/ Leading a funeral service - advice

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Ben Sharp - on 01 Sep 2014
I was wondering if anyone had any experience of leading a funeral service and what's involved. My Gran died yesterday and I'm meeting with the funeral director tomorrow, she wasn't religious so it seems the options are hiring a celebrant or doing it yourself, which seems quite daunting but also a bit more personal and paying someone to read something you've essentially had to write for them seems a bit pointless.

I've only been to one funeral and my memories of it were quite vague, there were more people and it was a natural burial mostly with younger (ish) people and quite informal. This is a cremation and my gran was 98 so I'm not sure what to expect with this, it will probably be quite a small gathering...the joys of getting to 98 mean you've outlived most of the people that would have attended your funeral.

Would be interested to hear from anyone whose decided to go it alone so to speak and how they found it or what they had to do. I'm sure the funeral director will be able to explain a bit more but in my mind I'm thinking perhaps a reasonably informal service of just thanking people for turning up, saying practical things like the donation box and where the drinks will be after (if any, I'm not sure yet). Then a few words about her, invite people to speak then play some music and press the button. Is there anything else that a celebrant would do other than that?

The other question I had was about what happens afterwards, I know anything you want but apart from a few close family most of the people at the funeral I wont really know but then everyone being turfed out and going their own way seems a bit grim. Are there function rooms at crematoriums or does everyone just go somewhere else?

Any advice appreciated,
Skol on 01 Sep 2014
In reply to Ben Sharp:

There's no clear cut advice to give sorry.
I recently bottled out of a reading at my nans funeral, which I'm glad I did.
Don't underestimate how you will feel on the day, despite your best intentions.
My father in law is adept at these things, but I'm not cut out for it.
Your emotions may depend on how close you were to your nan, and whether you were an emotional family. I was very close to my nan, but we weren't an emotional family, which I think is a bad mix for the chance of becoming emotional at a funeral?

The wake was held in a 'sit down' chippy. She loved her fish and chips.
Good luck if you go for it!
AlisonSmiles - on 01 Sep 2014
In reply to Ben Sharp:

I hired a humanist to deliver the words. She filtered out into manageable a ream of written stuff I'd given her while combining it with the feelings and information she got from other close family members less willing to take to the written word. She put it all together and delivered it so warmly, with so much feeling and with the real impression she knew him well, so much so that someone else at the funeral asked if she had known him. His brother tried to deliver his own words and simply lost it, stood in front of everyone and sobbed until his wife led him away. I couldn't have spoken it without fading into bawling howling tears in honesty so the celebrant worked well.

We went to the pub afterwards, and there was cake. I think we booked a function room.
Nutkey on 01 Sep 2014
In reply to Ben Sharp:

I have led quite a few funerals, but Jewish funerals so the specifics won't be relevant as there's a very set procedure for a Jewish funeral, but the basic rules will still hold:

1. speak up
2. if people need to do something at a particular time, tell them (e.g. stand up when the deceased is brought in, when to sit down, if you're walking to the grave, that you'll be coming back to the chapel afterwards).
3. if you're going somewhere else, announce it, and provide a sheet of directions.
4. The other points are not relevant, as I imagine you will know who all the immediate family are. It is quite embarrassing when you misread a name!

General practice for Jews is for people to go back to the family home for some food, with someone other than the immediate family taking responsibility for making tea and so forth. We hold the funerals in the same cemetery as everyone else, and if there's a function room, I haven't seen it. Nor, frankly, would I want to use it, there have got to be better places!
Blizzard - on 01 Sep 2014
In reply to Ben Sharp:
Sorry for your loss.

You are a climber, if you can rock climb, you ought to have the confidence to address an audience.

Are you the best suited family member to undertake a eulogy?

Can you not discuss a eulogy with your family or people who knew your Gran, for extra information, you need to look back at her life, look at her achievements, key events she was involved in.

Funeral directors are pretty good, but you need an idea of what you want, remember the funeral is for her, not for you, so give this a lot of thought. What would she have liked? If she was there would she have enjoyed whatever you are proposing?

Did she have a favourate poem, book, piece of music you can play that you will all remember her by?

Co-op funeral society usually have a function room you can hire. In fact any funeral director that doesnt have access to a function room I'd wouldnt bother with them.
Post edited at 21:04
DaveHall246 on 01 Sep 2014
In reply to Ben Sharp:

I'm no expert on funerals, but can hopefully help a bit from my limited experience.

My wife's grandfather was non-religious (even though he had extremely high moral values) and didn't want a 'Christian' funeral. The service was actually led by the funeral director at the crematorium, and was a very simple affair with him saying a few words (prepared by the family) and also contributions from a close friend - pretty much along the lines of what you seem to be thinking. The funeral director said that it was the first time he had lead the proceedings himself, but was very happy to do it.

Your idea of leading the service yourself sounds fine to me, but if you're not confident about doing everything then maybe your funeral director could help out by just holding everything together. They are obviously a lot more familiar with the situation.

At the funerals I've been to, after the service we've always gone to a local hotel for tea and sandwiches etc. As you say, it seems a bit grim for everyone to just go their own way. You'll be surprised how many of the people there actually know each other. Again, your funeral director will probably be able to advise.

Whatever you do, I hope it all goes well and you remember your Gran for all the right reasons.

Ann S on 01 Sep 2014
In reply to Ben Sharp:

This year I have had to attend a number of funerals, 5 in 7 weeks and another one this Thursday so I am beginning to feel like a professional mourner. Most were RC services which thankfully do not allow for improvisation. My advice would be that everybody loves a chance to sing at a funeral to give the deceased a great send off. If your gran was not religious then 'Abide with me' is off limits so find out what her favourite song was. Everybody has one and get the words printed on the order of service, even if it's 'The sun has got his hat on'. This is much better than sitting there and listening to words, words, words and music being played.

At the recent funeral of a school contemporary I was well impressed when his two brothers went around everyone attending, prior to the cremation and delightedly said thankyou to everyone who had turned up. Make sure you do the same.
Colin Moody - on 01 Sep 2014
In reply to Blizzard:

> You are a climber, if you can rock climb, you ought to have the confidence to address an audience.

There is no comparison.
Welsh Kate - on 01 Sep 2014
In reply to Ben Sharp:

I echo the 'favourite song' bit. I went to a wonderful humanist funeral and the last music played was the theme for Test Match Special because the guy who'd died loved cricket. Everyone went out with a smile on their face.
DNS on 02 Sep 2014
In reply to Ben Sharp:

My late father in law did not want any religeous aspect to his funeral, so my wife and I (with an excellent funeral director) did it ourselves. The process of compiling an order of service, researching a reading and writing a short eulogy was quite cathartic.

We did allow for a couple of minutes for those attending who felt it necessary for silent prayer. The family ranged from full-on atheists to missionaries, so it was a fine line to tread.

The funeral director should be a great help, and will organise or point you towards a suitable room and catering should you need it. They do it for a living.

The whole thing was far better than the cringeworthy services I've attended where the vicar clearly never clapped eyes on the deceased before the day of the funeral.

Your plans are fine.
DNS on 02 Sep 2014
In reply to Welsh Kate:
> (In reply to Ben Sharp)
> I echo the 'favourite song' bit. I went to a wonderful humanist funeral and the last music played was the theme for Test Match Special because the guy who'd died loved cricket. Everyone went out with a smile on their face.

My wifes's late grandmother went out the the same tune at the age of 101 (she had been telling eveyone for the previous 12 months that she was '100, not out'!)
Ben Sharp - on 02 Sep 2014
In reply to All:

Thanks for everyones replies, still unsure on whether to hire a celebrant or not but will decide later today after speaking with the FD. Unfortunately there's just me and my two siblings left now but they haven't really seen her much in the last decade and don't really wish to do it anyway.

Thankfully I've taken notes on her life while she's been alive, part of me wishes I'd taken more but perhaps it's better that I didn't, 98 years is a long time and I'd like to keep things short. She was a very "characterful" Yorkshire woman and if it was up to her there wouldn't be a funeral! She was generous to a fault though and would force feed anyone who walked through the door so perhaps she'd appreciate a buffet somewhere afterwards.

Thanks again for the replies, it's very daunting and as Blizzard said it's her day and a day for others to grieve as well so while I'd like to lead the ceremony f*cking it up would be bad. Perhaps if everything's written down then the FD would be able to take over in the unlikely event that I wasn't able to continue.
marsbar - on 02 Sep 2014
In reply to Ben Sharp:

Maybe keep the formal bit short and make the food the main event if you think that is what she would approve. Yorkshire high tea perhaps?
Dave Garnett - on 02 Sep 2014
In reply to Blizzard:

> You are a climber, if you can rock climb, you ought to have the confidence to address an audience.

You are joking, of course.
Ferret on 02 Sep 2014
In reply to Ben Sharp:

We recently had a humanist celebrant in for my fathers funeral.

It worked well - they spent a good couple of hours talking with my mother, brother and I and from that were able to produce a very good 'summary' of his life and achievements. They sent it to us to correct/add to/subtract from/comment on. My brother considered speaking and expanding on one area but couldn't find the words to do it... I spoke for around 5 minutes and for me, that was quite enough. I wouldn't have wanted to do the whole thing. The cost is pretty low for what you get... couple of hundred pounds I think and yes, they didn't know my father but they were there to talk about him, and lead a service for us, not as somebody who knew him. By speaking myself I feel something even more personal was brought in, but as I say, doing the whole thing is a big ask and may go wrong if the day gets too much for you. It was as somebody else has said, way better than some church funerals I have been at, held in a church for sake of form, with a man of the cloth speaking who clearly knows nothing about the person and family involved and simply using it as a chance to spout off about whatever topic they fancy preaching on that day.

With help, we figured out suitable music for use while people entered and left the crematorium and something that was played for a couple of minutes to allow people quiet time to contemplate or pray if they wished during the ceremony. We are not religious but happy for people to do what they wish.

Wake was sandwiches and biscuits, tea etc at a hotel near to the crematorium. We considered going to the function room at the hockey club my dad was associated with for all of his life but felt it was too far from the Crematorium and complicated to find. Something 5 minutes away and easy felt more suitable.

Funeral directors should help with all this and indeed will know several celebrants that they can recommend.
ByEek on 02 Sep 2014
In reply to Ben Sharp:

My nan had a very simple but lovely funeral. It was basically a reading of the obituary of her life and the people who made up that life. It might be worth getting someone else to read it simply because the whole process is rather emotional and as the organiser, you can put your energy into welcoming and comforting those attending, rather than having to worry about how you are to address everyone.

Just a thought.
Ann S on 02 Sep 2014
In reply to Ben Sharp:

One last contribution from me. My mother told me of a funeral she attended where the daughter gave the eulogy for her father. She got up to speak and waved a sheet of papers at the 'audience' telling them gleefully that 'it's written on both sides'.

She went on so long that at the conclusion of the service the undertakers had to rush the coffin out with indecent haste to get to the Crematorium in time. Mum said it was like something out of a Benny Hill comedy sketch.

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