Saturday (13th May) was the first anniversary of my mum’s passing. We weren’t close, but I think all the discussion within the blogging community over Mother’s Day had me thinking about her. Then on Sunday I read a short article in The Economist about direct funerals. My mum’s “final farewell” as The Economist call it, was a direct cremation. These things coming together prompted me to write and reflect on my experience and opinions about direct funerals (direct burials or cremations) as they are growing in demand.
What is a direct funeral
I suspect calling them direct funerals might be misleading as there will not actually be a funeral. The undertaker appointed will organise a private cremation or burial, there will be no funeral service and typically the cremation or burial would be unattended.
The idea is to offer a simplified service, which has appeal for some because of the absence of a religious ceremony and for others, for its cost-effectiveness.
As there is no funeral service there are no costs associated with mourners, flowers or cars. There would also not be any readings or eulogies. Because there is no service, the cremation or burial can also take place earlier and the body is also not embalmbed. Generally a less expensive coffin is also purchased.
Why opt for a direct cremation or burial
There are various reasons we might opt for a more simple option.
Avoid a religious ceremony
We live in a more secular society (at least in the UK) so fewer people wish to have a religious service. I’m also sure I’m not the only person to sit at a funeral service where the Minister has got the information about our dearly departed mixed up and you don’t recognise the person being described. I’m sure I was at one funeral where I gained some relations I didn’t know about.
I’ve also attended one where we were told since we weren’t part of that particular church, we were all damned and going to Hell. Fortunately that wasn’t a common occurrence. But these might be some of the experiences that can persuade people they don’t want to have a religious ceremony. I’m glad that alternative options are emerging now.
Some people may opt for a natural or sustainable funeral which would incorporate some of the features of a direct funeral – a natural buial site, the body wouldn’t be embalmbed and sustainable materials would be used for the coffin.
Due to Covid-19 the demand for direct cremations and burials increased because of the restrictions on numbers allowed to attend funerals during lockdowns.
While its not normal for family to attend the crematorium or burial site during direct services, arrangements can be made for small groups if so desired (although there would be an additional charge for this).
Even though cost won’t be the primary reason for some people, it is a major feature of direct funerals. They are intended to be cost effective. Typically a direct cremation or burial is under half the cost of a full, traditional funeral service. Therefore undertakers providing direct services wish to be competitive and seek to provide a no-frills package to keep costs down.
In today’s world where we are struggling with an ever- increasing cost of living and many people either facing or dealing with redundancy, life is challenging therefore in situations where people are organising funerals (or planning ahead) cost has become a factor for many. When money is tight, not having to pay out thousands of pounds for a funeral can be appealing.
My own experience
As I said my mum passed last year and we decided as a family (my sister, our remaining aunt and myself) to a direct cremation, besides the cost my mum wasn’t really religious and had expressed a preference for something simple. We met with the undertaker who made all the arrangements. She did say we could attend the crematorium if we wanted, but most people didn’t. We decided not to. We were told the date and time mum would be cremated.
Any memorials or gatherings etc that families wish, they need to organise themselves. We booked a section of a bar/lounge locally and invited some family and close family friends to remember and say goodbye to mum. We got together and remenisced over a meal. As the “teacher” I was nominated to speak – thanking everyone for coming, but I must admit I wasn’t prepared for that bit, and felt had I had more warning I could have done better.
My opinion of direct funerals
The day of the cremation was the same day we had the meal. At the time I had pushed for it to be that day, but with hindsight I believe it would have been better later, on another day.
On the morning of the cremation (she was cremated at 8.30am) it felt incomplete, as though we weren’t getting the chance to say goodbye and although as a family we got together for a meal, the two didn’t really feel connected. With hindsight, for me it may have either been better to spend the “funeral” day alone reflecting, remembering – maybe writing as I had and still have a lot of emotions to sort through) or spend the time with my sister and aunt rather than the extended family and friends. On reflection, I didn’t really want to get ready to go out either, so maybe I needed the time to reflect and in a quiet space, to say my own goodbyes.
I also think if we’d postponed the family gathering we could have done more. Prepared something a little more special – displaying photos, maybe had some flowers on the tables etc. Perhaps because it was quicker due to the direct cremation, we didn’t have time to organise – or really think through that side of things. Mum loved a good party and I feel she deserved better.
If I were to be involved in organising something like this again or advising others, I’d say give yourself time to say goodbye privately and organise any gathering or meal etc for a different day.
With a traditional funeral the undertaker would organise any after service gathering so this is dealt with for the family. We didn’t really understand everything that would be involved in organising this ourselves, and we under-estimated what was needed – or maybe what we needed.
I do think direct cremations and funerals have many positive features but as they’re something fairly new to our societies, we require time to adapt.
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