What happens at a funeral service?
If there is to be a church service before a burial or cremation, the coffin is taken into the church by the bearers and placed on a table or trolley in front of the altar.
Most funeral services in church take about half an hour, although a requiem mass or the funeral of a well-known member of the church congregation, may take an hour or more.
Afterwards, the bearers usually take the coffin either to the burial site or the crematorium and the mourners follow behind.
How formal do you want the funeral to be?
Is the tone to be one of sombre quiet reflection or a joyful celebration? This will be influenced by the wishes of the deceased, if known, but perhaps also the nature of the death and who will be present.
Do you want a printed order of service?
A good funeral director will be able to help with the design and printing of the order of service and they will be able to point you towards sources for poems, readings and hymns. You may also want to include one or two photos of your loved one.
What music will there be?
Hymns are traditionally sung at a funeral, but if the majority of the mourners are not regular churchgoers, this may not be suitable. Many people do not sing regularly and may not wish to sing in a public setting. An alternative is to play recorded hymns, but many other styles of music have become popular, including classical music and modern songs. Most churches and crematoria have music systems, so you can also provide music to be played – label CDs or a music player carefully so the right track is played at the right time.
Will there be a sermon, tribute or eulogy?
A religious funeral might include a short sermon. But, in addition or instead, many funerals have a tribute or eulogy. It may be given by the person conducting the funeral, put together from information provided by the family, or there may be one or more contributions from family, friends and colleagues. Even if someone is a confident speaker normally, having written notes will be helpful and they can also be read by someone else if the emotions become too much at the time.
What about prayers?
These can be traditional prayers or written for the occasion. They can be replaced by or put together with a period of silence in which people are invited to reflect or pray – this makes the time inclusive for those who have no faith.
Will there be readings?
As well as religious texts, there are many anthologies of poetry and readings collected specifically around the theme of bereavement that you can choose from.
Is the style of dress important?
The usual dress for funerals is darker colours, such as black, navy or grey, but it’s helpful for mourners if they know that the funeral is formal and black is a definite requirement, or that the preference would be for people to wear bright colours or a special theme.
Can mourners leave a personal message?
At some funerals a book of condolences or individual cards are provided for mourners to sign and record a personal message. This can be extremely helpful for the bereaved, who may not know many of the people present. It also gives an alternative way for mourners to express condolences.
At some funerals a book of condolences or individual cards are provided
for mourners to sign and record a personal message.
What about hospitality after the service?
Many people organise an event after the service (sometimes referred to as a ‘wake’) so that family and friends can get together to remember the deceased. If people have travelled long distances, you might want to provide refreshments of some kind before everyone travels back home. Depending on the number expected, it may be possible to provide a buffet meal at home or use a local venue (your funeral director will be able to make suggestions, if you wish). There is then a choice of whether to call on friends and family to assist with catering or to use a professional service. You might choose to provide food at a local pub or wine bar (which could reserve a room or cordon off an area for you), where mourners could purchase their own drinks.
It’s useful to provide maps showing mourners how to get from the funeral to the venue, especially if some mourners are not familiar with the local area.
What do mourners need to know?
It’s helpful if the person conducting the funeral gives out instructions, if there are any, such as whether there is to be a collection for charity, whether everyone present is welcome to come to the committal, or if any refreshments are being offered.
If there is a private committal followed by shared refreshments, mourners will appreciate being told where to assemble and wait for immediate family to join them.
Do you want to hold a memorial ceremony?
A memorial ceremony will include most of the elements of a funeral but without the committal. It will often be held sometime after the funeral, making more detailed planning and preparation possible.
Read about what a funeral director does, and how to choose one who is right for you at this emotional time.
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