Doing it yourself can be quite daunting, but can help considerably when coming to terms with the death of someone close. Over the years we have picked up some tips which we like to pass on…
It is perfectly possible to do everything yourselves, if you have the support and physical capability to do so. Our page on Family Led Funerals helps with links and advice on what to do. It is also possible to organise most things yourselves, , whilst still receiving support from a local funeral director for 'logistics' - collecting the body, placing the body into a coffin, storing in a refrigerated room until bringing it to the burial ground, where you can take over again.
The funeral director can provide bearers for the burial and lower the coffin into the ground for you and then leave. It can be less inhibiting and more personal if you arrange beforehand for them to withdraw after lowering so that only family and friends and perhaps a funeral celebrant remain to share the time around the grave. Most funeral directors are most happy to do this, after all it frees up the men and hearse to go to the next funeral. The funeral director will quite often suggest that he remains nearby in case help is needed. They take their responsibility for the welfare of the family very seriously, which is thoughtful, though sometimes not necessary.
It can be a good idea if the body can be brought to rest at the burial ground before anyone else arrives. Sometimes a family member will have a van or people-carrier and will take a shroud or coffin to the mortuary at a hospital or coroner's department where staff will help them put the person into the coffin and into the vehicle, from where they drive directly to the burial ground. On arrival, they can place the coffin across the grave, or on trestles until the mourners arrive (perhaps within a service space or memorial shelter) and move the van out of the way.
One family had a private burial early in the day and set up seats in the shade of a shelter on the other side of the meadow. There, they welcomed people, who were given no set time to arrive, before inviting them to pay their respects to the person who had died, already in the grave. That way they had the opportunity to greet, hug and engage with family and friends on an individual basis. This way, they received a great deal of support and comfort from people as they trickled in.
"A good funeral gets the dead where they need to go and the living where they need to be." - Thomas Lynch Funeral Director and writer.
Some families hold small very intimate and personal services, especially when a baby has died. Others, particularly when a younger person has died, hold much bigger gatherings. All stay for as long as they wish.
We find that families who arrange things themselves need more support and talk to us a great deal more than those who rely on a Funeral Director. They often need help with forms, and an idea of what others have done beforehand which made the event special. Regularly we have to chase the coffin size because it either hasn't arrived, or been made, or they didn’t realise the urgency of that information; getting the grave-size right is critical for a burial.
On the hottest day of 2017 I had to take a spade and extend a grave by another six inches in front of 250 people who had gathered for a DIY funeral. I realised we might have a problem when a family friend, who was standing alongside me as I checked that all was ready, asked if I was sure the grave would be big enough, "He was a tall man." Sure enough, instead of giving us the external measurements we need, the family had given us the supplier’s internal measurements for the coffin, which were well under. No one minded, most hardly noticed.
We try to make it as straightforward as possible for people to go it alone by giving as much information as we can on our website where, for example, there is a practical guide for carrying and lowering the coffin.
Larger funerals that are not choreographed and have no structure or 'master of ceremonies' to lead the way are sometimes awkward. Funeral celebrants can help with this and bring their own creativity, experience and ideas to bear. It helps to have a framework for families to follow.
"We are free at funerals to choose our own music, write our own liturgies, dispense with a grave altogether and be scattered. Or not to have a funeral at all. We are free, and somehow a little bit lost at the same time." - Denise Inge from the book, Tour of Bones.
Stories and thoughts from the Leedam camp.
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