Nothing can prepare you for how you might feel when someone close to you dies, whether it’s expected or not. It can feel overwhelming, devastating and strange, all at the same time. There’s lots to organise. And it can be difficult to know where to start.
We don’t tend to talk much about death, burial or the kind of funeral you might want. But it’s worth remembering that writing down your own wishes now can take stress and worry away from the people you love most when it’s their turn to make the arrangements.
Some people find comfort in the practical tasks they need to carry out. Of course, it helps if someone has planned ahead and left details of what they’d like, including where they’d like to be buried. If not, and if you haven’t arranged a burial before, here’s a guide to what you need to know.
What to do next
If your loved one dies in a care home or hospital, there should be someone to guide you through what to do next and how to register the death. This involves visiting the nearest Registry Office to where the person has died, taking along the medical certificate of death that’s been signed by a doctor. The Registrar will give you a green form that means a burial can go ahead. You will need to hand this to the Funeral Director you’ve chosen, if you have decided to use one, and not everyone does. You’ll also need to ask for extra copies of the death certificate to settle other affairs such as bank accounts. You’ll need to pay for the first and any additional copies of this certificate.
The Funeral Director is your friend
You might not have met before, but your Funeral Director is the expert who can advise you about all aspects of the funeral and burial. If you don’t feel comfortable about going to their office, most will be happy to come and see you at home, or speak by phone, which feel more relaxed.
At your first meeting, there will be lots of questions. Take your time and don’t feel under pressure to agree to anything you’re not happy about. There shouldn’t be any pressure, for example, about choosing the coffin, car or flowers. And if you at anytime feel that the Funeral Director you have chosen is not suitable for your needs, or they aren’t listening to what you want, you have the option to choose a different one. You are well within your rights to do this. This relationship, although a short one, is going to be important over the next few weeks.
If your loved one hasn’t left any directions, you’ll need to make the decisions about whether you want a funeral service and, if you do, where it will be held. The Funeral Director will also discuss whether the body is to be embalmed, ask where your loved one is to be buried (this may also affect the type of coffin that’s permitted), and whether you’ve thought about what might be placed on top of the coffin. And you’ll also need to discuss what clothes you’d like your loved one to be buried in and whether any personal items are to be buried with them (again, the type of burial site may affect which items can be included).
The funeral service
You might already have a good idea of whether you’re going to have a service and, if so, where it will be, who will lead it and who should deliver the eulogy. Or you may not. You’ll need to find time to discuss these details with family or friends and work with your Funeral Director to create an Order of Service. Don’t underestimate how difficult it can be to deliver a eulogy if you’re a close relative or friend of the person who has died. It’s one of the most challenging tasks you could take on at such an emotional time. If you are not used to public speaking and prefer not to deliver this your friends and family will understand.
Sometimes, a person’s religious faith affects how soon after death the funeral needs to take place. But in many cases, funerals take place over a week afterwards, to give people who may live further away time to plan their travel.
Funeral services are usually held before the body is buried, while memorial services can be arranged a while later. In some service halls, the ceremony can be recorded and live-streamed to mourners who aren’t able to attend. And some people choose a graveside service at the burial site instead of a service hall.
Currently, there are some restrictions that affect funeral arrangements. Your Funeral Director will be able to advise you about the latest rules. Alternatively you can visit Gov.uk website for the most recent updates.
Choosing a burial plot
If your loved one hasn’t left a note of their wishes, you’ll need to consider not only where they should be buried, but any restrictions that apply to the cemetery, including the type of coffin that can be used. In a traditional graveyard, you can choose pretty much any type of coffin or casket (including metal caskets) you wish, and the site can be marked with a headstone, mausoleum or burial vault.
Nowadays, many people are choosing more environmentally friendly burials, and these come with some restrictions. In most sites, a simple shroud can be used instead of a coffin and there are some restrictions on the type of coffin that can be used. For example, in a natural burial site, the coffin should be made of biodegradable materials, without metal handles, and there should be no other materials in the coffin that don’t break down naturally. Some woodland burial sites, such as GreenAcres parks, have slightly different/flexible criteria that allow any type of coffin with the exception of zinc lined and metal caskets in their woodland. However, their parklands do allow metal caskets to be interred, but your Funeral Director and the cemetery will be able to advise you about these.
Finding the right way to remember
Modern cemeteries are designed to be a place for the living. That means they’re spaces where people want to meet, spend time, walk and reflect on a loved one.
Many private cemeteries offer a choice of burial site so that traditional areas can accommodate a headstone or mausoleum, whereas woodland areas might have more discreet memorials, simple wooden posts or ‘living memorials’ such as trees that will outlast those who chose them. Or there’s the option of having an unmarked grave that, over time, becomes an integral part of the surrounding natural environment.
In a contemporary burial site like GreenAcres, it’s really up to you. You can consider an oak memorial post or memorial plaque or even a ‘living memorial’ like a tree or a natural habitat for wildlife such as a bird box.
Sometimes a couple wish to stay together not only in life but also after they’ve died. Finding a private garden or a woodland glade where your loved one can be buried, but that also leaves space for a partner to follow, is a popular choice.
Marked burial plots, with double-depth graves, at GreenAcres mean that a second person can be laid to rest with their loved one in the future.
In some areas of GreenAcres parks, there is also an option to reserve several spaces in private gardens and woodland glades, meaning families and friends can be buried close together.
How can you safeguard a burial plot for the future?
Some organisations give you the option of buying a long lease on a burial plot. This means it’s protected for future generations, who won’t have to bear the financial burden of renewing the lease or the guilt if they don’t. Private cemeteries like GreenAcres offer the flexibility of choosing from a variety of lease periods from 25 years to the life of the park.
What makes modern burials different?
For a growing number of people, the focus is on sustainability, biodiversity, quality of service and choice.
At GreenAcres, you can choose a burial plot in one of the six beautiful parks, located in different parts of the country. Depending on which of the parks you select, there’s a choice of woodland, meadows and lawns within acres of protected parkland.
Where can I go for more information?
Funeral Guide gives you step-by-step information on what to do when someone dies.
Tell Us Once is a service that enables you to report a death to most government organisations in one go.
Find out more about organising a burial at GreenAcres.