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A Do-It-Yourself Funeral Guide

Organising Your Own Funeral Guide

Sensible choice - An affordable cardboard coffin or something more conventional?

Adjusting to a loss or grieving with a lot on your mind, friends and family members of the deceased are often not aware of what organising a funeral implies. With the weight of 100’s of decisions on an individual's shoulders choosing from a simple cardboard coffin, to looking a more extravagant options is often a daunting task. Our goal at Willow is to make this difficult task easier and below, we’ve put together this simple guide to help you make an informed decision:

Coping with Loss

Everyone copes with loss differently and there is no right or wrong method for dealing with the grief that accompanies the loss of a loved one. People will experience many different emotions while they are bereaved, they will experience these emotions in different orders and for different lengths of time, and no doubt they will all find different methods by which to deal with these emotions and work through their grief. No one in a state of bereavement should be expected to act in a certain way or measure up to certain standards of grief. Instead, all individuals should be allowed to cope with their loss as best they can, and support should be sought if they can not cope effectively.


The Cycle of Grief

As a general rule, there may be certain phases of grief that individuals experience, though the actual experiences will vary widely. These phases are sometimes referred to as a cycle of grief made up of stages such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. Throughout these stages the bereaved may feel sad, angry, guilty, frustrated and more. Crying, changes in eating, sleeping and/or socialising patterns, feeling angry, a loss of memory, and a lack of concentration may all be experienced. Again, the specific responses will likely be unique to the individual.


Saying Goodbye

Many bereaved individuals cope with their loss by formally saying goodbye to the deceased. Some family and friends find that organising and attending the funeral is enough, while others may also organise a memorial service or associated event to honour the dead. Annual events such as fundraisers in the deceased’s names are a popular way of raising funds for a cause that the deceased cared about, of allowing surviving family and friends to come together and celebrate the deceased’s life, and allowing loved ones of the deceased a specific time to come together to support each other. 



Finding Support

Sometimes more support is required to help an individual through his or her grief than other family and friends can provide. Emotional support can be sought through bereavement counselling, as it allows the bereaved to explore and describe his or her thoughts and feelings to an objective audience. Practical support can be sought from professionals such as solicitors and/or accountants who can help explain legal rights and responsibilities following the death may also be able to lend practical support at this time. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau may be able to offer practical information and advice as well. Financial support also may be required following the loss of a loved one to pay for the funeral, to pay outstanding debts, and/or to settle the deceased’s estate. Sometimes benefits are available to assist family and friends following the loss of a loved one. Just a few of these supports include Bereavement Payment and Bereavement Allowance, Widowed Parent’s Allowance, Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit and/or Guardian’s Allowance. A Citizen’s Advice Bureau will be able to offer more information on these and other financial supports.

Unfortunately, not everyone realises that they need extra support for coping with loss when they are bereaved, so family and friends must remain vigilant of each other and discuss their concerns if they feel that further emotional or practical support may be needed.


Reproduced courtesy of - facing and dealing with bereavement

How to write a eulogy

Regardless of the individual circumstances, when it comes to writing a eulogy you are likely to be going through a difficult, sensitive and busy time in your life. Unlike most speeches, this is often an unexpected one. You may have little time to prepare for the funeral, let alone the eulogy. You'll have a million and one thoughts going through your head and a range of contrasting emotions. Amongst all that there is the instant requirement to write something perfect.

If you’re worried about the eulogy or just need a guiding hand then here’s some advice to help get you started:

1. Start by working backwards. Think about how you will feel once you have given the eulogy. What do you want people to remember? What key memories, emotions and reflections do you want to convey? Taking this information, think about what balance between ‘fun’ and ‘sentiment’ within the speech is required. Use this as a brief for diluting thoughts from this point on.

2. Don’t just rely on your own material. Contact friends and family who have known the person at different stages of their lives to gather comprehensive insights and anecdotes.

3. When putting pen to paper, don’t start with stories or memories. Start instead with a structure. ‘Chronology’ is the most obvious structure, but not the most effective. It is much more powerful to work your stories and memories around a theme that was central to how he or she lived their life and would want to be remembered.

4. Try, if possible, to begin your speech by putting a smile on people’s faces. The funeral will be emotional enough as it is, so start light. It will also help you to relax if you receive an early chuckle from the congregation.

5. Keep yourself separate. It’s tempting to focus your speech on your own relationship with the person you are speaking about. But if you labour the point too heavily, you are doing a disservice to them and everyone else in the room.

6. There is no ‘perfect’ shape or style for a eulogy. But the key is brevity. Stay away from long paragraphs in favour of short, punchy, deliverable sentences. And using your theme, try to link all the separate parts together seamlessly.

7. Because of the pressure of the situation and the added emotion involved, you want to keep everything else around you as simple and straightforward as possible. This includes what your speech is on. Big pieces of paper with lots of print can lead you to getting lost. So, instead of laying all of your speech out on one or two bits of paper, put it on cards. And keep the words on each card to a minimum.

8. Although they may be hard to avoid, try to save the tear jerking elements of the speech until the end. This way, if emotion gets the better of you, you won’t have to gather yourself together again.

9. With rare exceptions, a eulogy should be a celebration of life and there to create happy memories and a lifting of the mood. No matter how sad the occasion, try to write your speech from this perspective.

10. As a rule we would suggest a speaking length of 8-10 minutes. However, with eulogies the length should be lead by the content. But remember, as with all speeches, less is more, particularly if there is more than one eulogy being delivered. If you are still feeling anxious, remember that never, ever in your life will you speak to a more sympathetic audience. They won’t be waiting for you to trip up. You won’t get heckles. Everyone will be aware of the difficulties you’re facing and there is likely to be unanimous support for you and the speech.

This guide was written by Lawrence Bernstein of Great Speech Writing, who has lots of experience in writing eulogies and is always happy to give further advice.


This article was originally published by Natural Death Centre

Practical advice on creating a non-religious funeral

A funeral service is a way we cope with the loss of someone dear. 

Whether it provides a special tribute to the deceased or it helps family and friends to acknowledge that loss and say goodbye, it doesn’t have to carry any kind of religious connotation.

If the person who died was a non-religious, a humanist funeral celebrant is just the right person to help the family organize a ceremony based on the beliefs and the desires of the deceased.

If you are looking for a celebrant to help with a funeral the British Humanist Association provides a online service to assist your search.

What is a humanist funeral?

This type of ceremony, non-religious by definition, focuses on celebrating the life of the person who passed away.

Friends and family, people who knew that person and want to pay a tribute, are all invited to show their respects and say goodbye while supporting each other and sharing their grief.

As opposed to traditional funerals, the humanist funeral celebrant won’t include any prayers or prescribed readings. The ceremony might include, however:

  • A slow, respectful music that plays in the background.
  • A welcome message spoken by a relative of the deceased.
  • One or more readings from any kinds of texts, be it poems or published novels, but, in general, anything with a message that the person who passed away truly cherished.
  • One or more speeches of other people who want to share some memories about the person who died.
  • A period of reflection or quiet thought, in the memory of the person they say goodbye to.
  • Words of thanks from the family, for everyone who came to share their grief.


What should you know about non-religious celebrant?

Firstly, there is nothing that a celebrant should impose you to do. Celebrants are there to oversee the practical aspects and arrangements of the ceremony.

The celebrant should meet with the close family and learn more about the deceased, making sure that his planning will perfectly capture the life and personality of the person you are celebrating. They should advise you on the most practical aspects of the procession while listening to your ideas and giving you advice.

But whether you want to make it exclusively a humanist funeral or you would like to insert some religious connotations, it is up to you. So is the decision of where to hold the ceremony – as long as you have all the necessary approvals, you can have the funeral ceremony elsewhere than in a cemetery, woodland burial site or crematoria.

After all, the entire event should sincerely focus on the person who passed away, allowing everyone invited to say goodbye from the person who lived without religion in a fitting, personal manner.

The funeral celebrant should be the person to silently guide and help you cover all the practical aspects unknown to you. They should counsel you, without adding pressure and should provide the warmth, calm and dignity needed on a day of grief. Finally make sure to go through all the details of the ceremony in well in advance, understanding exactly what to expect from them and from the event itself.


Organising a Funeral Part 5: When, Where and Who

Where do you want the ceremony to take place?

Consider the type of ceremony you would like, as this will influence the location.

  • Will it be a religious service at a place of worship, with particular traditions and rituals?
  • Would you like a ceremony at the crematorium/burial site, led by a celebrant, friend or family member?
  • Will you have a memorial event or wake?

When to have the funeral?

Unless your faith or personal spirituality requires it, there is no great hurry to set a funeral date. Taking time will allow you to assess your budget, discuss your plans for the funeral and raise the deposit. If you’re using a funeral director they may charge additional costs for taking care of the person who has died for more than 14 days. The time allocation for a service is about 20 to 30 minutes. A ‘double’ hour-long slot will cost extra.

Who will conduct the ceremony?

Ministers and other faith leaders can attend a crematorium or bless a woodland burial, so it is possible to have a religious ceremony at your chosen venue. Speak directly to the faith leader who will guide you and provide support. There may be some financial support available from the community of your church, mosque, synagogue or temple.

If the person was not religious you may want a humanist or independent celebrant to create a ceremony. Funeral directors can help you to find one, or you can find your nearest celebrants through the website.

A friend or relative can also conduct the ceremony, or you can do it yourself. Several family members or friends can also deliver readings and eulogies. Working on the funeral with a group of friends and family, and sharing responsibilities on the day, can be very supportive. It also provides the opportunity for doing something more personal. 

Need help paying for a funeral?

State Support

The Government provides limited financial support for bereaved people on low incomes. Even if you are eligible for it, a state contribution is unlikely to cover the full cost of the funeral. The two forms of support are:

Funeral Payments

This is a grant (i.e. you don’t have to pay it back) towards the cost of a simple funeral for people on qualifying benefits. In east London the average award is around £1,250.  More information on funeral payments can be found on the site

Bereavement Allowance

Are for widowed spouses or civil partners, above the age of 45 and
at least one partner under pensionable age, whose partner paid sufficient national insurance contributions. They include a one-off grant of £2,000 and two fixed-term weekly benefits depending on your age and whether you have children. More information on bereavement allowance can be found on the site

Social fund funeral payment:


The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) only issue a funeral payment to the person considered responsible for paying for the funeral.
A surviving spouse, partner or parent would need to apply to the Social Fund, and therefore sign the funeral bill. Both parents must be on benefits to qualify, unless one is estranged. If there is no spouse, partner or parent, then children or siblings may be eligible, provided all of them are on a qualifying benefit. Next come other relatives, and then close friends. 

Order of priority for social fund applications:

1. Partner or spouse
2. Parent(s)
3. Children
4. Siblings
5. Other relatives or friends

Qualifying benefits or entitlements

  • Universal Credit
  • Income Support
  • Income based Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Income related Employment and Support Allowance
  • Pension Credit
  • Housing Benefit
  • Working Tax Credit which includes a disability or severe disability element.
  • Child Tax Credit at a rate higher than the family element. 


Bereavement benefits

If you were married or in a civil partnership with the person who has died you may be eligible for one of these benefits:

Bereavement Payment

A one-off payment of £2,000 based on your partner’s national insurance contributions;

Bereavement Allowance

A weekly benefit which can be paid for up to 52 weeks;

Widowed Parent’s Allowance

A weekly benefit if your partner has died and you have dependent children.
To apply, complete a bereavement benefits pack - form BB1.

These benefits are based on national insurance contributions and are payable if you are over 45 and under pensionable age, or your partner was under pensionable age when they died.

This article was originally posted by Quaker Social Action

Funeral flowers and their true meaning

The act of sending messages with flowers became popular during Victorian times as people utilised gestures and symbols for expression rather than words. However, as time passed the selection of flowers available has grown and Victorian symbolism has given way to individual interpretation. Today, you can choose a particular flower and colour to recall and celebrate memories of a special moment or passion of a person’s life.  At Willow we believe when organising a funeral, your decision is always the right one, however having the option to make informed choices always helps. 


Roses are very important specie of flower in the area of funeral arrangement. They are commonly used for casket sprays and standing arrangement with each colour having it’s own meaning:


Magnolias express sweetness, dignity, perseverance and love of Mother Nature. It is the ideal flower if the recently deceased is a nature and outdoor enthusiast. While the pink flower represents youth and innocence, the white one conveys purity and perfection. 

Red Roses

Red roses communicate love, respect and courage. This flower is most popular in casket stand and sprays, most especially for men.  People who have had an intimate relationship with the deceased like a spouse or lover tend to choose this flower to show their respect. 

White Roses

White roses symbolise reverence, purity, humility and innocence. Apart from red roses, this flower is the most commonly used funeral flower. They are used to express condolence no matter the relation, unlike red roses which are associated with passionate emotions. 

Yellow Roses

Yellow roses are most popularly used by friends to communicate strong feeling of friendship.

Pink Roses

Pink roses symbolise love, grace, elegance and most importantly admiration. They are a much lighter variety of red roses, both in symbolic meaning and colour. Pink roses are popularly used for casket sprays and standing for both men and women. 

Dark Crimson Roses

Dark crimson roses communicate grief and sorrow, which makes them common in traditional ceremonies but less so in a modern celebration.  


Lilies have over the years been used to convey the thought of innocence being restored to the soul of the deceased.  Other varieties like the white Calla Lily is an especially common funeral flower conveying purity, while the stargazer specie symbolises sympathy, which is why it is commonly sent to the relations of the deceased. Also oriental lilies represent eternal life, making them most perfect choice at religious services commemorating the life of the deceased. 


Orchids communicate a very strong suggestion of love with their sculptural beauty and air of exotic mystery. They are a symbol of splendor and refined taste with a uniqueness unlike any other flower.  A long lasting flower, people sometimes send orchids as a sympathy gift because they continue to bloom after other arrangements have wilted. It is as a result of this, sending orchid conveys everlasting love. 


Carnation are available in many colours. The Pink Carnation represents a mother's enduring love, making it ideal for flower arrangement at a mother’s or grandmother’s funeral.  Similar to Red Roses, Red Carnation conveys a very strong feeling and true love.  White Carnations however, represent faithfulness, purity and innocence. 


Camellias communicate remembrance and gratitude of the departed. The red specie evokes passion and love and are most commonly used to communicate the existence of romantic relationship. Conversely, white Camellias symbolise adoration and perfection.  They are also used to show different forms of love; like the love of a child to a mother. 


Just like the name suggest, the Forget-Me-Not is used are gifted with the expectation the recipient will not forget the giver. This flower is a true symbol of remembrance and is used by some countries as a symbol of those they have lost at war. 


Tulips generally denote perfect love. But like several other flowers mentioned in this article, Tulips are available in a variation of colours, each with it’s own significance and meaning.  Purple Tulips represents royalty while red are commonly used to express true love.  The meaning of yellow Tulips has evolved over the years from symbolising hopeless love, to now representing cheerful thoughts and sunshine. 

Finally, when selecting funeral flowers, the arrangement you choose should tell the story of the relationship you had with the departed. Was the deceased the love of your life? A close or distant family member? Whatever the relationship is, your choice of flower can reflect it. 

Organising a funeral part 3: Cremation, burial and other choices

The choice between a cremation and burial can be a very personal matter. Factors in deciding may include:

  • Directions or preferences indicated by the person who has died;
  • Financial resources available to you;
  • Religious beliefs, personal or spiritual philosophy;
  • Environmental concerns;
  • Simplicity or convenience;
  • Where the person lived in relation to family or friends.

Cremation is often a more affordable option and accounts for up to three quarters of all funerals. The UK figures for 2015 show an average cremation costs around 20% less than the cost of the average burial, but can be significantly lower depending on your location and the costs of burial plots.

If you choose to use one, most funeral directors (including 'Willow') offer a simple cremation package, which may make it a more affordable option. Remember to ask about whether they offer this package.

If you choose a burial, there are still flexible options for keeping the costs down. A burial can take place in a churchyard, a local authority cemetery or a private cemetery. Burials can also take place in a woodland site, or on private land, including a garden, but you must contact the local authority for permission to do so.

‘Natural’ burial

There are a growing number of ‘natural’ or ‘woodland’ burial parks offering a simple, cheaper alternative to conventional burial grounds. When looking at options, note that costs may be only for the plot, and there may be additional interment costs for digging and filling the grave. Money is also saved on memorials, as headstones are generally replaced by wooden plaques or other simple markers in keeping with the woodland environment.

Donating a body to medical science

If you wish to explore this option, permission must be given by the person before they die. The Human Tissue Authority offers information and contact details of the schools that accept donated bodies:

For more info please read our article on Tissue Donation after death here:

Tissue donation after death

This article was originally posted by Quaker Social Action

Organising a funeral part 4: Letting people know

Telling people and organisations about a death can be stressful. It might help to do this sooner rather than later. You may also want to place a death notice or obituary in the local paper. If benefits or other allowances need to be assessed, then you should call the DWP bereavement line on 0345 606 0265

People and organisations you may need to contact

Tell Us Once (DWP, Council Tax, Passport, DVLA, HMRC)

  • Bank / building society / Post Office
  • Creditors e.g. credit card and loans companies, catalogues, BrightHouse etc.
  • Mortgage company / landlord
  • Utilities companies, e.g. gas, electricity, telephone, water, TV Licensing etc.
  • Mobile phone company
  • Employer and trade union
  • Insurance companies (car, life, home and contents policies etc.)
  • Family GP and any other health services
  • Solicitor (may hold the will)
  • Social Services to cancel any care services
  • Bus / rail company (for return/refund of passes)
  • Family members, including any living abroad
  • Family, friends and neighbours

Tell Us Once

Tell Us Once is a service that lets you report a death to various government organisations. The organisations notified by this service are:

  • HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) - to deal with tax and cancel benefits
  • Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) - to cancel benefits, for example Income Support
  • Passport Office - to cancel a British passport
  • Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) - to cancel a driving licence
  • The local council - to cancel Housing Benefit, Council Tax Benefit, a Blue Badge, inform council housing services and remove the person from the electoral register
  • Public sector or armed forces pension schemes - to stop pension payments

'Tell Us Once'  will require the following information:

You’ll need the following details of the person who died:

  • Date of birth
  • National Insurance number
  • Driving licence number
  • Passport number

You’ll also need:

  • Details of any benefits or entitlements they were getting, for example State Pension
  • Details of any local council services they were getting, for example Blue Badge
  • The name and address of their next of kin
  • The name and address of any surviving spouse or civil partner
  • The name, address and contact details of the person or company dealing with their estate (property, belongings and money), known as their ‘executor’ or ‘administrator’
  • Details of any public sector or armed forces pension schemes they were getting or paying in to

This article was originally posted by Quaker Social Action

Organising a funeral part 1: Five things you need to know

A death can bring with it a broad range of emotions. Our feelings toward the person who has died can become stronger and our need to provide them with a meaningful tribute can lead to anxiety about ‘getting it right.’

Throughout the process it may help to keep these five points in mind.

1. There is generally no reason to hurry

If you’re able, take the time you need to create a meaningful tribute to the person who has died, and for the family, friends and colleagues involved.

2. Look at all the sources of money available

Funeral costs can lead to debt, but you may be able to access state funds, charitable grants, affordable credit, and support from friends and family.

3. It’s your choice

There is no legal requirement to hire a funeral director, have the person who died embalmed, or to buy a coffin or hire a hearse.

4. Shop around or go DIY

Funerals can be expensive and prices between funeral directors vary enormously, so get several itemised quotes – you could save a lot of money. There’s no legal requirement to employ a funeral director, and a DIY funeral is also possible.

5. Make it meaningful

You can create a unique and personal ceremony without overspending. Consider any funerals you have attended in the past, and what made them memorable. Words, music and actions can be far more powerful than expensive cars or coffins.

How to talk your parents about their funeral Arrangements

Although we don’t like to think about it, most of us will be charged with the task of planning a funeral for our parents. And it’s safe to say that we want to honor their wishes as to what happens after they die.

Funeral Arrangements — Questions to Ask

There are many questions to ask.

  • Do you want to be buried or cremated?
  • If cremated, where do you want your ashes placed or buried?
  • What type of funeral or memorial service would you prefer?
  • What special music would you like?
  • Any special poems or Scriptures the you would like to be read?
  • Do you want flowers? If so, what kind?
  • In lieu of flowers, is there a particular organization that people may contribute to instead?

–Partial list taken from The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving: A Practical Memoir

The only information that I received from my parents was that their funeral was bought and paid for. When the time came, what that really meant was that they had purchased funeral plots, a casket and a few other essentials, but that was about it. The rest of the planning was up to my sister and me. Don’t get me wrong — the plans they made in advance were great. Since they bought plots in the 1960’s and paid for some of the other funeral costs in the 80’s, we saved a tremendous amount of money. And any decision that they made ahead of time was one we didn’t have to make in a time of sadness and distress.

No doubt about it, knowing what your parents want before the time comes gives all involved great comfort and clarity. But how in the heck to you BRING IT UP?

Here are a few suggestions of ways you can break the ice and begin the conversation with your parents:

  • “Mom and Dad, I know this may be an uncomfortable topic, but would you be open to talking about your funeral service and some of the ways you wish to be remembered? When the time comes, I want to know that we are carrying out a ceremony that you want rather than stressing with one another over the details.”
  • Talk about your own pre-planning efforts as a way of breaking the ice and ask if they have any pre-arranged plans.
  • Ask about some of their favorite traditions and how your family will continue those traditions for generations to come before finding a natural transition to family traditions around funerals and what their wishes are.
  • Talk to them about the stress you have seen in other families where the parents’ wishes were not known ahead of time. Tell them you would like to know what they desire and how they want to be remembered, so that their family doesn’t undergo this type of stress.
  • If they have attended a funeral recently, ask about how that was conducted, what they thought about it and if they have thought about what type of funeral or memorial service they would like to have.

It is great if you can begin this conversation with them before they are ill or terminal.

As you open up these lines of communication:

Listen as much as you talk. They may have firm ideas about their plans or they may have not thought of it at all.

Give them time. If this is the first time you have ever discussed funeral plans, do not try to push everything on your parents all at once. They might need to take a few weeks to figure out what they want, or even to come to terms with the idea that funeral planning is something that needs to happen in the first place.

It’s no big secret that none of us are going to get out of here alive. You’d think this would be a natural conversation that all families would have. More often than not, it just isn’t. But it doesn’t have to be hard or difficult. The hardest part is just getting started.

This excerpt (Planning with Barbra Streisand’s help) from The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving: A Practical Memoir* by Judith Henry shows how the author broached the conversation with her mother. May all our conversations with our parents be this tender and full of joy!

The Dutiful Daughter’s Guide to Caregiving: A Practical Memoir* is a fabulous resource for those of you who are in the midst of caring for an aging parent.

This article was originally posted on