What springs to mind when you think of a funeral?
Perhaps it's mourners dressed in black, a funeral director in a top hat carrying a cane, a glossy black hearse and a wooden coffin topped with floral tributes? And you’d be right. In many ways, the traditional British funeral hasn't changed much since Victorian times and you could be forgiven for thinking that it is the only way to say goodbye.
Yet a recent survey carried out by the Co-op Funeralcare showed that attitudes are changing, and while the traditional funeral still remains a popular choice, there are plenty of other options when it comes to saying goodbye.
From willow coffins to glitter coffins and motorcycle hearses to camper vans, there are many ways in which a funeral can be a truly personal reflection of the person who has died. It's just that often people don't know that those options are available (after all, who spends their time researching these things unless they need to?).
If you’re planning a funeral and want to add a personal feel to the proceedings, you might like to consider some of the following options:
Although over 50% of survey respondents weren’t aware that a funeral could be held outside of a religious setting, when asked where they would like their own funeral to be held, the top responses were: by a lake or river, in the countryside, in their home or garden, on a beach, and out at sea. Choosing a location which has a special meaning can help to create a feeling of familiarity and intimacy which can enhance the overall experience. These days many hotels offer funeral receptions as well as weddings, like this beautiful example from Hedsor House in the Buckinghamshire countryside.
Photo credit: Hedsor House
It’s worth mentioning here that a funeral doesn’t have to be rushed into. In fact, there is a growing trend for ‘direct cremation’ where a simple (and affordable) cremation takes place with few or no mourners present, allowing time for a larger celebration of life or remembrance service to be planned at a convenient time when family and friends can be gathered together. This is a good option if your family is spread far and wide, as is often the case these days. Ask your funeral director if you think this option might better suit your needs.
While a black hearse is the traditional option, there are some creative alternatives, which might be more in keeping with how your loved one lived their life. Motorcycle funerals have a fleet of customised cycles where the coffin is transported in a sidecar, while Volkswagen Funerals offer beautifully restored campervan hearses for a laid-back, festival vibe.
Photo credits: Motorcycle Funerals, Volkswagen Funerals
Horse-drawn vehicles have always been popular and range from traditional glass carriages to rustic wagons. For old-school glamour, how about an elegant vintage limo or even this fabulous leopard print hearse from Green’s Carriage Masters, which is sure to make a style statement!
Photo credit: Green's Carriage Masters
This is one area of the funeral industry which has seen a lot of innovation in recent years. Alongside the traditional wooden option, woven willow and bamboo coffins have become popular and look beautiful when decorated with fresh flowers. Cardboard coffins are becoming an increasingly popular option, both from an affordability and sustainability point of view. They can be digitally printed with your own design or even decorated by guests as part of the funeral service by sticking on photographs or writing messages directly onto the coffin. You can even get sparkling glitter covered coffins from The Glitter Coffin Company.
Photo credit: Natural Legacy
An eco-friendly option is a wool felt coffin like this one from Natural Legacy (above) with its gently rounded ends, or you could forgo a coffin completely and choose a sustainable burial shroud, such as this embroidered felt Leafcocoon shroud from Bellacouche. When choosing a coffin, be guided by what the person would have wanted and don’t feel pressured into buying the most expensive option.
Photo credit: Bellacouche
From football shirts to fancy dress, there are no rules when it comes to funeral attire. It’s simply a question of what feels right for you, your family and friends. Perhaps surprisingly 26% of people questioned in the survey said they would like guests to wear bright colours rather than black – surely a sign of the times! However, if this feels a step too far, you might like to consider a brightly coloured accessory such as a yellow scarf, or ask guests to wear a colourful flower as a buttonhole. Be sure to make your wishes clear on the invitation if it’s important to you that guests wear a specific item of clothing.
Flowers are a wonderful opportunity to express individuality. Floral tributes don’t have to be fancy or expensive – sometimes less is more and a loosely arranged hand-tied bouquet picked from your garden can be much more personal and meaningful than a formal wreath or coffin spray. Bear in mind that if you are having a natural burial, you’ll need to make sure the flowers don’t have any oasis, plastic or elastic bands as everything needs to be biodegradable. While confetti might not be the first thing that springs to mind for a funeral, freeze-dried rose petals come in a wide variety of colours and are a popular choice for burials where they can be scattered into the grave by guests, creating a meaningful and beautiful end to a burial service.
Adding personal touches can really help to make a funeral special, memorable and unique to that individual. While for those tasked with planning the funeral, it can be reassuring to know that you’re fulfilling the wishes of your loved one and giving them the kind of send-off they really wanted (especially if they have been proactive enough to discuss their wishes with you in advance).
One thing is certain, when it comes to choosing how you want to ‘go’, these days it’s more about what feels right and, within reason, pretty much anything goes!
Share your thoughts... Have you thought about your funeral wishes or shared them with your family? Do you have a very clear idea of the kind of funeral you'd like? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of making funerals personal in the comments section below.