Please accept my heartfelt sympathies.
Honouring a loved one doesn’t always have to involve traditional religious rites as an ever-increasing number of people adopt secular philosophical life stances, they are opting to commemorate the departed through the lens of a life - well lived.
When it comes to celebrating a person’s life, some prefer a more personal approach by sharing stories, videos, and music that really speak to how the deceased touched their lives and the lives of others. It’s an opportunity to have their legacy celebrated and pay tribute to their talents, character, actions, and unique idiosyncrasies that made-up who they were. Planning the funeral can often bring forth happy memories and stories otherwise forgotten, which can facilitate a much more enriching way of dealing with loss.
I was born and raised atheist, and in 2011 I rediscovered Humanist values whilst supporting my terminally ill father in creating his own order of cremation service. We began by reflecting on the poignant moments and significant others who had helped shape his life. This enabled us to write his eulogy and identify pieces of music and readings which were personal to him, making his ceremony a very unique affair.
Sadly, my father passed away in 2013. However, it brought my sisters and me great comfort in being able to co-facilitate his last hurrah. That day, we celebrated his life as a family by sharing many memories through the recital of his published poetry and old letters offering us his words of wisdom, which were all interspersed with the soundtrack of our childhood. Since then, I have come to realise what an honour and a privilege it was to have assisted my father on this momentous occasion.
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Tips & Advice
What is a Humanist Funeral?
Humanist funerals focus on the person who has died, balancing the sadness of loss with a celebration of the person’s life. If possible, the celebrant will meet the family or friends who are organising the funeral, and together they will plan a meaningful ceremony. Otherwise, the ceremony can be arranged by telephone or skype. The celebrant will take the time to learn as much as possible about the person who has died, and the family will usually contribute with a eulogy, readings or music. These contributions will often be reflective, capturing the essence of the person who has died. The celebrant will lead the ceremony, using appropriate words at the beginning and end, with dignity and warmth.
Some of the Family are Religious – Can Their Beliefs be Included?
Humanism acknowledges the right of all to people to choose and practise their own philosophical life stance, and it is important to us that everyone is included in a funeral ceremony. While the celebrant cannot say anything religious, the funeral can include a minute’s silence during which all mourners can consider the life of the deceased and grieve according to their own custom. While Humanist funerals are secular, that is, non-religious, some celebrants may on occasion agree to prayers being spoken aloud by religious mourners.
Where Can the Funeral be Held?
Humanist funerals can be held in any suitable venue: in a crematorium, at the graveside, in the funeral parlour, at a hotel, a community hall, in gardens, a woodland, a marquee or a private home. One option is to have a short ceremony at the graveside, and then a celebration of the person’s life in a venue such as a hotel or hall. The funeral director should be able to advise you about suitable venues in your locality.
When Can the Funeral be Held?
Humanist funerals can be held at any time. In the case of a cremation, it is useful to arrange the funeral as the last cremation of the day, or to book two consecutive slots, to allow sufficient time for a full ceremony. The ceremony will normally last at least 40 minutes, so allowing up to one hour is advisable.
Can I Arrange My Own Funeral?
People often ask if they can arrange their own Humanist funeral, so that they can be sure that their funeral will fit with their own convictions. Most celebrants would be very favourably disposed to discussing your funeral ceremony with you. You should make sure your wishes are known to whoever will be making the funeral arrangements. We would advise that you put your wishes in writing. You can do this by completing the “Think Ahead” form published by The Irish Hospice Foundation.
How Much Does a Funeral Ceremony Cost?
Humanist celebrants are accredited by the HAI but operate as independent service providers so do not have a fixed fee rate – please discuss with your celebrant. Typically, you can expect a guideline fee in the region of €350 (this does not include the €25 contribution fee required by the HAI). Fees may vary from celebrant to celebrant, particularly if the venue is some distance from them as they will incur travel costs. Some celebrants are VAT-registered and, as such, need to add 23% VAT to their fees.
Disclaimer: Please note that these topics are for general information purposes only. The answers are correct to the best of our belief and knowledge at present but are not definitive. Different HAI accredited celebrants take slightly different approaches, so please speak to a celebrant directly if you have a query or concern.