Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Preparing a Humanist funeral ceremony

Posted in Uncategorized by sheelanagigcomedienne on September 23, 2013

GerberaHere is what I send to a family/next-of-kin when we are preparing for a Humanist funeral ceremony.



A Humanist funeral is a bit like the TV programme THIS IS YOUR LIFE when the biography of the person who has died would be read.   I try to get the family/next of kin to write it as they know the facts and can tell it exactly as they wish to.

Start with their date of birth, name of parents/siblings, where born and brought up, what they were like as a youngster, what they were into sports etc, school/ college/ work/marriage/ partnership/ how they met/children/ grandchilddren, interests, passions/politics/ reading/newspapers/ crosswords/holidays, pets, homes./gardening etc.

The more factual details are often followed by A DESCRIPTION OF THE SORT OF PERSON THEY WERE AND THEIR INTERESTS.

Then THOUGHTS AND MEMORIES  FROM FAMILY / FRIENDS when recollections of family, colleagues, neighbours and friends are included which have come from remarks/cards/letters/requested memories etc. HUMOUR is important.

Usually, the biography/lifestory comes first followed by tributes and memories.  You will need to decide how long/how many pages of lifestory to do. A  page of A4 font 14  takes  3 minutes to read. Typically it would be 4-6 pages

Sometimes it gets divided chronologically and contributions/tributes/memories from people who knew them at each stage would speak/have their contribution read by someone else – either because they can’t be there or would find it too difficult.

HOWEVER, I would always encourage people to speak telling them that they will not regret doing it but might regret NOT doing it. Humour/funny/honest stories/anecdotes/appraisal is important even when circumstances are very sad or tragic.


You will need to be quite aware of timings and the number of speakers/readings and music. Most crematoria state that the funeral service should last half an hour with 10 minutes to get in and out. Typically there would be about three tributes of 3 minutes each  and 1-2 readings/poems.  The order of speakers/contributions would tend to be work colleagues, friends, family ending with the most significant.. musical notes

Usually three pieces. The music as we enter when  the coffin is brought in tends to be more background and needs to be long enough for all the mourners to come in. The music as we leave tends to be lively/upbeat. The piece during the ceremony, usually after all the talking/tributes, is  a reflective piece or simply a favourite of the deceased or something that the family likes/finds consoling and would  last  for 3 to 4  minutes.



Nowadays, with Humanist funerals there is resistance to lots of flowers with  donations to charity recommended instead. However, people often decide  that  immediate family and friends or all the mourners bring a single flower/piece of greenery – unwrapped – no ribbons /cellophane – to place on the coffin as they say ‘Goodbye’ during the middle piece of music.

MEMORIAL BOOK. I  suggest that  people are invited  to send their thoughts and happy memories  of the person who has died  before or after the funeral which can be used at the funeral or are for the family to read and look back on in time to come. This can be  consoling for those bereaved  but it  can also be  cathartic for those invited to share their memories..



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