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Comparison Between Traditional Funerals and Direct Cremation

One of the most common questions we get asked is – ‘what’s the difference between a funeral and a direct cremation?’ It’s a valid question and one that will help you make the choice that’s right for you and your family.

Direct cremation compared to a traditional funeral

When a loved one passes away, many decisions need to be made. Whether you want cremation vs. burial is possibly one of the biggest decisions you’re going to make when it comes to making funeral arrangements.

While a local traditional funeral might be the first thing you consider, it’s important to understand all your options so that you can make the best decision. Every family is different, and not everyone wants the same type of funeral. However, for many years, funerals have all looked very similar.

Overview of a traditional funeral service

A traditional funeral, sometimes referred to as a full-service funeral, usually includes the following features:

  • Transfer of Care: After verifying the death, the body is collected by a local undertaker and looked after while the funeral is arranged.
  • Making Arrangements: The deceased’s family goes to the funeral home to complete the necessary paperwork, discuss where to hold the service, who should lead it, choose the coffin, select the traditional funeral music, choose the traditional funeral flowers, and other details.
  • Viewing: The body is prepared and placed in the coffin, ready for family visits to the chapel of rest.
  • The Service: The coffin is transported to the service venue in a hearse. Friends and family may go in procession to the cemetery or crematorium, although it is becoming more common for mourners to meet at the crematorium or cemetery instead. The funeral service can be held in a place of worship, funeral home, crematorium, or at the graveside. The time allowed for a service at a crematorium varies from 15 to 40 minutes.
  • The Committal: The burial usually takes place immediately following the service. Cremation takes place once a cremation chamber is available. Generally, it will be on the same day.
  • The Wake: It is customary to hold a reception or wake after the funeral. Usually, there will be food and drinks. It’s an opportunity for the mourners to remember the deceased in a more relaxed setting.
  • The Ashes: If cremation is chosen, the ashes are prepared and placed in a container ready for the funeral director to collect. They are usually stored at the funeral home until a family member can pick them up.

Overview of a direct cremation funeral

A direct cremation funeral is one of the simplest ways to carry out a cremation and usually it takes place without a ceremony or any mourners in attendance at the cremation itself.

Direct cremation is a funeral industry term for a basic cremation with minimal cost outlay as there is no hearse or limousine, and a very basic coffin.

The cremation process is identical to a standard cremation but liberates families to hold a more personal goodbye where, when, and how they want.

  • Collection and Care of Your Loved One: When you choose direct cremation the collection and care of your loved one is handled on your behalf. Once the death has been verified, your loved one is collected and taken to the direct cremation premises. They will be looked after there without unnecessary intervention and gently placed in a simple coffin.
  • Making Arrangements: You don't have to go to a funeral home. The direct cremation company gathers all the information needed to complete the legal application for cremation and give expert guidance about what to expect. A provisional cremation date will be booked during this first arrangement call. All the other legally-required paperwork will be organised on your behalf.
  • The Committal: On the day of the cremation the deceased person is transferred into the care of the crematorium and the cremation itself will happen within a few hours. You do have the option to arrange an attended committal at the cremation venue and you may be given the option for a small number of people to attend to spend time with the coffin. This is not a funeral service.
  • The Farewell: This can happen where, when, and however a family wants. It can be something traditional or completely unique. It can take place before the cremation, on the same day, or once the ashes have been returned to be used as a focal point for the event. It’s up to you to decide the format and who’s going to be involved.
  • Delivery of the ashes: After the cremation, you may be able to collect the ashes or they will be delivered to you. There may also be the option for the ashes to be scattered on your behalf in a garden of remembrance.

Benefits of direct cremation compared to a traditional funeral

There are several benefits to choosing direct cremation over a traditional funeral. Cost is one reason for its growth in popularity, and of course the option to create more personal and meaningful farewells that the whole family can take part in.

Direct cremation vs. traditional funeral costs

A traditional funeral costs an average of £4,141 (Source: SunLife Cost of Dying Report 2024).

Direct cremation includes collecting the deceased from the place of death, no preparation or viewing of the body, the use of a simple respectable coffin, and cremation without a service or ceremony at the crematorium that the provider chooses.

The typical cost of a direct cremation is around £1500, including cremation fees and medical certificates for cremation (where required).

Dividing the funeral into two events

Choosing a direct cremation gives you the option of treating the cremation and farewell ceremony as two completely separate events.

You decide the format, who will be involved, and you can take all the time you need to share memories, tears, and laughter – without worrying about finishing in time for the next funeral service. Discover unique ideas for the celebration of life events on our Saying Goodbye page.

Freedom to celebrate the life of a loved one

For many, a funeral is seen as a time to mourn. However, as we become more open about death, people are shifting towards a celebration of an individual’s life, rather than mourning their passing.

A Celebration of Life is simply a ceremony designed to commemorate the experiences, relationships, and beliefs that made this person unique and special. It follows no particular religious rites or requirements. The body of the deceased doesn’t have to be present. There are no prescribed rules for when or where to hold the event or what elements to include. The event is tailored to the wishes of the deceased or their family and friends.

Can you have a funeral and then be cremated?

It's a common misconception that you can't have a traditional service before a direct cremation. Some families choose to have a church service with the coffin present and then to go straight to the wake, allowing the funeral director to carry out a simple, unattended (direct) cremation once the personal farewell is over. Naturally, there will be an added cost to arrange a funeral service of this kind.

Direct cremation and other cremation options

Basically, there are four different types of cremation, of which a direct cremation funeral is one.

  • Cremation with traditional funeral service: This is usually the most expensive type of cremation. It combines features of a traditional funeral with a cremation. These include a hearse, pallbearers, flowers, and a celebrant to lead the service.
  • Cremation followed by a memorial service: This is a way to formally honour the memory of the person who has died and is very similar to a funeral service, just without the coffin present. Some families will choose to have the urn containing the ashes as the focal point.
  • Cremation with body donation to science: It’s possible to donate a body to science via local medical institutions. The research facility will usually arrange a cremation at the end of the study period (typically 1-3 years) with the cremated remains returned to the family. A memorial service can be held at any time, e.g. shortly after the date of death, on a special date, or once the ashes have been returned.
  • A direct cremation is different, with minimal preparation of the deceased (no embalming), no viewing of the body, and no ceremony at the crematorium. The body is still placed in a (simple) coffin and cremated in exactly the same facility as any other. This represents the lowest cost and most fuss-free option.

What is a more popular choice: direct cremation or a traditional funeral

The SunLife Cost of Dying Report 2024 shows that the overall cost of dying is at an all-time high. This is leading many people to consider alternatives to a traditional funeral. More affordable options such as direct cremation, continue to gain popularity.

In 2023 20% of all cremations were described as direct cremations, a threefold increase in demand since 2019.

Which is right for me - a traditional service or a direct cremation?

It’s not really possible to answer this question for you. How the end of a person’s life is celebrated is a very personal thing. Only you can decide what fits your wishes best when it comes to planning your own funeral.

f you want flexibility and more options to personalise your send-off, a direct cremation might be the answer. The freedom to create a celebration of life that’s unique, at a time and place that suits everyone is a key reason for their rapid growth in popularity.

We believe everyone should be free to choose how they will be remembered in the end. It could be an intimate gathering at a local scenic spot with ashes, treasured memories, and photos. Equally, it could be in a church full of flowers.

We’re always happy to answer your questions. You can get in touch by phone, email, or using our online contact form.