Bereavement due to traumatic death

The funeral or commemoration

Funeral ceremonies in the UK take many forms. They differ according to a preference for burial or cremation, and in line with any religious beliefs or affiliation. Some people have a funeral service in a chapel, church or a secular building, followed by another ceremony at a crematorium. The ashes may be buried or scattered there later, or taken elsewhere. Others go to the crematorium first and then have a service in a local church, where they bury the ashes. Some people have the entire ceremony at the crematorium. Others hold it at the church, followed by a burial. People from different cultural backgrounds will plan different types of funeral.
Nearly all of the people we talked to had been at the funeral or commemoration held for their relative or friend after a traumatic death. If there is an inquest, the funeral cannot take place until the coroner has given permission, after the post-mortem. If there is a case to answer, the defendant’s legal team may ask for a further post-mortem. If the funeral is delayed for any reason, such as a demand for more than one post-mortem, the deceased person’s relatives may feel angry and frustrated. Ann felt that her son’s murderers, through their legal team, had the power to delay the return of Westley’s body.
If the dead person's will named an executor, this person may be responsible for arranging the funeral. Usually the next of kin and other members of the family plan the funeral; they usually consider what the deceased person would have wanted.
A funeral director often helped with arrangements and put people in touch with a local priest, a lay reader or a humanist
Sometimes opinions differed about the nature of the ceremony. Marcus, for example, wanted his fiancée to be buried, but her family wanted her to be cremated. However, her ashes were buried in a London cemetery, so Marcus has a place to visit.
Planning a funeral can be a diversion. Sarah said that planning the event had kept them incredibly busy, which was good. She also commented that it was possible to organise a big funeral in just five days. Rosemary organised a funeral for immediate family and also a memorial service, which was held on the same day. Both events took place three weeks after her son died in the London bombing. Rosemary said that she needed something to do and that organising the funeral and the memorial service was good for her.
Funerals or other meetings to commemorate a person’s life may be very sad occasions, but they often help those who are grieving. They give people an opportunity to express thoughts and feelings about the deceased, to share these with others, to learn more about the person, to pray for the person’s spirit, and to say good-bye.
Other people said that the funeral had been a ‘lovely’ day and ‘very happy and positive affair’. Some recalled that there had been an element of humour running throughout the day and ‘a lot of laughter’ at times. Pat learnt a lot about her son through his friends and colleagues who spoke about him with great affection. They played ‘Always look on the Bright Side of Life’, from Monty Python, as a tribute to his optimism and encouraging nature.
A few people had missed the funeral. Shazia was thirteen when her friend died, and her parents refused to let her go to the funeral, which she found very distressing. Stephen was recovering in hospital so he missed his brother’s funeral, which made him feel ‘absolutely devastated’. Martin recalled that his wife’s funeral had been very sad. He took his teenage son to the funeral but not his five-year-old daughter. Later he regretted that he had not taken her too.
Funerals varied greatly. Some were quite formal, while others were informal. At some funerals a close relative had said a few words, but at others the relatives said that they had felt too emotional to give the eulogy. People were glad if the local vicar or priest had known the person who had died because the ‘talk’ he or she gave was more personal. Sometimes other members of the congregation were invited to say something about the deceased. At Sarah’s husband’s funeral four speeches were made by people who had known Russell at different stages of his life.
Music and clothes varied greatly too. Some people wanted hymns, while others played popular music that had meant something to the person who had died. Some families wanted people to wear bright colours at the funeral, while other families wanted more sombre clothes. Elizabeth knew that Marni would have wanted everyone to wear black.
Some people wanted a funeral director to organise most of the funeral (see ‘The role of the funeral director’.) Other people organised almost everything themselves; friends and family were often pall bearers. Elizabeth noticed some raised eyebrows when Marni’s sister took her place among the pall bearers - usually a role for men.  
Some funeral services seemed a bit rushed. Crematoriums usually allow 30 minutes for each service, though some allow longer. In contrast, Josefine arranged a full day celebration of her husband’s life. Five friends helped prepare the land for his grave.
The Natural Death Centre is a charitable project which provides independent funeral advice in the UK. The centre provides information on all types of funeral, but is particularly helpful for those who wish to have an inexpensive, family-organised, and environmentally friendly funeral.
Funerals can be expensive. The person who died may have had a pre-paid funeral plan or an insurance policy to cover the costs. The costs may be covered with funds from the deceased person’s bank account or building society, or from the estate. If there is no money to pay for the funeral, the local council can arrange and pay for a simple funeral. If relatives are claiming benefits, such as Income Support, they may be able to apply for a funeral payment from the Social Fund to cover the cost. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme may also refund the cost of reasonable funeral expenses. A few people we talked to had received help with the costs involved.
After the funeral people usually had a gathering which they called a wake, or a celebration, or a reception. These varied according to where they were held and how many people came. Carole had planned to have a gathering of friends in the golf club but so many people were at the funeral that they had to more or less taken over a restaurant. Sally's mother’s wake was held in a local hotel. Jocelyn and his family and friends held a memorial service for Ed in Ireland and then they had wake at the house, which went on for about two days. Michelle said that, after her mother’s funeral, they held a beautiful reception overlooking the beach.

Last reviewed May 2019.

Last updated October 2011.


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