Planning a DIY Funeral or family led funeral

21st June 2021#funerals
Planning a DIY Funeral or family led funeral

Planning a DIY funeral and doing it all yourself can be quite daunting. However, it can help considerably when coming to terms with the death of someone close. Over the years we have picked up some tips which we would like to pass on.

Doing it yourself or getting a little bit of help

Firstly, it’s important to note that is no law saying you have to use an undertaker or funeral director. If anyone tells you otherwise this information is incorrect, you can have a DIY funeral. Funeral directors are there to help and guide. Many will also offer minimal support for those who want a family-led funeral with a helping hand. However, it’s entirely possible to do it on your own if you have the support and physical capability. This in many ways is a return to what we used to do back in the day and it can be immensely rewarding.

Those who would like to organise a funeral with a bit of support can turn to a funeral director. They can help with simple aspects like collecting and placing the body in the coffin. They can provide a safe space for your family member or friend to rest while making arrangements. It is also perfectly acceptable to keep your loved one at home if you are comfortable with this. Another option is to use someone who offers one to one care from the end of life to the funeral itself.

If a person has died in hospital or is in the care of a Coroner it’s often possible for them to stay there until the funeral. We have spoken to many families who have done this. They have had positive experiences. Many have found that hospital or coroners staff were very helpful and regarded it a privilege to help a family directly if they are arranging a DIY funeral. If you decide you want to collect the deceased yourself you can take a shroud or coffin to the mortuary or coroners department. Their staff may be happy to help you put the person into the coffin and into the vehicle. It’s these parts that you have to make sure you are comfortable with. Some find this a helpful part of the grieving process as they are caring for the people love. Understandably, others may find it difficult and that is when you can ask for help.

Small funeral gathering

Making the initial arrangements

Often funeral directors help with initial paperwork, but you can do this yourself. What we find is that those planning a DIY funeral may need a bit more support from us at the natural burial ground. Usually, these families talk to us more than those relying on a Funeral Director as they take the lead. This is something we are happy to assist with if you have decided you want to do the funeral arrangements yourself. We can talk you through the forms and ideas of what others have done.

One important piece of information we need to know in advance is the coffin size. Not the internal measurements, but the external measurements. If you are using a funeral director for part of the process they may be able to help with this. However, when a family is arranging a DIY funeral they need to give us the coffin size. Many don’t realise the urgency but getting the grave-size right is critical for a burial.

To put this into perspective, on the hottest day of 2017, we had to take a spade and extend a grave by six inches. This was in front of 250 people who had gathered for a DIY funeral. We realised there may be a problem when a family friend asked if the grave would be big enough, “he was a tall man.” Unfortunately, the family had given us the supplier’s internal measurements by mistake. No one minded, most hardly noticed and everything was fine but it’s something to be aware of. Our top tip, measure the coffin yourself or ask the supplier for exact external measurements.

Funeral directors and funeral professionals take their instructions from you. Let them know what you want so they can help make the day as personal as possible. – Leedam

On the day of the funeral

Many families who wish to have a family-led or DIY funeral will collect the coffin on the day and take it from there. From here you can provide your own transport, bearers and continue arrangements as planned. You can take your time and proceed with the burial ground and officiant as agreed.

If you need help on the day a funeral director or the natural burial ground may be able to provide bearers. These are people who can lower the coffin for you and leave and most funeral directors are happy to do this. You can arrange these logistics beforehand so it all runs smoothly. The funeral director may offer to stay on their own and sometimes having them nearby helps to reassure you they are there if there are any problems. However, they take their instructions from you. If you decide you would like to have only family, friends and an officiant present at the funeral service let them know. We understand that for some it helps to make things feel less inhibiting and more personal

Arriving in advance & getting things set up

Funeral directors often send people ahead to welcome those arriving and hand out orders of service if desired. When you are arranging a DIY funeral these are aspects that you need to consider. Often our custodians are on hand to greet people and show them where to wait. However, family and friends can help with orders of service and other arrangements that may need a helping hand.

It can be a good idea to arrive a bit earlier with the coffin so you can get yourself settled before family and friends come. How you arrive is up to you. You can arrange for a funeral director to meet you at the natural burial ground with a hearse or a simple estate car. Some family members choose to use a people-carrier or the family van and bring the coffin to the burial ground themselves, this can be a really personal touch. You may want to hire a horse and carriage or have a tractor lead from an agreed meeting point. If you have arranged to collect your loved one from the hospital on the day give yourself plenty of time.

Where to place the coffin

On arrival, you may want to wait for family and friends before you move the coffin. However, you can place the coffin across the grave or on trestles and move the vehicles out of the way. Sometimes having the coffin on trestles in the area chosen for the service can help take the pressure off. It also means you can focus on greeting guests. Some families make the most of this relaxed environment by bringing a camping stove and offering people a cuppa while they wait.

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 before inviting them to pay their respects. The coffin had been lowered into the grave so they could say a private personal goodbye. While the family had the opportunity to greet, hug and engage with people on an individual basis. This way, they received a great deal of support and comfort from people as they trickled in.

Family led funeral at natural burial ground with family van

The Funeral Service

Some families hold small, intimate services, especially when a baby has died, or when a family member has asked for no fuss. Others, particularly when a younger person has died, hold much bigger gatherings. All stay for as long as they want. The most important thing to remember is to do it your way.

Large funerals that have no structure or ‘master of ceremonies’ to lead the way can be difficult to control. Funeral celebrants can help with this by leading the service and providing an order to the day. They bring their own creativity, experience and ideas while making the service personal to you. You may also have a minister or family member who can help. Whether it is a religious or non-religious service 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.

Extra guidance and help

We try to make it as straightforward as possible for people to go it alone and plan a family-led or DIY funeral. There is information on our website you may find helpful. For example, how to lift, carry and lower a coffin.

It’s important you decide how much or little you want to do for yourselves, and plan ahead. Participating in funeral arrangements can help people come to terms with their loss. However, there is a lot to organise in what can be stressful and difficult circumstances. Pre-planning is helpful if there has been an opportunity to do this, as is a willing and able support team. It can be reassuring to have an experienced funeral director to assist. They can make sure nothing is overlooked. You should be of a capable nature and have a willing group of friends and relations prepared to help. If you feel that you are up to the task then you are likely to look back on it with love and emotion as well as great pride.

The Good Funeral Guide has an excellent page on ‘Doing it all yourself’. It has a step by step guide and a lists of things to consider. We advise reading this so that you know exactly what is involved. It is possible to keep a body at home but this needs to be carefully organised. Marie Curie charity has helpful advice on Caring for a friend or family member dying at home. The American website ‘Crossings’ gives a detailed manual of what is required to prepare the body. This includes how to store it at home.

We can give guidance about coffins, flowers and planning the funeral ceremony. We have lots of helpful information in our Advice section.

If you have decided you want to arrange a DIY funeral or family-led funeral then please speak to us and we will give you as much help as we can.

A few points to think about

  • What you would like to do yourself, what you want others to help with.
  • Where to keep the body of your loved one until the funeral

  • What to bury the person in

  • How to get them to the burial ground

  • Carrying the body to the grave

  • What type of funeral you would like and who will lead the service.