Afterthoughts - Funerals

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How green could your funeral be?

It’s odd to think about our effect on the planet after we die but, if you’re eco-conscious now, then it might be something you’d like to think about – how green could your funeral be?

A woodland burial may seem like the natural first choice, but there are other considerations too. If you and your family would like to think about a ‘very green funeral’, then these overviews of funeral elements may help you to make some decisions.

What is a green funeral?

Your personal views will guide you. In general, ‘green funerals’ tend to err away from cremation, and instead, involve burial in a natural setting. There’s no embalming of the body certainly, and a coffin or shroud is made locally, from natural and sustainable materials. But while your final resting place may be the focus point, there’s more to a green funeral than how your body is treated.

Woodland burials – are they the natural choice?

Yes, which is why many families decide a woodland burial would be the best option for a ‘green’ funeral. There are over 260 woodland or green burial sites around the UK, but there are also long barrows too – rural, modern-day versions of ancient monuments – in which you could store your ashes, if you still prefer cremation. That brings us very quickly to the difficult question:

Which is ‘greener’, a burial or cremation?

It’s not easy to work out the carbon footprint of a cremation because there are so many variables involved – but a burial is greener overall, there’s no doubt about it. Crematoria and technology have come a long way in recent years, but the physical process of cremation makes it a pollutant in more ways than one. There’s just no getting around the cost of electricity in life, or death.

Cremators operate at over 750C, for over an hour for each cremation. The Natural Death Centre tells us that one cremation uses as much energy as a 500-mile car trip. In fact, on average, a cremator uses about 285 kW hours of gas and 15kWh of electricity, which is about the same amount that a single person would consume in one month.

Then – depending, unfortunately, on the size of your body – there’s the overall release of CO2 to think about. The average adult human body is about 50-65% water (we’re using approximations throughout here), which means about 90 pounds of water will be evaporated from a 150-pound person. Add in the previous energy consumption, and allowing for all those variables, each cremation will put somewhere between 300 and 500 pounds of CO2 into the air.

So, if you’re thinking about carbon off-setting – a typical hardwood tree will absorb about 48 pounds of CO2 each year – then the suggestion would be to plant at least 10 trees.

Green options for your coffin (or shroud)

Assuming that you’ve decided not to be cremated, but to be buried in a woodland burial ground instead, you’ll be asked to use an eco-friendly coffin. Wooden coffins may be made from oak or pine, but some coffins use wood veneers, which will be bonded to the coffin with a formaldehyde resin.

However, there’s nothing to stop you choosing something like bamboo or willow; wicker, recycled paper or cardboard; or a shroud that’s made of wool, felt, or cotton for any form of burial. There are many firms in the UK that offer natural coffins, made from locally sourced materials, so there’s also no need to worry about a carbon footprint for sourcing an eco-coffin.

Reducing your family’s funeral footprint

A funeral cortege usually involves one or two limousines, which are followed by families and friends in their own transport. To reduce the emissions involves, you might ask friends and family to car share – and insist on a hearse that is green, too.

Then, instead of asking for funeral flowers – which might use plastic or metal frames, or even depend on using blooms that have been imported from overseas’ growers – you could suggest that floral tributes use flowers picked from a local garden. Or, growing in popularity, that tributes are made by donating to a favourite charity instead.

Finally, your family might like to make orders of service rather than have them printed – or to use an order of service that’s printed on recycled paper. These are all small gestures, but in a green funeral these may be important to you. If you’re interested in taking out a funeral plan that can help you to define some of those options, our team would be happy to help.

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In 2001 motorcycling vicar The Rev Paul Sinclair had a dream. He would bring together the two great passions in his life to create the UK’s first motorcycle hearse service to give fellow bikers the send-off they deserved.

Rev Sinclair, who sadly passed away in 2019, started Motorcycle Funerals from his home in Leicestershire and grew the service into a successful business catering for biker funerals all over the country.

World speed record

The business now runs a fleet of 13 motorcycle hearses using specially built sidecars to carry the coffins. Pride of place in the fleet is the Suzuki Hyabusa which Rev Sinclair rode to a world speed record at  Elvington Airfield, York, on 19 May 2013 when he reached a speed of 126 mph to become the fastest rider of a motorcycle hearse.

Known affectionately as the Faster Pastor or the Quicker Vicar, The Rev Sinclair obviously chose a motorcycle themed funeral for himself. Hundreds of bikers turned up for the procession which saw the legend carried away in a Triumph motorcycle hearse.

The Motorcycle Funerals website is full of testimonials from bereaved families expressing their thanks for a very special send off.

This quote sums it all up:

“Four years ago, my brother sadly passed away. We asked Paul to not only supply his sidecar hearse but to also carry out the service at the church. Although my brother had his own ideas about religion, I’m sure he would have appreciated the kind words that were said and the way in which Paul carried out the service. Even though it was a very sad day Paul brought back many happy memories to put smiles on the mourners faces. Not sure if Ozzy Osbourne gets played much in churches but it was that day! It was an honour to ride pillion behind Paul and beside my brother on his final ride…….and I must say……I enjoyed the “few last blasts” along the way. I know my brother would have loved, not only that, but he would have found the closing of the local town due to lots of motorcyclists being there and us ending up with an unexpected police escort hilarious! Thanks Paul.”

To find out more about this amazing service visit the website

Land Rovers and campervans

Of course, bikers are not the only people with a passion for vehicles. Land Rover owners are a committed bunch of enthusiasts who share a love for this legendary 4×4. A company has been set up to provide Land Rover hearses for a very special final journey.

And if VW campervans are your thing, then Volkswagen Funerals have a range of classic campervan hearses available

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Can I be buried at sea?

Yes. It’s not very common, and there’s a little bit of organisation and paperwork involved, but there’s no reason why you can’t be buried at sea.

It’s true, there are some costs that you or your family will have to bear in mind when you’re planning the funeral – but if a marine send-off is what you’d prefer, then it’s all possible. Here, we’ll look at funerals at sea in general and explain the admin for this form of ceremony. 

Are there any restrictions on who can be buried at sea?

Not in the UK, no. The Royal Navy conducts its own services for veterans, but anyone can be buried at sea, just as long as the person who’s arranging the funeral has applied for and received a licence from the Marine Management Organisation (the MMO).

Where can I be buried at sea?

There are rules around this. The MMO would prefer burials to take place in one of three places. Off The Needles, near the Isle of Wight; between Hastings and Newhaven; or just off Tynemouth, North Tyneside.

If you’d like to be buried at sea in a different location, perhaps for family reasons or for connections to your service history, then you can still apply for a licence – but you’ll need to show that the proposed burial location is suitable. That means demonstrating there’s no problem with water depth, currents, offshore pipelines or commercial fishing zones.

You can find out more about this directly from the MMO’s website.

Which paperwork do I need to be buried at sea?

Well, in addition to the MMO licence, you’ll need to make sure the funeral director has a copy of your death certificate, a Certificate of Freedom from Fever and Infection (which your GP or the hospital doctor will have to provide), and a ‘Notice to a Coroner of Intention to Remove a Body out of England’ statement. Again, that’s available from the coroner.

Could I be buried in a canvas shroud, just like in the movies?

No, not in the UK. When you’re making an application to the MMO, you’ll have to agree that the coffin will be made from solid softwood. It mustn’t contain any contaminants – things like plastic, lead, copper or zinc – and to make sure that the coffin sinks quickly, several 50mm holes will be drilled into it. About 200kg (440lb) will be clamped to its base.

Would it be alright to have my ashes scattered at sea, instead?

Yes. Anyone can scatter your ashes at sea, and there’s no special licence needed. In fact, your ashes may be scattered into the sea from any beach, anywhere in the UK. This is one reason why many families choose direct cremation and a direct cremation funeral plan – because there’s no need to involve a funeral director, either.

You’d be in good company too, as several well-known people have elected to have their ashes scattered in the same way. Alfred Hitchcock, Janis Joplin (in the Pacific Ocean), Dad’s Army actor John Laurie, Edmund Hillary (in New Zealand’s Hauraki Gulf), and Robin Williams (in San Francisco Bay).

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If you’re ethically-minded or you’ve been at all eco-conscious during your life, then you might be thinking that a woodland burial is something you’d prefer. Some people have a special connection to the outdoors during their lives – gardeners and farmers, in particular.

But what’s involved, exactly? Does it mean you have to give up some of your family’s traditions – like hymns, or wearing formal clothes? Let’s take a look at woodland burials and some of the traditional funeral options you might want to think about too, as an alternative.

What is a woodland burial?

Let’s dispel some myths. A woodland burial isn’t ‘all hippies and things’. It’s an environmentally-friendly alternative to a traditional burial, with the interment taking place in a specially designated burial ground. That may be a wood set aside exclusively for burials, or it might be a piece of woodland that’s connected to a larger cemetery.

Many families decide a woodland burial would be calming or even reassuring, and – in some ways – less stressful than attending a service at a crematorium or a church.

There are over 260 woodland or green burial sites around the UK, which means there’s a good chance there’s one close to you and your family. The Association of Natural Burial Grounds (ANBG) was set up by the Natural Death Centre to help promote good standards. You’ll find a full list of woodland burial grounds signed up to the ANBG’s Code of Conduct, here.

What kind of coffin can you use in a woodland burial?

Most woodland burial grounds in the UK will expect you to choose an eco-friendly coffin. One that doesn’t use harsh glues or materials that don’t decompose easily. Something like bamboo or willow; wicker, recycled paper or cardboard; or a shroud that’s made of wool, felt, or cotton. For families with younger children, a bamboo or wicker coffin can seem far less imposing than a traditional coffin; natural materials are more tactile.

Woodland burials versus traditional burials – what’s the difference?

At a woodland burial, the grave is likely to be quite shallow. That doesn’t mean it’s disrespectful at all. It simply encourages the microbial processes that are necessary to aid all natural decomposition. Coffins are only buried deeply in a traditional cemetery to allow room for future burials alongside.

Some woodland burial grounds will keep records of where the coffin is places, but many families like the idea of woodland burials because they see the whole wood as an ever-changing, natural memorial. It can be far less distressing to remember someone by walking through a natural, quite piece of woodland. In fact, it’s quite unusual to find headstones in a woodland burial ground. Some sites offer the opportunity to plant a tree, or to have a small and discreet plaque placed on a nearby tree. Some don’t allow any markers at all.

As for the day itself? There’s no reason why your family shouldn’t sing the songs they want to, bring natural flowers or wreathes, wear the clothes they feel most comfortable in, or commemorate your life in any way that feels natural to them.

How much does a woodland burial cost?

Prices do vary, depending on whereabouts you live. When you buy a funeral plan through Safe Hands, we can find out what the costs for a woodland burial plot would be in your local area – and then include that cost in your Safe Hands funeral plan (it’s included as a contribution towards the cost, rather than a pre-paid funeral item). But in general, interment at a woodland burial ground is slightly more expensive than traditional interment in a churchyard. Prices range from a few hundred pounds to a few thousand pounds,, depending on where you live.

Who ‘runs’ a woodland burial?

All of the woodland burial sites in the UK have connections to local funeral directors, who can advise and support your family when the time comes. We work with very many of those funeral directors already. But even in advance, you can decide who you’d like to lead the service. There’s no reason why you might not ask your faith leader if they’d conduct a religious ceremony, or you might prefer the event to be guided by a celebrant or a humanist with no religious content. In fact, you might ask one of your family to lead the ceremony – there’s nothing to stop that happening. Taking control of your funeral plans now gives you much more choice over what happens later.

How could I have a ‘natural’ funeral, instead?

Woodland burials are sometimes referred to as green burials, but a ‘natural’ burial doesn’t have to take place in a wood to be considered a little more eco-friendly.

That’s the reward for making your end-of-life planning part of life’s normal financial planning – you can decide now, how and what you’d like to include in your own funeral plans.

For example, you might want to pay for a traditional funeral but insist on a willow or bamboo coffin instead. You might ask your family to choose ethically sourced flowers, or have the orders of service printed on recycled paper. Or you might even talk to your family about their transport plans – it’s entirely up to you. If you’re interested in taking out a funeral plan but you’d like to talk about including a woodland burial – our team would be happy to help.

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Does it have to be black? No. But it is still a good idea to play it safe when it comes to choosing clothes for a funeral. Whatever you decide to wear – and dress codes do vary these days – this isn’t the right time to draw attention to yourself. These tips will help…

General advice
Funerals and black clothing – they sort of go together, don’t they. Black clothing is a tradition that dates back to Roman times. The Romans would wear darker togas or another dark color is almost always appropriate. Today – other colours may be more appropriate.

There may also be religious or cultural preferences to think about. But we’ll cover some of those here, which should help if you’ve been invited to a service you’re not familiar with. Our top tip? If in doubt, ask a friend or a close member of the family what the dress code will be and, if in doubt, clean your shoes and dress a little bit more formally than you would normally.

People come together at a funeral to pay their respects, so as long as you choose something respectful and in line with the person’s life experience, you won’t go far wrong. If the funeral is for someone who had seen active service, for example, then you may be invited to wear dress uniform.

However for different families, tradition and respect may mean different things. If Grandad was a huge football fan for example, then Nana might ask close friends of the family to wear football scarves as they walk from their cars to a church. If in doubt, make sure your shoes are sensible and choose something dark to wear – an outfit you might put on for a serious job interview, for example.

• Do dress so you won’t stand out in the crowd.
• Do wear sensible shoes – you may need to walk across grass or gravel.
• Do make sure what you’re wearing is clean, don’t leave it all to the last minute.
• Do cover up – this isn’t the time for crop-tops, plunging necklines or short skirts.
• Do pop a couple of clean tissues in your pocket.
• Do – if you wear a hat – make it simple (but baseball caps aren’t ideal).

• Don’t over-do it with perfume or cologne.
• Don’t panic about wearing a tie. A smart, clean shirt goes a long way.
• Don’t think you’ve got to have perfect hair (or make-up).
• Don’t wear noisy jewellery – bangles, or beeping watches.
• Don’t worry. People aren’t looking at you.

Exceptions to ‘the rules’
There are always exceptions, and many funerals today take place as a joyous celebration of a person’s life – the ‘rules’ around clothing are relaxed completely. If this is the case for the funeral you’re going to, you’ll probably be given guidelines around what the family or the person who’s died had in mind. It might be colourful shirts – it could even be colour-coded.

Clothing for different faiths
Formal, simple clothes are a good general rule. Again, if in doubt, do take the time to ask a friend of the family for advice on what’s most appropriate.

• At an Islamic funeral, men should wear a closed neck shirt and plain trousers; women should wear a headscarf, an ankle-length skirt at least, and a shirt with long sleeves and a high neck. Whatever you’re wearing, you should make sure you have clean socks (hole-free), as you’ll be asked to take your shoes off before prayers.

• For a Buddhist service, it’s best to ask the family directly – each traditional form of Buddhism has different guidance around what’s most appropriate. For some families it’s black, for others it’s white.

• At a Jewish funeral, it’s not uncommon to see women wearing a headscarf; men will need a skullcap – you may be offered a yarmulke or kippah if you don’t have one – and it’s commonplace to wear a jacket and tie. For women, skirts should be below the knee, and darker colours are traditional for both sexes.

• At a Hindu funeral – again, traditions vary – you’ll see most people wearing simple, casual, white clothing. White signifies purity, it shows respect for the person who’s died and for their family. In fact, it would be disrespectful to wear black.

A last thought…
Finally, we’re all used to carrying them around with us, but there is one small accessory you might want to think about leaving at home or in the car. This isn’t the time to be updating social media feeds.

Unless smartphone photos have clearly been approved by the closest family – and that may be the case – you might want to encourage youngsters around you to show their respects, by making sure yours is switched to silent or left somewhere safe during the service.

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By Dr David Lewis

Our attitude towards death changes from one era to another. For Victorians, dying was as much a part of life as living. Most died at home, rather than in hospital. In some cases, this meant sharing a room with the deceased for as long as a week.

Death also occurred more frequently and at a far younger age. The average lifespan of an upper-class male was 44 years, for a tradesman 25 and for a labourer just 22 years. Out of a hundred working-class children, over half had died before the age of five.

While life was shorter, the rituals surrounding death were formal and elaborate. Widows were expected to remain in full or deep mourning, which involved dressing in black crepe, for one to two years. Their accessories, such as caps, gloves, jewellery, umbrellas, handkerchiefs and even their underwear, had to be black. Men were allowed to get away with black gloves or black hatbands. Even children had to adopt some form of mourning attire.

Funeral directors became increasingly in demand as, for the wealthy, the burial ritual had become so complex as to require professional management. Hearses might be drawn by matching black horses replete with black ostrich feathers and decked with flowers.

Change in attitudes

By Edwardian times, however, death had become a taboo subject. Certainly not something one talked about in polite society. Nor, did most people ever need to see the dead as loved one’s were more likely to have died in hospitals than their own homes. Dealing with the corpse had become restricted to doctors, nurses, emergency workers and funeral directors.

As The Safe Hands recent survey shows, public opinion seems to be changing once again. The Covid-19 pandemic has made millions more familiar with and far more willing to openly talk about death and dying. Psychologically this may be to the good since form of repression tends to undermine one’s well-being while encouraging ignorance and needless anxieties.

Being able to talk to others easily about these subjects can often lighten the burden for many and make them feel part of a wider and more caring community. Death may not have lost its sting but it seems to be heading that way.

Silence is not golden

That old saying, ‘silence is golden’ does not apply when it comes to not talking openly and comfortably about death.

One of the reasons why so many prefer to avoid the subject, and surveys suggest almost eight out of ten people do, is they fear that by talking about death they are more likely to bring it about!

In reality such frank conversations can remove much of the fear surrounding the topic. A great deal of that fear stems from ignorance and misinformation.

Another bonus is that the acceptance of death helps you stop worrying about the petty concerns and distractions that so often negatively impact on our lives. One quickly comes to realise nothing matters very much and most things don’t matter at all.

Acknowledging one’s own mortality makes one better appreciate every moment of being alive. It focuses the mind more clearly what is truly important what you really want to do and the people you truly want to spend your time with.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, such conversations help people come to terms with bereavement. One of the most disabling and emotionally restricting of all our feelings it can so swiftly and easily lead to depression and a sense of hopelessness,

By breaking free from the taboos surrounding death and dying we can make life and living even more enjoyable.

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Would you want to have strippers at your funeral? In China, it’s not uncommon. It’s a way of getting more people to attend the event, because large crowds are seen as a mark of honour for the person who has died. Unthinkable here in the UK, or is it?

Our approach to planning a good send-off is changing. Perhaps not as much as it has changed in Puerto Rico, where corpses are still attending their own funerals. In 2016, a Puerto Rican family decided to pay their last respects to by propping up their dearly departed, cigarette in hand and with his eyes wide open.

Followers of Zoroastrianism have an equally squeamish practice of carrying their dead to the top of a hill, spraying them with bull’s urine, and waiting for the vultures to consume them. And in South Africa, one family decided to bury their much-loved father inside his beloved Mercedes with his hands on the wheel.

Those seem like extreme examples to us, but some of your own choices might be just as personalised. Many people today still want a traditional funeral (the service itself, that is), but more and more families are also finding ways to make the event a very memorable occasion. The truth is, everyone’s entitled to mark the occasion in their own way, either by making arrangements in advance or by agreement when a person has died.


Funeral directors report an increasing number of requests for personalised funerals. Many people want to express their individuality in the funeral procession itself, the content of the service or the music; some families want to go further – at a funeral for teenage brothers in Sheffield, more than 300 motorbikes and supercars led the cortege; at a natural burial, the family and friends decided that tranquility was the greatest mark of respect, and the whole event was carried out in silence.

Individuality is a key theme.

Funeral directors report far more requests for personalisation, turning funerals into a celebration of life as much as it is the commemoration of a death. Music is moving from hymns to pop music or live performances. And mourners may wear colourful clothes, as much as or instead of traditional black attire.

Perhaps the most important aspect of arranging a funeral is showing respect for the wishes of the person who has died. Unfortunately, many families don’t have these conversations soon enough – in fact, one report suggests that as little as one per cent of people knew the wishes of their loved ones. And of course, all of this comes at a price.

A standard funeral service averages out at around £5,000, and that’s before many of the personal touches are added. The more personalisation, the higher the cost. This is one of the reasons why so many families are considering end-of-life planning as part of their normal, everyday financial planning – securing the costs of the funeral director’s core services at today’s prices, now, so that more money is available later to pay for those more memorable aspects of the occasion.

Unusual practices from around the world may seem a strange way to start the conversation around death and dying. And we are only a few days on from Dying Matters’ week of ‘Dying to Be Heard’ activities – but we still believe it’s a conversation we should all be having. Think about your options, find out more about paying for your funeral.


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Celebrities make eulogies look easy, don’t they. There’s Colin Farrell, surprising us all with a reading that somehow captured the quintessential essence of Elizabeth Taylor. We saw Costner delivering an emotional, personal tribute to Whitney Houston. There’s Oprah Winfrey, eulogising the history-changing life led by Rosa Parks, the American civil rights activist. And who among us hasn’t googled John Cleese, dropping the F-bomb at Graham Chapman’s funeral?

Each and every time, the camera cuts away to an enthralled congregation. The burden of unbearable sadness has been relieved a little, their spirits lifted by the pathos and ‘patter’ of a skilled speechmaker. But it’s different when it’s your turn. It’s harder when it’s you. And if someone has died unexpectedly, ‘writing a few words’ might feel like an insurmountable challenge.

If you’re not Billy Crystal, for example, is it ever right to choose an outrageous anecdote that makes sense to you but might offend someone, if not everyone, in the audience? Very few of us have the support of a professional speechwriting team. But there’s a lot we can learn from celebrities and the way they create, and deliver, a eulogy. Let’s see how.

Colin Farrell and Elizabeth Taylor – an unusual match. They’d become good friends towards the end of the Hollywood icon’s life. At the funeral, Colin read poetry aloud: Gerard Manley Hopkin’s “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo”. This is such a simple way to provide a eulogy.

There are many poems that are almost too poignant – the one made most popular in recent years is WH Auden’s heart-rending “He was my north, my south, my east and west…”, may be hard to get through – but there are others that will be suitable for almost any funeral:

  • Mary Frye, “Do not stand at my grave and weep…”
  • David Harkins, “She is gone (He is gone)…”
  • Christina Rosetti, “When I come to the end of the road…”

You don’t need a degree in English or to be an experienced, celebrity speaker to deliver ‘rhetoric’ that speaks volumes, the way Oprah Winfrey did. She talked about Rosa Park’s achievements, and the impact they’d had on her life and other people’s lives.

Simply by writing down a timeline of the person’s life, you can do this too. Talking through someone’s commitment to a growing family, or notable achievements in a person’s career is a meaningful way to encapsulate their lives. It’s a ‘framework’, too, that – if you’re unsure about speaking in public – can help you to deliver your comments without too much anxiety.

Kevin Costner’s connection to Whitney Houston was, for most people, their work on the blockbuster, ‘Bodyguard’. But in his moving eulogy, Costner also talked about their shared love of gospel music, and music in general.

What did you share with the person who died, that might be a surprise for your audience? Very simply, is there a fond memory you’d like to share that would strike a chord?

Humour is not appropriate for every funeral. But if you’re sure about it, then, with care, a light-hearted approach can be incredibly powerful – lifting people’s spirits, helping them to remember a person with great fondness. However, there are some general rules.

Not everyone will appreciate a bawdy reference and (unless you are John Cleese or the person had a well-known, well-appreciated reputation for strong language), it’s unlikely that a eulogy laden with swear words will go down well. Don’t crack jokes for humour’s sake. You might think it’s a coping strategy for giving a speech without breaking down, and it’s good to remember an occasion like this positively, but sometimes? Sometimes it’s just the wrong tone completely.

Practice. Celebrities learn their lines by reading and repeating them out loud, over and over again – that’s how they deliver their speeches so professionally. It is incredibly rare to find someone who can give an ‘off the cuff’ speech at an event like this and, for the most part, that performance talent is the reason why a person is a well-known person.

When it comes to remembering someone fondly, it’s best to go with your instincts. Funerals are a whirl of emotions. There is no right or wrong way to write and give a eulogy, but we hope these ideas might have helped. As long as what you’re saying comes from the heart, it will be perfect.

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When emotions run high, music has a way of saying the things that we cannot. Somehow, we held back the tears as Elton John sang ‘Candle in the wind’ at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. ‘Goodbye England’s Rose’. If you’ve seen the footage of Christina Aguilera eulogising Grammy Award-winning singer, Etta James, with an emotional performance of ‘At Last’, then you’ll know that lyrics can reassure, honour, commemorate, and break our hearts – all at the same time. And then, there was Carrie. And then, there was Jim.

At the private memorial service in Carrie Fisher’s own home, Meryl Streep led a cheerful, bright rendition of Carrie’s favourite song, ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’. There were many tears shed, but one of Carrie’s last wishes was for her family and friends to sing up and celebrate her life with a cheerful performance of her favourite tune.

Jim Henson left instructions, too. For the service in New York, he wanted mourners to wear anything but black as they listened to a medley of his favourite songs, performed, of course, by the team behind his beloved Muppets. Baby Face, You Are My Sunshine – heart-warming, carefree tunes. But in London, at a memorial that was more about family than fans, a traditional church choir led the congregation in a gentle version of All Creatures of Our God and King.

You don’t have to be a celebrity, or to have celebrity friends, to choose something very personal and ‘different’ for your own funeral, or for someone else’s. What you do need to do, is to understand that a Minister or Celebrant may have views on what’s appropriate for a particular setting – it would be unusual to hear Metallica’s Master of Puppets in a country church – but even then, many things are possible. Let’s see how.

Classical music
If you’re making end-of-life plans for yourself, there’s no reason why you can’t choose classical music – even if it’s not something you or your family listen to regularly. Calm and solemn, sedate or reflective, some examples stand out as being ‘appropriate’ for a funeral. Barber’s Adagio for Strings; Pachelbel’s Canon in D; Schubert’s Ave Maria; Elgar’s Nimrod – there is something moving and at the same time calming about all of these well-known pieces. But why not look a little further afield?

Many Hollywood films have theme tunes that are just as soothing or appropriate, when they’re played in an orchestral arrangement. John Barry’s theme to Out of Africa, for example, is touching and yet soothing; Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ from Titanic speaks volumes; and Carl Davis’s operatic Flower Duet is a track that’s grown in popularity recently. It doesn’t have to be an old piece of classical music, to be appropriate for a funeral.

Modern choices
In the ‘top 10s’ of modern music for a funeral, you’ll find some firm favourites now. Robbie Williams ‘Angels’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’, and Westlife’s ‘You Raise Me Up’ – these are common choices that seem to capture the moment, beautifully.

But what about Eric Idle’s much-loved, ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’? How about The Disturbed’s version of the Simon & Garfunkel classic, ‘Sound of Silence’? Is something irreligious appropriate for a service? It might be. Of course, traditional hymns have a special place for many families. But most Ministers and Celebrants will encourage you to choose the music that has meaning for you and your family, first. They’ll also help you to find an arrangement that works for the setting.

Instrumental arrangements
Music has evolved. From the classics to classic motown, from soul to slash-metal – a person’s music collection is usually as individual as they were. Today, most Ministers and Celebrants will support your choice of music for a funeral, even if it’s a little more avant guarde. But if you’re set on having something that’s quite specific and you know it might not resonate with everyone who’ll be there – there is a way around this.

Talk to the funeral director about finding an instrumentalist. Someone who can play the guitar, harp, flute, or organ at the service. Musicians are creative. Even the ‘hardest’ tune can be given a simple arrangement that will still honour the person’s wishes and reflect their life – and still feel appropriate for the occasion.

Well-known people and celebrities have the luxury of an extended service, but most services will allow time for two songs to be played or hymns to be sung. The funeral director will arrange to have the tunes played at an appropriate moment – usually from an iPod, or sometimes from a CD.

Do listen to the lyrics if you’re choosing a modern song over a piece of classical music. Frank Sinatra’s “I did it my way” has always been a popular choice and the words are incredibly moving, but not every song has such simple lyrics.

Then again, there are no right or wrong choices. And remember, there’s nothing to say that you have to have music at all. Tranquil, quiet reflection is something that some friends and families will find even more reassuring. The only thing that’s important at the end of the day, is that the music you include in your end-of-life plans reflects – you.