Surviving the Funeral

Dec 2, 2014

Let’s be brutally frank: it’s funeral season.

I don’t have any celebration ceremony bookings at present until early Spring, but currently there is no shortage of requests for me to create and conduct funerals. This may well increase as the weather (presumably) worsens.

So, rather than give guidance, as I usually do, about weddings and vow renewals, etc., I thought I’d offer some musings about less happy events. And, let’s face it, we’re all going to die some time ..


If someone dies at home (or in a nursing home), a doctor must be called to issue the Medical Certificate of Death. This will be done by hospital staff, if the deceased dies while in hospital.

Assuming there is no need for a post-mortem, etc., the next step, before arranging the funeral, is to make an appointment to see the Registrar.

Registering the Death

There are lots of choices how to commemorate a death, but, come what may, it has to be recorded legally. So the registrar will need to be informed, and will want:

  • details of the death (including the Death Certificate)
  • name, address, date and place of birth of the deceased
  • their occupation
  • whether they were receiving a pension or allowance from public funds
  • if married, the date of birth of the surviving spouse.


The funeral

The Procession

Historically, a cortege was much favoured, and today you can still see horse-drawn hearses. Most commonly, though, it will be a limousine – although you can actually come across a range of creative ideas for the procession (eg motorcycle hearses, or bringing the coffin by a lorry, say, to reflect the deceased’s profession or passion).



There are a number of interesting customs still in use – mostly in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, where burial tends to happen sooner. Some regional traditions include the use of cords to lower the coffin (Scotland), families in Wales announce a death by pinning cards to lamp posts and there are the ‘lifts’ (Northern Ireland), where the coffin is passed from hand to hand. In England, rosemary may be placed on the coffin or at the graveside (symbolising remembrance).

It is traditional to strew soil or rose petals over the coffin, but nowadays there are new rituals, which may include live music, fireworks, release of doves, bubbles or balloons.



Ashes can be buried, scattered or kept, so it is as well to consider these options carefully. There are various regulations about scattering or burying ashes, and a Funeral Director should be able to advise you.

The service

Music still plays a big part at a funeral, but religious music is in decline. People prefer songs associated with the deceased (or chosen by them). An organ is often an option, but usually the chapel may have a Wesley System (which can access most songs). Alternatively or additionally, CDs or MP3s are the order of the day.

Orders of service have often become more elaborate than they once were. Now, in addition to the deceased’s name, date of birth and death and the words of any hymns being sung, there may well be photographs and stories.

Speeches and Eulogies

In many cases, the person leading the service still delivers the eulogy, but increasingly family, friends and work colleagues may contribute a poem, a memory or a tribute.


In my next blog, I intend to pick up from here and give some tips about writing an eulogy (tips, incidentally, which may hold good for speech-writing for more cheerful occasions).


Michael Gordon can help prepare and conduct a tailor-made civil ceremony in or around London or, indeed, in Europe.