Even when it’s expected, the death of someone we know and love can be shocking and painful. And when planning a funeral, there are so many decisions to be made that the process, combined with the loss, can feel overwhelming. By pre-planning your funeral ceremony and taking those decisions in advance, you can help to make life easier for those you leave behind.
Humanist funerals and memorial services are for people who would prefer a non-religious ceremony. You don’t need to identify as a humanist to have a humanist ceremony – although many people share humanist values without realising.
As humanists, we believe that this life is the only life we have and that after death we live on only in the memories of other people. Humanists look to scientific evidence and reason rather than religion for answers, and place human welfare and happiness at the centre of their ethical decision-making.
Humanist funeral ceremonies celebrate the life lived and express sadness at the loss. They focus sincerely and affectionately on the person who has died, paying tribute to the connections they made and left behind and the way they lived their life.
Funerals can be held in a variety of places. Most are held in crematoria, cemeteries, or woodland burial sites. There is also a growing number of direct cremations – where the cremation takes place with no ceremony. In those instances, families frequently choose to either have a ceremony online at the time of the cremation or come together at a later date for a memorial ceremony (with or without the ashes being present).
At Humanist Ceremonies ™, our approach to pre-planning funeral ceremonies is similar to the way we work families after the death of a loved one. One key difference is that the celebrant is able to gather most of the required information from the person for whom the ceremony will be held. This includes not just an agreement about the structure of the ceremony, but also the content of their tribute, which is a key part of any humanist ceremony.
Humanist celebrant, Richard Spedding explains:
‘There is a growing interest in pre-planning funerals from a financial perspective and there are many prepaid funeral plans available from funeral directors.
‘However, what is equally as important is the structure and content of the ceremony in terms of your wishes. From a celebrant perspective, I have found this approach beneficial as I was able to record the wishes of the individual and also provide them with full editorial rights to their tribute/eulogy.
‘Families of terminally ill people tell me that the pre-planning process is key in assisting them in coming to terms with their grief.’
One family Richard worked with were the Englands. He was approached directly by Stuart England, who asked if Richard could meet with his mother and close family members to chat around her funeral requirements.
A wonderful, positive, and uplifting three-hour meeting followed where Richard obtained all the material he required to write the tribute. He then sent the draft script to the family so it could be signed off and stored until it is required.
Of the pre-planning process and choice of a humanist funeral, Stuart England told us:
‘We decided we wanted a ceremony that was specifically about our mother, and based around her. We feel that the humanist approach best gave us what we required and was the most adaptable to our needs – and not the needs of a church, for example.
‘We feel that planning the funeral in advance has really helped bring calm and peace to what is happening. Organising things in advance and with the help of my Mum has given us something to focus on apart from just the actual event. This calm has been achieved through the planning and also the personal approach offered by Richard.
‘Richard took us step-by-step through his approach; what to expect on the day and what we could contribute. He then went on to spend a number of hours with us chatting to my Mum and gaining information about her life – some of which I didn’t know.
‘I would highly recommend the pre-planning approach. It will not be easy to start the process, but the end results far outweigh the initial trepidation. It gives insights into things you aren’t aware of, brings calmness to a stressful situation, and gives people something to focus on other than grief.’
At Humanist Ceremonies, our celebrants help to plan and deliver thousands of funeral ceremonies a year and have been doing so since the 1890s.
The tributes from any funeral conducted by an accredited humanist celebrant can be added free of charge to the Humanist Funeral Tribute Archive – an online resource which saves humanist tributes for posterity. If this is of interest to you and your family, please ask your celebrant for details.
Richard Spedding conducts funerals and memorial ceremonies in Fylde, Wyre and Blackpool.
Funeral celebrants who are members of the Humanist Ceremonies network have been trained and accredited by Humanists UK.
To find a celebrant to help plan a funeral, visit our online map.