Funeral planning and your options – who can run a funeral ceremony?

Funeral planning and your options – who can run a funeral ceremony?

Organising a funeral for your mum or dad can be incredibly surreal.  There is no time to wait, get your head around things, or to feel a bit better.  Typically a funeral will be held within a week or so of a death, which means the organising needs to start basically within a day or two of them passing away.

Shell-shocked, upset, confused, and stressed, you are expected not just to be making all the phone calls and getting all their affairs in order (bills and bank accounts need doing very, very soon) but you also have to be planning the funeral and making all the decisions that go along with it, particularly if their wishes weren’t clear – who and how to tell, casket, cremation or burial, flowers, music, what you want said about them, poems/hymns, etc.  It can be an incredibly hard time.  And in most instances you’ll use a local funeral director – perhaps one you’ve used before.  At most you might check 2 or 3 places before choosing but time is of the essence here and shopping around can be very stressful, so most people go with the first one they approach.

What I’ve been realising in the last few months though, especially here in the UK, is how unaware people are of their options.  What tends to happen is that you accept what the funeral director suggests without realising how much choice you have and what things you can do differently.

I know this isn’t a time when you want to be making things very difficult by trying to take on lots of extra decisions….but it is well worth knowing what options you have that you will probably never hear about.


So let’s talk about celebrants.  I’m betting you don’t know what that is.  I was very used to them in NZ but here in the UK no-one seems to have any idea what I am on about when I use that word.  Even a celebrant recently told me that she had spoken to a priest who said “wow, it‘s great what you do. I didn’t know there was someone like you out there!”.  Well there are more than just her.  Way more.

When we are talking about a funeral, a celebrant is someone who conducts the funeral ceremony.  In fact, if you haven’t had a priest or similar religious leader conduct a funeral (and it wasn’t in a church or another religious setting) then you probably had a celebrant officiating.  You’ve probably met them…you just didn’t know what they were called.   And I’ll bet you didn’t know that you can choose one you like.  The funeral director might have one they already use or that they recommend, but you don’t have to use the one they say, you can get online and search for someone you would prefer or ask around.  They are there.  I know.  I’ve googled celebrants in London and I’ve met and talked to some of them. There are some really lovely ones who love the work they do and are really committed to giving a very personal funeral, rather than a cookie-cutter one where the name of your parent and a few facts about them get slotted into an existing script.

Actually…..anyone can legally conduct a funeral

What’s really interesting is that most people don’t know you don’t even have to have a celebrant.  You don’t need someone trained to do the job to conduct a funeral.  It doesn’t have to be a certain/standard length.  You don’t have to have a certain number of poems and songs, if any at all.  A funeral is not like a wedding where the person officiating must have ‘power vested in them’.  Legally there are actually zero requirements for the form of a funeral ceremony.  The person who runs the funeral equates more to the toastmaster at a wedding.  In fact if you have a friend or family member who would do a particularly good job of it (perhaps they are a great speaker, or for other reasons would be wonderful at this) they could do it. Now obviously this would have to be a careful decision (and ideally not just based on convenience or finances) as you don’t want someone unexpectedly getting stage fright or falling apart and then not being able to complete the service, but my point is simply that you have a lot more choice here than you realise.  The person you work with will often have a set way they run a service….but if you want it done completely differently then that is your choice no matter what they say.  If they don’t like something you want to say, or read, or a piece of music you want to play, that’s tough.  You may choose to do exactly as they advise but just remember you can have as much or as little input as you like here, because what you may think of as ‘just the way a funeral is done’ may be the way it’s traditionally done…but it isn’t the only way and it certainly doesn’t have to be done like that.

I’m spending a lot of time looking into funerals and your options (particularly the ones you don’t know about and are never told about that can save you money and make a service a lot more personal) at the moment, so expect to see more tips about this in the near future.

If you have some experiences or insights around using celebrants or someone different then I would love to hear about them.




About Kristie West

I'm a Grief Specialist and I help adults who have lost a parent. I am known for positively changing people's experience of the loss of a parent in less than 4 hours.
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4 Responses to Funeral planning and your options – who can run a funeral ceremony?

  1. Mike Stephens says:

    You’re right, I didn’t know what the term “celebrant” meant. Fortunately, my father had made his wishes known before hand who he wanted to speak at his funeral, and they did an excellent job.

    Let’s talk a little about funeral directors. I’d like to precede my next comment by saying that I realize first that a funeral is both the celebration of a person’s life and a farewell ceremony, and that the setting should be “nice”. Second, like all other businesses, funeral homes have to make a profit to survive.

    However, you’ve got to be careful that the director doesn’t turn into a car salesman. One thing in particular that got to me was the “casket showroom” at the funeral home. It was a large, nicely decorated room with no less than 20 styles of caskets. Its arrangement was well planned and thought out, and upon entering the room the first casket you saw was the most expensive (around 6,000 US$), and as you got further into the room the prices descended. We settled on a perfectly adequate casket that cost about 1400 US$. Not exactly cheap, but you’ve got to be realistic and not let your emotions overshadow your good judgment. Not to sound crude, but a $1400 casket buries a whole lot like one that costs over 4 times that amount!

    I’m glad to see that you are researching funerals and planning to write some more blogs about them. This will be very helpful to a lot of people.

    • Kristie West says:

      Thanks for the comment Mike! I don’t have much knowledge about how the funeral industry (and it’s a big one) in the US works but here in the UK there are definitely some of the same concerns about pricing, what advice is given (and what isn’t) and generally people not having the knowledge that they can do anything different than what they are told.
      Watch this space….and I’d love to hear more of your insights on this Mike.

  2. josephine howden says:

    My husband has said he doesn’t want a funeral. What options do I have.


    • Kristie West says:

      Hi Josephine,
      That’s a tough situation to be in. I can give you some guidance and ideas if you give me a little more detail. Is it that your husband doesn’t want a funeral at all? Or does he not like the idea of everyone getting together to mourn? Some people prefer the idea of a graveside service with literally 3 or 4 of their closest family members. There are a few options of things you could do. You can reply to me here or write to me at if you prefer.


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