It sounds funny now, but it’s not so long ago that those rings on our fingers were inextricably linked to the tags on our toes. In years gone by our choice of life partner came with the added bonus of a family plot, and- whether we liked it or not- we faced the prospect of spending all eternities with the in-laws.
Happily, the times they are a changing, and we now have a lot more options when it comes to our weddings and our funerals. Weddings now come in all shapes and sizes for people of all beliefs, no beliefs, and everything in between- so it makes sense that funerals will naturally follow suit. Funerals are gradually moving beyond the realms of the traditional religious ceremony, as more and more individuals and families are choosing to personalise both the venue and the content of their funeral so that it represents more accurately who they are, and how they wish to be remembered.
The tradition of having a removal to the church and an overnight stay is becoming less popular with families opting to hold the wake in the home instead. This allows the family to be a lot more involved in the practical care of their deceased loved one, and gives them the time and space to say goodbye in their own home and in their own way. I have read many recent articles claiming that the tradition of the wake is dying out (pardon the pun), but in my experience I only see it gaining momentum. Almost every funeral I have done, has also included a wake.
In terms of the service itself, I see that the current move away from the traditional religious funeral comes with a simultaneous move towards increasingly unique and tailored services. I have heard Elvis, Beyoncé, Nirvana and Johnny Cash blasted, as well as moving instrumental pieces from family members, (and have even had the Benny Hill and the Pink Panther theme tunes!) I’ve heard beautiful tributes from family and friends, watched deeply moving photo montages, seen personalised coffins adorned with football colours, flowers, candles, uniforms, beach pebbles or children’s handprints, I’ve seen coffins carried on motorbikes and fire-engines; the possibilities are endless.
There is a growing interest in the Natural Death movement, with Ireland’s first Green Graveyard now in operation. This offers a return to more traditional ways of burying and remembering loved ones, and facilitates a more natural return to nature; with beautiful surroundings, family members in side-by-side plots (as opposed to one on top of the other), and no standing headstones. Natural wood, willow or cardboard coffins or a simple linen shroud are used, with no polished wood or metal coffin fittings. Wild flowers abound, and a native Irish tree is planted for every burial. Woodbrook is currently the only green graveyard in Ireland, with other sites currently being explored.
The trend towards cremation is also rising, with the rate of cremations currently at 10-12% nationally, and approximately 15% in the Dublin area. Crematorium bookings are allocated in 20 minute segments and although this might sound short, it is usually possible to book a double slot or the last slot if you would like some extra flexibility for eulogies, readings and music- the funeral director will advise you on this.
With the move away from Church funerals comes an increase in choices of venue in which to hold the Funeral Ceremony itself. It may be held in the family home, the funeral home, a local community centre or school hall, a double timeslot at the crematorium, at the graveside or in any venue suited to holding a group of people for this purpose. For a burial, it is possible to hold an indoor ceremony beforehand, or the full service can also be held at the graveside. A lot depends on logistics like accessibility, weather and the time available, but with the advent of funeral planners and increasingly open-minded funeral directors, there is no limit to the scale or content of a funeral service.
It is important to communicate your wishes to your funeral director as far as possible in advance, in order to ensure any logistical issues are identified and dealt with in plenty of time. Most issues can be anticipated and ironed out with some planning and tweaking, but time is an important factor in having everything run smoothly. It is also important to have an advance meeting with your Minister or Celebrant to ensure that your beliefs and expectations are in line with theirs. As an Interfaith Minister, I have huge flexibility in my approach, but some priests/celebrants have rules as to which readings/music can be included their ceremonies. This is particularly important if you are opting for a strictly religious or a fully non-religious (humanist) celebrant. Some religious celebrants will not include secular music or readings, and humanist ceremonies will not include spiritual music or readings. As an Interfaith Minister, I have no definite restrictions on what your ceremony can or can’t include, but if you are unsure, just ask. Any celebrant worth their salt will be happy to discuss their approach with you, and help you decide whether they will provide the right service for you at this time.
In summary, the options available for funeral services in Ireland are increasing all the time. No matter how unusual, whatever you have in mind for your funeral or that of your loved one can surely be facilitated with a little planning and imagination! As with any important event, good communication is key, so it is vital that the professionals you choose to work with at this time are in alignment with your vision, and that your family are aware of your wishes. It’s never too soon to discuss what you’d like for you funeral- so start the conversations now!