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  • Writer's pictureHardingstone Ceremonies

Direct Funerals - The Case Against

Photo by Evie S Klily

It will not surprise anyone to know that as a celebrant, I am deeply concerned by the growing trend for ‘direct cremations’ or indeed ‘direct burials’.  What might be a surprise, is the reason for my misgiving which is not, as you might think, due to a perceived decrease in work for the celebrant community.  It is rather out of concern that too often people make this choice thinking they are doing the right thing for their loved ones.  They are, by pre-purchasing a ‘no fuss’ cremation / burial  trying to alleviate their families from the cost and stress of arranging a funeral.  Whilst this is undoubtedly well intentioned it is, in my opinion, an error.

In loving memory
Photo by Sandy Millar

I have been unable to erase from my memory the story I heard just a few months ago about the brother in law caught between honouring his wife’s wishes for ‘no fuss’ and her sister’s need to say goodbye ‘properly’.  It is not uncommon for those without religious belief to feel that once they are gone, they are gone and there’s no point in spending money on an elaborate farewell.  However, I would argue that the funeral, whilst absolutely about and for the person who has died, is also just as much for those left behind.  It is the chance for family and friends to acknowledge and confront their loss, reflect on the person no longer with them and then to cross a threshold into a life without that person.  I am not for a minute suggesting that a funeral facilitates recovery from grief, far from it but I do think that a funeral or other ceremony begins the journey through grief.

Coffin bearers
Photo from The Good Funeral Guide

Sometimes the reason a person elects for direct cremation is to avoid old fashioned, stuffy ceremonies to which they cannot relate.  They may actively want to avoid certain religious assumptions that they fear might permeate a cremation / burial service.  This is where my bias as an Independent celebrant does come in - when I create a service whether that is at a natural burial site or crematorium, whether it is a Funeral, Memorial or a Celebration of Life, I am free to create whatever service best reflects the life of the deceased and is most valued by their family.  If they want to include specific religious readings they can, if an entirely secular occasion better suits that is fine too.  Many people choose to have a nod towards spirituality; it’s surprising how comforting many find a childhood prayer or well-known passage from Scripture even if they don’t formally follow a particular religious tradition.

Heart in hands
Photo by Kelly Sikkema

It is absolutely true that the days after the death of a loved one are overwhelming and it is natural to want to help your families as much as you can.  I would suggest the greatest help of all is to make sure they know how you’d like your funeral / memorial to be but please don’t rob them of the chance to do this one last act of love for you.  Most if not all funeral directors offer a prepaid service so you can manage the financial demands ahead of time.  You are free to contact a minister or celebrant of your choice in advance to discuss arrangements.  Ceremonies can be as formal or relaxed as you choose - many families choose to hold a service directly before or after the cremation or burial, to allow as much time as you want for readings, tributes and any rituals you may choose; crematorium slots are notoriously time pressured.  Ideally you would talk about these things with those who will be arranging the funeral but if that isn’t possible consider leaving directions with a solicitor, funeral director or celebrant of your choice - along with instructions for your family of who to contact.

Neither of my parents were the sort who wanted a fuss to be made… about anything but both their funerals were rich in meaning and symbolism and are deeply treasured memories by children and grand-children alike.

By Catrina Young, Leicestershire Heart-led celebrant, Marking Life’s Moments.

© Hardingstone Ceremonies, March 2024

For more information about my services, please read Funerals & Farewells.

106 views2 comments


Mar 23

Spot on, Catrina. This exactly mirrors our thoughts.


Mar 23

Yes, a funeral (formal or informal) is a rite of passage and, whatever one thinks about an afterlife, it is a way of dealing with life after a loss. Celebrating the life allows positive memories to occupy the gap left by the death of a loved one.

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