Very small funerals

Throughout the pandemic the way funerals have been conducted has changed. Rising costs mean the expense of funerals loom larger in peoples' minds and questions may arise about whether using a 'direct to crematorium' service is a better option. 

I have noticed this particularly in relation to small funerals for the very elderly. This page addresses the issues

Why bother with a funeral?

Saying a formal farewell is often a key part of moving on from a death – it is a part of a process of mourning – so, how might you do this? At one end of a spectrum of possibilities are traditional funerals and, at the other, ‘direct cremation’ but there are ‘in the middle’ options too! 

To be clear, while I am a funeral celebrant, I would probably choose to use a funeral director just because they can also help with navigating the administration that surrounds a death but, the choice is very individual.

 

A ‘traditional’ funeral in a church or crematorium, or a burial

Traditional funerals are full of symbolism that has developed over many years – the ways individual families embrace different aspects of these traditions vary. This means that funerals can be as simple or as elaborate as you want; as religious or secular as suits. 

 

There are a lot of details that can add considerably to costs and make things more expensive: elaborate floral tributes, funeral teas or wakes, limousines and horse-drawn hearses etc. But, a simple coffin, perhaps some flowers or greenery from your garden or a local florist, and minimal services from a funeral director and celebrant or minister need not cost as much as you might fear.

 

All funeral services are now transparent (funeral directors have to display their costs) and it is fine to go with a very basic service if that is what you prefer. 

A ‘direct cremation’

At the other end of the spectrum there are direct cremations. These involve the deceased being taken ‘direct’ to the crematorium; typically there will not be a service and you will not be able to attend, although sometimes you can pay extra for a short time in the chapel with your loved one before they are taken through. 

Since celebrities like David Bowie opted for this, and the difficulties brought about by the pandemic, there is growing awareness of this option. However, with no service of any sort, this can feel like an anti-climax and leave grief ‘hanging’ in the air; sometimes families later complain of a lack of ‘closure’.

A small ceremony elsewhere

Between these two extremes another possibility is to have a direct cremation and a small service elsewhere in a place that is meaningful or convenient for you; perhaps your home or garden, a favourite spot where ashes are being scattered, or a lounge in a care home. 

 

A celebrant will work with you to produce something that feels appropriate and will often include a prayer or a little religion if that is what you would like. This can then be delivered at a time that is convenient (not necessarily the day of the cremation) and a copy of the words spoken can be provided as hard copy or electronically afterwards so you have them as a memento. 

While there is cost involved, this is generally relatively small; celebrants are independent and can be approached and paid directly – you can, for example, ask what they would charge and add that to the cost of a direct cremation. 

Examples of small services

As examples (and absolutely not exhaustive!) services have been held:

  • in regular chapels at crematoria, cemeteries and woodland burial sites - the smallest number I have delivered services for in regular funeral venues has been two. Very small services are usually planned and written to take account of their more intimate nature

Also:

  • in the lounge or gardens of care homes (this enables staff and other residents to be present)

  • in people's homes or gardens with family pets present

  • in function rooms in pubs, clubs, hotels, village halls and other public venues

 

And:

  • graveside

  • at places that were meaningful to individuals (riversides, viewpoints in landscapes)