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Organising a DIY religious funeral

A religious funeral can be organised without having to commission a funeral director to deliver all the arrangements.

Doing it yourself can involve any part of the process from laying out the body to delivering it to the crematorium or cemetery and even filling in the grave.  While the majority of people leave jobs such as dealing with the body to a funeral director, there is no legal reason why you shouldn’t do just about everything yourself.

You can deal with all the arrangements from the time of death to the interment or you can handle just a part of the ceremony.

Before you decide to organise the funeral yourself, you will need to understand exactly what’s involved. When dealing with the funeral director, the religious officiant, or celebrant, and staff at the crematorium or cemetery it is better to be informed by the advice given in articles in My Last Song.

You will find considerable resistance from the religious minister you ask to conduct the service, from the funeral director you seek advice from and from the management of the cemetery or crematorium.

This is understandable, because funeral arrangements are complicated and have to follow regulations. However, with good advance planning and attention to detail, some or all of the funeral arrangements can be carried out by the family of the deceased.

The religious element is very personal to the deceased and the family of the deceased. You are likely to have a good relationship with your religious minister, depending on your faith and beliefs.

Inform that person that you wish him or her to carry out the most appropriate religious funeral service. 

Alternatively, you may wish to conduct the funeral service yourself. My Last Song lists the funeral services of Christian denominations and those of other faiths

Why choose DIY

Reasons to choose DIY funerals are:

  • Cost - DIY funerals will reduce the fee paid to the funeral director;
  • More personal event - if you organise it yourself you can be more creative and ensure the ending is appropriate to the person whose life you are marking;
  • A more complete ’closure’ - getting absorbed in the detail of the funeral arrangements can make it easier to come to terms with the loss of a loved one;
  • To make it as ‘green’ as possible - if you are in charge of every detail you can ensure all aspects are as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible.

There are few legal requirements other than burying or cremating the body, but you will need a death certificate signed by a doctor and a Certificate for Burial or Cremation from the Register of Deaths.

Think about transport for the coffin, as well as grave-digging if applicable.

Although you can save money by providing transport for the coffin you will still need to pay for the cremation or burial, the grave and memorial rights.

Things to decide first

  • How much of the funeral arrangements you want to organise;
  • Burial or cremation;
  • Religious or humanist;
  • ‘Green’ or conventional;
  • Where the funeral service or ceremony, and interment, will take place - crematoria and cemeteries usually have 30 minute time allocations; religious venues such as church graveyards and woodland burial sites can be more flexible.

Sources of advice

Information on the legal aspects is available in a booklet, What to do after a death in England and Wales, published by the Department for Work and Pensions.

The Natural Death Centre publishes a resource list for DIY burials.

We Need to Talk About the Funeral is an excellent publication for those planning a funeral.

The coffin

Funeral directors will provide a coffin - or you can obtain it yourself.

There are on-line suppliers including manufacturers of environmentally friendly coffins.  

Some crematoria and cemeteries accept bodies without coffins - you might prefer to use a shroud, for example - but do check with them first. And make sure you label the container with the person’s name and date of death.

Order of service/ceremony

Organise in collaboration with whoever is the officiant.

The order will be governed by the time allocated. Plan in blocks of five minutes: five minutes to allow people to enter; five minutes for each piece of music; five minutes for each tribute; five minutes for quiet prayer or reflection; five minutes to leave. These are generous but it prevents a feeling of being rushed, which can spoil the event.

Remember to put the necessary time and planning into the Order sheet.

Advance planning

Good advance planning will make the DIY funeral easier to organise.

If you are planning your own funeral or that of a loved one and decide a DIY funeral is appropriate, discuss and confirm the arrangements with the appropriate family members and friends.

Make detailed arrangements and put these in your Lifebox. This way you can access and amend the details.

They will be available to your executor (or whoever you nominate as your second key holder) who will access your Lifebox on your death, or when you give permission. Your executor(s) will find your funeral wishes, which they can’t edit, with instructions to carry them out as soon as possible. (SB-L)

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