A good funeral – organising a fitting tribute to someone you’ve lost
We are really pleased to welcome a guest blog from Lizzie Edgerton, a humanist celebrant. She is not far from Hundy Mundy our woodland burial ground in the Scottish borders and has shared a wonderful blog touching on her some of her own experiences, and organising a fitting tribute and funeral to someone you’ve lost. We would recommend taking 5 minutes out, with a cuppa in hand to read this very insightful blog.
Lizzie Edgerton, a Humanist Celebrant, on organising a fitting tribute to someone you’ve lost.
Grief affects your brain. In the first few days after a death, it’s normal for people not to feel ready to put their relationship into words. Our culture isn’t geared to letting people emerge at their own rate from the shock of death and loss. It’s not unusual for the bereaved to feel ‘pushed’ into making decisions, and it’s tempting to put things into place quickly when you’re exhausted and unsure of what you need at the time. Even when a death is expected, people may need a few days to feel ready to work on the funeral ceremony.
You don’t have to rush. Dead people don’t have to be hurried away.
Clearly, a burial or cremation has to take place when a person dies, but what happens either side of this doesn’t fit into a one-size-fits-all template. As a celebrant I know it’s important to empower people to do exactly what feels right for them, to mark the moment in time and leave them with a memory of their person that will be a comfort.
My sister died from Covid in May 2020, not long after the start of the first lockdown. It was a time of confusion and uncertainty – the funeral director had a limit of five mourners and we were a four hour drive away and shielding. I watched her funeral from my laptop, streamed from a badly fitted camera at the back of the crematorium, which cut out five minutes before the end. Her partner had been bounced into getting everything dealt with quickly, bounced into choices about music and readings, happy to hand things over for someone else to deal with. Although everyone had tried their best at a highly fraught time, it wasn’t a great way to say goodbye.
Funerals can be an opportunity to do something wonderful for the person who has died, to express your love for them and to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves.
The good news is that in general, funerals are moving away from a focus on processing a body, strict guidelines on behaviour, dress and ritual and towards a more informal style of gathering and grieving. Instead of a complete focus on the sadness of death, we are seeing a shift towards the celebration of a life.
Funerals don’t have to be static, stiff ceremonies where you’re worried about what you’re supposed to do, where to stand, what to wear, whether you can bring the baby (or the dog). They can be an opportunity to do something wonderful for the person who has died, to express your love for them and to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves.
A funeral is a space for grief, contained. It’s structure when life can feel like it has none, a movement towards acknowledgement and acceptance. As we’re all different in life we’re all different with death. A good, meaningful funeral can be a time for us to all reckon with our own beautiful impermanence. To heal in grief we have to shift the relationship from that of a physical presence to memories. A good funeral lets people focus on their relationship with the person and share memories with others.
As a Humanist, I conduct non-religious ceremonies and memorials. I support families and friends to mourn and celebrate the person who has died, focusing on the life they led, the relationships they had and the belief that every life is individual, valuable and unique. They are both a celebration of life and a fond farewell. They are an option for families where a religious funeral might not feel authentic, especially if the person who died lived their life without religion. There are other options too – a non-religious funeral can be taken by any celebrant, or even a family member or friend.
Funerals don’t have to cost the earth – the amount of money a family spends on a funeral doesn’t equate to how much the person was loved.
Design your own funeral
I always encourage people to design their own family funeral if they want to, and sometimes there’s a member who feels comfortable to take ownership of the whole ceremony. However, that person has to be able to translate facts and observations into words that will hold people’s attention and to craft a ceremony whilst simultaneously being plunged into grief, and it’s not everyone who can do that. If you’re doing it all yourselves, I’d recommend a friend who has a degree of detachment to be there with you in case it’s overwhelming on the day. I do always encourage the family to share the responsibility though by speaking, reading, carrying the coffin or shroud and by performing symbolic gestures, such as candle-lighting and other personal tributes.
There’s no right or wrong way to conduct an end-of-life celebration, it’s whatever feels right for you and whatever you feel captures and reflects the person you loved. You can hold your final farewell in a barn, or a village hall, or your own back garden if you want. You don’t even need to use a funeral director. Of course, a crematorium service may be absolutely right for some people, and it’s important to acknowledge that, but it can also mean it’s difficult to deliver the sort of ceremony that honours someone‘s life properly, especially if a funeral director has booked a 20-minute service at a crematorium for a family that clearly needs considerable time and space to say goodbye.
A funeral at a natural burial ground
A funeral at a natural burial ground will allow you to take as long as you want (though you might want to make arrangements if the weather is inclement). A good celebrant will facilitate whatever you want (if you know what that is), will let you know that there are other things you can do, and will support you in exploring those options. A good celebrant won’t work from a generic template. A ceremony is a deeply personal, bespoke set of words that can’t be used for another family, it’s a reflection of love and memories, of relationships and connections. Everyone deserves a funeral that has had thought and skill put into it – you only get to do it once.
Funerals are important, and rituals within funerals play a part in the processing of a loss. A good funeral can help with the grieving process and we can celebrate a life without forgetting to mourn a death. There is no right way. Create a funeral that works for you and your family. Funerals don’t have to cost the earth – the amount of money a family spends on a funeral doesn’t equate to how much the person was loved. If you’re arranging a funeral for a loved one, ask questions. You don’t have to have the celebrant a funeral director recommends, you can contact one directly. The funeral industry is ready to change. Life is about love and the way we show our love. It’s about the stories we live and tell, it’s frightening and beautiful, fragile and precious.
Be involved in the final act. It will help.
Get in touch
Dr Lizzie Edgerton is a Humanist Celebrant with the Fuze Foundation. She conducts Humanist Funerals and is registered to perform legal marriages in Scotland. One of the aims of the Fuze Foundation is to assist with the real issues around funeral affordability. It actively campaigns and works on behalf of families to address the issues they face and offers struggling families funeral ceremonies at no cost to them. Its ultimate aim is to raise enough money to offer to pay for all the funeral expenses. You can read more about the Fuze Foundation here
If you’d like to contact Lizzie to talk to her about conducting a funeral, or for any help, if you want to conduct one yourself, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her on 07714349422