Funerals? What Could Possibly Go Wrong?!

Funerals? What Could Possibly Go Wrong?!

Considerable work and preparation goes into ensuring that a life-cycle ceremony goes smoothly and is memorable for the right reasons! However, even with the best-laid plans and the most accomplished professionals in place, things go pear-shaped occasionally. This tends to be the exception, rather than the rule, but these tales bear telling!

Not an error on anyone’s part, but just a sad episode. When I paid  a family visit to put together a funeral, the solitary son was apologetic. “My mother was really secretive. I don’t know much about her.” To the extent that when he went through her papers, he discovered that one school day when he was 11, his parents had secretly got married! That was the first he knew of it. And the father abandoned his family quite soon afterwards.

One funeral limousine turned up at the wrong address, waking the residents, who must have had  quite a surprise!

I haven’t done it myself yet, but I’ve attended a funeral where the officiant used entirely the wrong name when referring to the deceased! Not to be recommended.

I did get caught out quite early in my career. We had ordered a particular hymn. In those days, the chapel attendant waited for his cue and played the music from a remote booth. (He could see and hear me, but I couldn’t see him). I therefore always gave a copy of the “script” to the attendant as well as introducing the music that was to be played.

On this occasion, I announced the hymn, but nothing happened. Same again. Nothing. I simply had to move on with the service without the hymn.

It turns out that the attendant, experienced as he was, had simply forgotten about the hymn and gone outside for a bit! Understandably, the family weren’t best pleased!

On another occasion, I was invited to discuss the Order of Service with a charming family consisting of a brother and two sisters. Usually, after the family meeting, I would send a draft by email to the relevant parties and await their comments. We would tend to have about a week to get this sorted.

I duly sent out the emails to each of them. I must have copied the brother’s address wrongly, because that bounced. I therefore wrote again to one of the sisters, and asked her to forward the draft to him. She agreed.

The day before the funeral the brother rang me. Where was the draft? I told him that his sister had forwarded it to him. “She has nothing to do with me. There’s no way she’d have forwarded it!”

Families, families …

People say that I appear very calm and collected when officiating. Maybe, but I prefer not to think about what could happen …!



There’s no ignoring it. We’ve had Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Christmas is looming and a new year is beckoning.

It’s been difficult to plan weddings or celebratory events, never knowing when the next lockdown might be imposed. In fact, it’s turned out to have been plain sailing since July, but who was to know?

So, can we look forward to the future with any confidence? Dare we be positive about 2022?

Obviously, my guess is as good as yours. I suspect that, although there may be renewed restrictions in the coming few months, Spring and Summer may shine a green light for unrestricted ceremonies. But don’t hold me to account, if I’m wrong!

With alll the uncertainty, should we put plans on the back burner?

Definitely not, in my opinion. We can’t – and mustn’t – go on indefinitely with life on hold. We’re social animals and need to escape isolation.

So don’t put off planning for happy, life-cycle events. As humans, we do have to mark such occasions. Don’t ignore big birthdays, weddings, vow renewals, anniversaries ending -5 or -0, namings, or other such events.

It doesn’t have to be a traditional, large-scale ceremony. You may opt for a micro-event. You may well check terms and conditions and cancellation clauses more carefully than usual with your suppliers. But still go for it.

Of course, it is still a gamble. So it may be wise to arrange something that can be adapted at fairly short notice. That probably entails liaising with your venue (if you’re booking one at all) and/or suppliers, and checking how flexible they are.

Take precautions, by all means, but you certainly don’t want to regret missing out due to fear.

If you are thinking of organising something a bit special, then please have a chat with me.

Who’s for a Funeral?

Regular readers of my blogs will know that I write and conduct personalised life-cycle ceremonies. Not just weddings, civil partnerships, vow renewals, ring blessings, baby-namings and the like, but also funerals.

Cheerful as my blogs tend to be, this one will consider an aspect of death: what do you want to happen to your body at the end?

Of course, this is something I discuss with people (and their families) in their lifetime; I then write the service and eulogy that they actually want.

It’s no more ghoulish than writing a will, and it’s certainly as practical. You’re simply ensuring that your wishes are carried out when you’re no longer around to control things.


Most people think that a funeral is prescribed. But the only things that actually need to be done when there is a death are legal registration and disposal of the body. Although there are certain stipulations, there is a surprising choice of methods open to you.

The Conventional

Conventionally, you have a religious service delivered by your church, synagogue, temple etc. This will often entail burial, but increasingly nowadays, cremation, and the minister will usually conduct a prescribed service that allows little individuality.


Independent Celebrants

More and more, for those who do not want a full religious service (whether out of respect for the deceased or as the family’s choice) , there is the possibility of a unique, tailor-made service conducted by an independent celebrant. Funeral Directors frequently can recommend such an officiant. The celebrant should visit the next-of-kin and discuss the family’s wishes and learn about the deceased, so as to be able to write an appropriate celebratory service, approved beforehand by the family, and conduct it on the day.

These services are often held in crematoria, but they can take place in cemeteries or natural burial grounds, or even in homes as memorial services.


There is no space to go into this here, but, as long as pollution and health and safety laws are followed, you can bury someone in your back garden and conduct the ceremony yourself. I don’t recommend it, but, as I have said, there is some freedom as to how – or whether – you conduct a funeral.


Modern alternatives

Wear your beloved!

When your loved one has died, it is possible for their cremated remains (which contain a lot of carbon) to be transformed into precious stones, including diamonds. So your loved one, in the form of a ring or necklace, can still be with you wherever you go!

Give your beloved a real send-off!

Your loved one’s ashes can be sent off into the earth’s orbit or, for quite a price, launched into outer space. I’m not sure about the ‘carbon footprint’ here, but it IS an option …

Become an atoll!

Ashes can be cast into a 100% natural cast reef mould, lowered into the ocean to eventually become a coral reef. Environmentally-friendly and a creative (if expensive?) idea.

All at sea

You can be buried at sea, as in a garden – see above – but there are regulations you need to conform to.


Another more environmentally-friendly suggestion is resomation, which is a water-based process which reduces the body to soft bone, easily crumbled. The bone powder can be treated in the same way as cremated remains.


This process uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the body, which is then fragmented, freeze-dried and rendered rapidly compostable in a shallow burial. This must be the greenest process of all.

Cryogenic freezing

Finally, human remains can be frozen, using liquid nitrogen, without damaging human tissue. In theory, the body will be preserved until, with advances in medical knowledge, it will be able to be treated and eventually reanimated.

Take your pick!!


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