Mum's original intention had been to give her body to medical science. However this was not possible and at short notice after she died we had to arrange her funeral.
As a memorial service was being arranged at a later date all we needed to sort out was the short trip from the General Hospital to the crematorium for a service that was to be attended by immediate members of the family only.
My mother would not have wanted too much ceremony and would have been horrified if she had thought we were going to spend a fortune on fripperies for what she saw as an empty container.[Relevant quotes].
My sister initially rang a couple of Funeral Directors and ascertained that total funeral costs, even for a simple ceremony, would be of the order of £1,800-£2,500. Being sure that I could fine a better deal I rang almost all the funeral directors I could find. Although I could have shaved £100 or so off the costs, I could not find anyone who could provide a simple and meaningful service for what seemed like a reasonable cost.
The costs broke down as;
Disbursements: (Those costs which the Funeral Director has no control over)
Crematorium Fee: £483.65 (+£40 if an organist were required)
Doctor's medical forms for cremation: £147.00 - 2x£73.50
Minister's cost (If used): £107.00
Total Disbursements £737.65
The fee then charged by the funeral directors varied between £1200 and £1800, some of the quoted fees included a coffin and some did not. The fee was to cover 'their professional services'.
It was possible to reduce the fee by not having bearers (people to carry the coffin from the hearse into the crematorium chapel) but this was only by £100 (4x£25) or alternatively by electing for an early cremation, at a time to suit the funeral director one company would reduce their fee by £200.
I had a think about what we were getting for the Funeral Directors fees and decided that it boiled down to;
- organising some paperwork,
- booking the crematorium,
- buying a coffin
- transporting the coffin from the mortuary to the crematorium
The more I thought about it the more I thought there was little that could not be organised ourselves, particularly as all we wanted was a simple ceremony for a small number of family members. Indeed I am sure that mum would not only have approved us making the arrangements ourselves but would have been quite proud of us. Any money saved would mean more could be donated it to the charities chosen in her memory.
A bit of internet research pulled up some useful sites about organising funerals without a funeral director. Some council crematoria even had pages explaining how to conduct funerals without a funeral director.
A number of websites movingly described their own experiences with independent funerals;
One concern was whether a funeral organised in this way would have the necessary dignity. I found the following on a web site which I found gave me great comfort and provided a suitable riposte to such questions;
"These actions [The organisation of a funeral with own vehicles and biodegradable coffins] often attract comments that such funerals lack 'dignity'. It is important to refute this comment. Firstly, dignity is defined by the Concise Oxford Dictionary as 'true worth' and where a personalised funeral accords with the wishes of the deceased or the bereaved, it obviously possess this quality. Secondly, dignity is too often ascribed to standard set by commercial organisations. Consequently, using this argument, the more you spend, the more dignity you can obtain. This is evident in funerals, where the use of a Rolls Royce hearse is perceived to possess a higher level of dignity than, say, a Ford hearse. It is important not to allow such sentiments to deny any individual the right to arrange a funeral without commercial involvement. Funerals arranged by the bereaved contain a far higher personal input, which evokes more emotion and often celebrates the life of the deceased in a more moving and individual way."
Before phoning my siblings with this as yet incomplete idea I remembered that the husband of a friend of ours was our local crematorium manager (and registrar) so I sought his advice. Were he to point out too many pitfalls in the process I would not have taken the idea any further forward.
As expected, the friend was very helpful.
Possible pitfalls were effectively;
- Time to get the cremation paperwork signed by doctors at the hospital. One of his local hospitals would turn paperwork around almost immediately whereas the other might take a day or two. His recommendation was therefore to leave booking the crematorium until this had been sorted.
- Practicalities of transporting the coffin to the crematorium. In his experience the staff at the local hospital mortuary were very helpful in putting the body into the coffin. He recommended that we speak directly to the mortuary manager at the hospital where my mother died.
Other than these potential pitfalls he could not see why we should not be able to arrange the funeral ourselves.
The other comment he had was that for some people the stress after a death can make the organisation of a funeral just too much and therefore the use of a Funeral Director would be recommended. A funeral Director gives peace of mind as they have the experience of getting through all the necessary bureaucratic hoops. Clearly one only has a single chance to get it right.
To my mind it is somewhat like organising a wedding in that it is a one off event that must go to plan first time. Although that is the same case for a funeral we seem to be surprised if someone decides to organise a funeral themselves but are surprised when someone uses a Wedding Planner for a wedding.
Having got some confidence that this was not a silly idea I then contacted the crematorium and explained that we were organising an 'Independent Funeral' without the assistance of a Funeral Director and asked what help they were able to give us. It was clearly a question they did not often get but they explained the documentation they required and faxed me a copy of the blank documentation and a useful sheet, somewhat poorly entitled, 'D.I.Y. Funerals'. This listed 11 items that needed to be considered such as Coffin Details, Nameplate, Vehicle to transport the coffin etc. I arranged a provisional date and time for the cremation and was told that we needed to have all the paperwork with the crematorium office at 8.30 two days before the cremation and should we realise that we were not going to be able to arrange everything in time we would be able to cancel the booking without cost.
At this point I approached my siblings(a brother and two sisters) expecting that I might get some initial resistance but did not believe they would be against the idea. All three were very supportive of the idea once I had explained the background and what was required. Indeed they liked the idea of being able to make a larger donation to Mum's charities and felt that mum would appreciate the approach.
Really that was the easy work. As I lived nearly 200 miles from where my mother had died and would be cremated it was now going to be down to my brother and sister to make the arrangements locally - a task that they seemed very keen to take on themselves.
Organising some paperwork
My brother received the original paper work and forms from the crematorium. The documents which we had already received by fax were quite simple to fill in;
- Instructions for cremation; This form asked how the cremation service would be run (whether an organist would be required, music etc.) and how the ashes would be disposed of.
- Application for a cremation; This asked details about the crematorium, details of the applicant, details of the deceased, doctors details etc.
In addition to these forms we needed the Doctors' medical form and the green disposal certificate.
My sister had already arranged the the death certificate and had all the paperwork from the registry office. This included the necessary 'green form' certificate for cremation. My sister and brother then arranged a meeting with the bereavement office at the hospital to get the doctors' signatures necessary for a cremation (cost £147.00). With these two certificates in addition to the documents received from the crematorium they then went to the crematorium to hand in all the documents. The crematorium received the documents 8 days before the cremation and only 4 days after my mum's death. Both the bereavement office at the hospital and the crematorium office were extremely helpful.
Booking the crematorium
I had provisionally booked the crematorium so all my brother and sister had to do was confirm the booking and pay the crematorium's fee which they did when they dropped the certificates off.
Buying a coffin
This was something that I could do at a distance and I spent some time investigating options on-line. There are a number of on-line websites selling eco-coffins, however not all will sell direct to end users and advise you to contact a funeral director.
Eventually we settled on a cardboard coffin from Greenfield Creations. We arranged for this to be delivered to my sister so that she could take it to the mortuary at the hospital.
Transporting the coffin from the mortuary to the crematorium
Whilst at the Hospital my brother and sister spoke to the bereavement office staff and the mortuary manager about storage of mum's body until the day of the cremation. This was not a problem and it was arranged that the coffin would be delivered to the mortuary on the morning of the cremation so that it could then be collected half an hour or so before the service.
Fortunately we have a Volvo Estate car and being a charcoal grey in colour it seemed a suitable alternative to a hearse. We measured the back up and confirmed it could take the coffin. Living too far away to be able to be fully involved in the day to day organisation of the cremation I was pleased that this was a practical contribution that I could make to this special day.
The day of the cremation
On the day of the cremation we set off from home at 7:00 as we had nearly 200 miles to travel and wanted to make sure the coffin fitted comfortably in the car before delivering it to the mortuary. Unfortunately because of weather and problems on the motorway we had to take a slower route but were still able to arrive at my Mother's house in good time to pick up the coffin. My brother had already attached a nameplate with my mother's name, birth date and date of death. Together my brother and I went to the General Hospital mortuary. Fortunately he had already worked out its location - perhaps for obvious reasons they are not particularly well marked in a hospital. We parked in the "Private Ambulances Only" parking spot immediately in front of large industrial doors. Once we had located the door bell a very helpful lady came and brought out a trolley on which to put the coffin. We confirmed that she would be expecting us back at about 1.15pm.
We then joined the rest of our families for lunch at a nearby restaurant.
At 1.15pm we returned to the mortuary to collect Mum. The mortuary assistant was very helpful and we lifted Mum into the car. The mortuary assistant explained that she did not know if we were intending to view Mum (we were not) and had therefore made her up so that we could if we wanted. Once my brother had signed for Mum we were ready to take her on her last trip to the crematorium. I found a great deal of comfort if being able to do this 'one last job' for her.
We arrived at the crematorium some 15 minutes before the service was due. We were not quite sure where to park but drove round and pulled up outside the crematorium chapel entrance. This service was only to be for immediate family we were only expecting about 20 (Me, my siblings and families, my mother's sister and husband and one of my mother's nephews). Peggy, the vicar of my mother's church where she had worshipped for nearly 50 years arrived and we waited as the service in front of ours finished. A crematorium official came out and changed the name on the door of the crematorium chapel. At the same time he came out and had a quick look at Mum's coffin, possibly checking the name against the name plate.
As there were 6 rope handles on the coffin. My brother, 4 of mum's grandsons and I carried the coffin in to the catafalque. A moving tribute to my mother for all involved.
Once the service was over we were able to chat outside with my Aunt, Uncle and cousin. They felt the arrangements had been very appropriate and my cousin, an architect, described the choice of coffin as honest.
We are now looking forward to Mum's remembrance service at which we can celebrate her life with many of her friends. She was still in contact with friends she had at school and university.
Would we do it again?
Yes. [Need to add some further thoughts from both me and my siblings]
What do you call a funeral arranged without the aid of funeral directors?
Personally I don't like the term 'DIY Funeral' as it conveys the impression of haphazard organisation. My preferred term is 'Independent Funeral' as this appears much more appropriate and can be clarified as being 'A funeral independent of Funeral Directors'. Some websites use the rather prosaic term of 'Funerals without Funeral Directors'. 'Alternative Funerals', another term used for such services, implies that these are not normal.
If you would like to know more please email me and I will help as much as I am able.