Ideas for arranging a funeral

First published 16 July 2018 • Updated 19 July 2018

If you have to arrange a funeral, you may find it particularly challenging. Like any big event there is a lot to plan, and at the same time you have to cope with the stress of bereavement. At a difficult time, it can be tricky to think clearly about the many big and small decisions you need to make in a short space of time.

This simple guide will help you cover the main points you need to think about, so you can keep some time to yourself while creating the perfect celebration of your loved one’s life.

Funeral arrangements – first things to think about

There are three questions to consider before you make any firm plans. The first is, what kind of funeral would your loved one want? Many people set out their wishes before they die, either verbally or in their will, but not everyone wants to or is able to. So the second question is, how would you most want to remember them? Last but not necessarily least, there is the cost. Funerals are expensive, but if your budget is tight, it is perfectly possible to say goodbye in the right way without overspending.

Now it is time to consider what the ceremony itself might involve.

Burial or cremation?

Most funerals in the UK today are by cremation, as this is less expensive, requires no burial plot and is also marginally better for the environment. Cremations can be carried out with or without a ceremony, so if you prefer you can hold your own service of remembrance at another venue and/or date, once the crematorium has given you your loved one’s ashes.

You can keep the ashes in a special container, or else choose to scatter them in a favourite location or memorial garden (many crematoriums have these). It’s even possible to have the ashes converted into diamond jewellery, for an extra special memento.

If you prefer the more traditional option of a burial, or need to conduct a burial for religious reasons, then be prepared for a higher cost. Costs can vary greatly for burials, depending on the price of burial plots in your area, and where your plot is situated. Headstones and monuments will also add to the cost, though they can be a very powerful tribute to the memory of your loved one. Another advantage of a burial is that it gives mourners a special place to visit, which can aid the grieving process. That said, a cremation doesn’t mean you can’t also set up a physical memorial.

Make it unique and personal

Just as your loved one was a unique individual, your celebration of their life should be unique too. Don’t feel you have to make this funeral like someone else’s, and don’t be concerned about ‘getting it wrong’. For example, the order-of-service booklets that are handed out to guests often feature just one photograph, and a standard format. Personalising the booklet with photo collages, your loved one’s favourite words of wisdom or other personal touches can making it into special keepsake.

Simply touches like a rolling display of family photos before the service or at the wake can be very effective, and will encourage guests to think about the person’s life and the times you shared together. That way, even guests who aren’t close friends or family will feel more drawn into the family circle.

You can even personalise the food at the wake, including some of your loved one’s favourite snacks and drinks. Close friends and family members will usually get the reference and will share their fond memories with other guests. Here are some more ways to remember a loved one.

Get colourful

These days, the traditional sombre colours of clothes at British funerals are falling out of favour with some people, who prefer to make the occasion bright and colourful – following the lead of various other cultures. For instance, at the funeral of a lifelong football fan it’s not uncommon to see everyone in a football shirt, rather than a black suit. If you’d rather have a funeral of vivid colours, let everyone know in the invitations – but make it clear that they can also wear whatever feels appropriate to them.

There’s also no need to be so traditional in the areas of flowers and even coffins. Some funeral floral displays can look more like a wedding that a funeral, and there’s even a line in colourful or humorously designed coffins. Strange as it may sound, the sight of a coffin made to look like a bar of chocolate, a train or a guitar case (depending on your loved one’s personal obsessions) can instantly switch the mood from sadness to one of warmth and celebration.

Yes, funerals are sad events, and everyone has a right to be sad. But if your loved one was vibrant, colourful and funny in life, there’s every reason to reflect this in their send-off.

Use imagination instead of money

If money is tight, a little creativity and inventiveness can go further than a big budget. One low-cost idea is personalised seed cards, printing with each guest’s name and generally filled with seeds for wildflowers or forget-me-nots. They remind guests that the person lives on in their memories, and will create living memorials for each person to enjoy for a long time after they get home. You could make the cards extra personal by including your loved one’s favourite seeds, if they were a keen gardener.

If your funeral director can’t organise this, it’s easy to find companies online who can produce them at an affordable rate. Other ideas may include asking the extended family for creative contributions to offer at the service or wake – there are usually artists, musicians, writers and craftspeople somewhere in the family who will be only too glad to pay their personal tributes.

Arranging a funeral that’s special

A loved one deserves a send-off that is uniquely ‘them’. Not everyone is a fan of tradition, or even of flowers. Some people have replaced floral displays with great colourful bunches of balloons, or even floated photographs on the strings of helium balloons to mingle among the guests.

To remember big personalities, there are even more daring alternatives. Firework displays are growing in popularity for funerals, as is live music, and special outings for the scattering of the ashes. It’s even possible to combine those ideas, and have custom fireworks made out of the ashes – so your loved one really can go out with a bang!

Whether loud or quiet and reflective, a funeral is your own special time to remember the person you knew and loved, and to say goodbye properly. Only you can know what feels right. Above all, a funeral is a time to grieve - find out more about coping with bereavement.

Funerals can involve a lot of preparation, so we've created a funeral checklist to ensure you get everything right with the minimum of stress.

About the author
Nick Green
Nick Green
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.