What is a Humanist Funeral?
You may have heard the phrase 'humanist funeral' but do you know what it means or what a humanist service involves? If you've been the one delegated to sort out a loved one's service and their wish was to have a humanist funeral, then it is important that you do your research and ensure the service is as they would have wished, especially if they haven't left specific instructions before their death.
Non-religious funerals are legal, at Brooks we are accustomed to arranging them, in fact should you choose and you feel you have the strength you may lead the service yourself – we can guide you through all aspects of this.
Many people are uncomfortable with religious funerals if religion had no meaning for the dead person, and when most of the dead person's closest relatives and friends are not religious.
Some people find that a church funeral (no matter how well done) for a non-believer is just a formal religious ritual conducted by someone with no knowledge of the dead person, and which doesn't help them to say farewell to someone they love.
Religious people will often organise a non-religious funeral if the person who has died was not a believer, out of respect for that person's views.
A humanist funeral, although it does not include hymns or prayers, can be entirely acceptable to religious people mourning an atheist. Humanist ceremonies do not include anti-religious material
A Humanist funeral remembers the life of the person who has died, and reflects on their contribution to the world and to others.
It also provides an opportunity for family and friends to share their sadness and create a bond of support for those who were closest to the dead person.
Cremation or burial options
As with a church led service, there are options as to whether the body can be cremated or buried, but obviously the burial will not be in a church yard. If burial is the preference, then a woodland or natural burial site is normally preferable where the body can be interred properly in a coffin following the service. We can go through all the options open to you in the area you require.
It will be important if you opt for a natural burial that you understand the rules that govern the site of your choosing beforehand, such as whether a memorial stone or feature can be placed on the site (a lot don't allow this), opening times etc.
If the body is going to be cremated then the service typically takes place at the crematorium. If they are to be buried, then it will take place at the graveside in the natural burial place chosen.
A typical Humanist service consists of all or some of the following elements:-
Introductory music (not hymns). This can either be live (such as a violinist or suitable band) or pre-recorded.
Welcoming speech or words from the celebrant or the person leading the service. This may include general thoughts on life and death but will not refer to anything religious throughout.
The tribute itself - this will include reflection on the life of the person who has died, their personality, likes and dislikes, and can be tailored to be as solemn or more cheerful as you'd like. Some people who know they are going to die write their own tribute to be read out at the service.
Family and friends can now be given the option to step up and read poetry and prose if they would like to, or to recount personal memories.
This is then followed by a period of reflection, where all present can sit to think their own thoughts about the deceased. Some choose to play music at this point
The committal of the body is next - either the coffin is moved through the curtains to begin the incineration process, or lowered into the ground if being buried.
Closing words are now said by the celebrant and the final music is played as the mourners leave.
You may also like to include Ritual actions such as Candle lighting, a collage of photographic memories, some crematorium chapels offer the facility of a slide show of your loved ones life.
Poetry & music inspiration
You may struggle to think of ideas for poetry for a funeral that doesn't allude in some way to religion, especially if the deceased has not left specific wishes behind. Good examples include:
S/He Is Gone - David Harkins
Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep - Mary Frye
Death Is Nothing At All - Canon Henry Scott-Holland
Let Me Go - Christina Rosetti
Remember - Christina Rosetti
If you are struggling for song ideas, these are quite popular at humanist services:
Somewhere over the Rainbow - Eva Cassidy
Wind Beneath My Wings - Bette Midler
I Will Always Love You - Whitney Houston
High - The Lighthouse Family
Unforgettable - Nat King Cole