse through together. This helps to break the ice and talk through memories of the person who has died, or build bridges between relatives whose lives have drifted apart. And don't be afraid to get out your camera or camcorder to record this get together. This last scene of the family album is usually the one that is missing.

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