I recently officiated at the funeral for a ninety-year-old man. He and his wife lived in a nursing home and had formed many friendships there. He was a really popular resident, a talented musician, a charmer and an all-round gentle man. He died in the nursing home, his home, with his wife by his side.
The funeral service was held in a crematorium. Nine people were present and not one of them was a resident – a friend – from the nursing home. I knew that the nursing home had held funeral services there before which then allowed the residents to say their farewells too. So important when you have been part of someone’s life, created a friendship and been a companion.
When I suggested to the Funeral Director that this would have been a better option, the response was “It’s just too much of a hassle for us”. I was gobsmacked and really quite surprised because I considered this to be one of the better, more forward-thinking funeral directors. He went on to say that if they had been asked, they would have done it but they won’t suggest it.
This was repeated the following week when I went to meet a family. They had a very clear and non-traditional idea of what the service should be. The family had the music and the running order worked out, who was saying what and when. There were two pieces of music in addition to the reflection piece, three slide shows divided up into the thirds of his life and a very poignant saying goodbye ritual for the family. The flowers were daffodils and leeks, the deceased being a proud Welshman.
When we went through everything, I realised that timing was going to be an issue. The celebration was in the crematorium and although this private chapel are generous with their slots, it still wasn’t long enough.
The family told me that they had asked for longer but were told by the funeral Director that it would cost an additional £800. (Not true, it is £425.)
I suggested that the local Community Hall would have been a better option – this was never given as an option by the Funeral Director and the family didn’t realise that it was a possibility. After writing the eulogy, we then had to go through it and remove some of the content. When I asked the funeral director about it, again I was told that if families don’t ask for it, they don’t suggest it.
This is quite typical of the attitude of the majority of funeral directors. I liken it to buying a new washing machine from Currys (other retailers are available).
You go into the shop and are greeted by a friendly salesperson. You explain that you need a new washing machine and you are shown a selection of five different brands and their models. That is all they have to offer and you feel pressured into buying one. You might be offered an extended warranty too. They do not deviate from the “script”.
This is what it can be like organising a funeral with a funeral director. You choose the coffin from a catalogue, the same with the flowers. You will be asked to provide three pieces of music, one for entry, one for exit and one for reflection. And then of course there is the poem or reading. You will be allocated a celebrant – if that is your preferred officiant. You will be offered ‘Cremation or burial at any local crematorium or burial site’ with the service in-situ or at the funeral director’s own chapel. Then, of course, you will be encouraged to use the funeral cars to get to and from the venue. There is nothing wrong with that if it is an informed choice.
Not all Funeral Directors are the same, there are many modern, forward-thinking companies emerging who will support you if you want to go “off-piste”. You just have to have to find the right one for you.
At Coffin Club workshops, you can find out what your rights are, the different options open to you and learn from guest speakers who work in end-of-life and the funerary business. You even have the option to buy and decorate your own coffin! (Please see previous blog before doing this!).
There are so many things that you could include in your celebration of life but your loved ones need to know – before you go. Some examples are:
Memory Making – have a memory book or box at the ready for your guests to share their memories of you creating a lasting memorial.
Picture storytelling – choose favourite photographs of you, your family, holidays, favourite places or screenshots of meaningful messages that you treasure or even have some of your videos shown. You could even record a video or an audio message you would like to leave for your friends and family.
Get creative – invite your friends and family to draw, write or paint on your coffin. Or if you’re not artistic, create a collage by sticking some meaningful pictures onto it. Have a fun day reminiscing about your life and loves!
Hire a minibus and decorate it as you would a wedding car to take you and your family to and from the venues!
You are an individual and your funeral should be as unique as you are, not dictated by how much hassle it will cause a funeral director. A Coffin Club Celebrant-plus can support you with the funeral planning before you even contact a Funeral director and help you choose the best one for you!
Isabel Addison is a Coffin Club Celebrant-plus – a celebrant who has all the tools in her toolbox to offer a full range of support to families who might want to be more creative over how they celebrant the end of someone’s life. Isabel is based in Aberdeenshire and also runs Coffin Club Aberdeenshire West – providing funeral education within her own community. Isabel was inspired to become a celebrant following the death of her beloved son, Ben, to find out more about Isabel, hear her story or book her to support you in a fabulous funeral go to her website at Legacy Celebrant.