From a traditional grave or cremation to burial at sea or in a biodegradable coffin, there are many types of funeral.
Funeral arrangements are always difficult to think about, but as well as burial and cremation, many types of funeral are possible – religious, humanist or a complete break with tradition. There’s a world of possibility when it comes to how to celebrate your life and mark your death.
Traditional grave burial
Usually after a funeral service, perhaps in a church or cemetery chapel, mourners will walk behind the coffin to the prepared grave, or drive behind the hearse to the place of burial. More words might be spoken before the coffin is lowered into the grave. At some burials, family members and other mourners might throw flowers or scatter earth into the grave. Some families might prefer a private burial, or even one which precedes a service. Burial fees are higher than those for cremation - an average £1,847 compared to £755, according to the Royal London National Funeral Cost Index 2017.
This overtook burial as the most common form of funeral in the 1960s; today, 75 per cent of people are cremated, according to the Cremation Society of Great Britain.
At a traditional cremation, a funeral ceremony is often held in church, after which the coffin is taken to the crematorium chapel, or at the chapel itself. The funeral director will take care of arrangements. At the end of a crematorium service, curtains close over the coffin and body, which are taken away to be burnt. It’s still possible to reserve space in churchyards for ashes to be interred, and this can cost less than a burial. Note that some religions such as Judaism and Islam don’t permit cremation. (Cremation is taboo for Orthodox Jews and Muslims.) Direct cremation is now becoming a more popular choice. This takes place without a funeral service or ceremony, and is a simpler and cheaper option, usually with no mourners present. Some families may choose to remember the person who has died on a separate occasion.
Humanist ceremonies are not religious, but they offer a dignified way of celebrating someone’s life and saying goodbye. There’s no fixed order or script, which allows a service to feel personal. A celebrant can advise you and will lead the ceremony at your chosen venue – your home, a village hall, a graveside or a crematorium.
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Burial at sea
There are no barriers to scattering ashes at sea in England and some boat charter companies can arrange this with a simple ceremony on board. If you choose to scatter ashes on a river, the Environment Agency asks that your actions don’t affect other people, pollute water or damage wildlife – see its advice here.
If you wish to lay the deceased’s body to rest at sea, you will need a licence from the Marine Management Organisation. A burial at sea is possible in three locations off the English coast – off The Needles, Isle of Wight, between Hastings and Newhaven or off Tynemouth, North Tyneside – for a fee of £50. If you would prefer another location off the English, Welsh or Northern Irish coast, you will need to apply for permission and a £175 licence. However burying someone at sea can be expensive, when boat charter and other associated costs (I couldn’t see a Royal London costing for this - found an estimate of £4000) are taken into account. There are also strict regulations about types of coffins to be used.
Funerals with a lighter carbon footprint are increasingly popular. Choosing a coffin made from sustainable materials is common. Biodegradable coffins can be made from bamboo, wicker, banana leaf, wool and cardboard – some prefer to be buried in just a shroud. Coffins can even arrive by bicycle hearse.
Ashes and plaques
Many families scatter ashes in a favourite place or inter them with a memorial in a crematorium or family grave. But ashes can be put in a biodegradable urn and planted with a tree seed – the ashes feed the tree as it grows. Others build a tiny portion of ashes into a glass keepsake or sculpture or press them into vinyl records. Ashes can be incorporated into fireworks for a farewell display. You can also commission an artist to create a plaque or headstone.
There are more than 270 natural burial sites in the UK. Bodies are buried in eco-friendly coffins or shrouds and the sites – sometimes wildlife reserves or woodlands – are kept undisturbed. Graves are shallow to aid eco-friendly decomposition – the deeper bodies are buried, the more methane is produced. You are discouraged from having traditional headstones or memorials to keep the site natural. Charity the Natural Death Centre warns against “greenwashing” – when sites make false claims about their environmental credentials – so check with the Association of Natural Burial Grounds and visit in advance.