All About the Humanist Funeral

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There are many different funeral ceremonies, but a humanist funeral service is becoming an increasingly popular choice. If you’ve recently lost someone who wasn’t at all religious, then you might be a little unsure what to do for their funeral. 

If you want a ceremony that is respectful of the deceased’s perspective, is a celebration of their life and has no religious content then a humanist funeral could be the answer. 

What is a humanist funeral service?

A humanist funeral service is a ceremony that celebrates the life of someone who has died. It is a non-religious funeral so there is no mention of religion, heaven or god.

A humanist funeral is a way to say goodbye that recognises the sadness people might be feeling. But at the same time, it’s a way for people to celebrate the life and legacy of a loved one.

The humanist view of life and death is that there is no afterlife, and death is merely the end of an individual’s consciousness. Humanism is the belief that humans are just another part of nature and that death is nature’s way of cleansing. 

When a person dies, they are clearing the way for a new life, and the way they led their life, their happiness, and experiences are engraved into history. The deceased live through experiences and memories that their loved ones hold dear in their hearts.   

Is a humanist funeral right for your loved one’s send-off?

If your loved one wasn’t particularly religious, a humanist funeral might be the best choice. If you think it would be inappropriate to hold a religious ceremony when the deceased had no faith, a non-religious funeral might better reflect what they wanted.

Different types of funeral ceremonies include:

  • Direct cremation without a ceremony: this is an affordable alternative to a full-service funeral, but it doesn’t compromise on the quality of care and allows the family to organise a farewell exactly as they choose.
  • Woodland burial: this is a more nature-based alternative to a traditional burial or cremation and the ceremony is often held at the graveside.
  • Traditional cremation: this is the most common type of funeral service. It will usually focus on the coffin or urn, with selected music and a eulogy, often delivered by a celebrant (who can be religious, civil or humanist).
  • Memorial service: A memorial service can be held in any location as the coffin is not present. It can be led either by a professional celebrant (religious or non-religious) or by a friend or members of the family.

What happens at a humanist funeral?

A celebrant typically leads a humanist funeral. This person isn’t bound by any religion, law, or doctrine, and as such, they can construct and perform a completely personalised ceremony. Humanist funeral celebrants work very closely with the family of the deceased to arrange a personal and unique ceremony. 

Typically, the order of service for a humanist funeral will include music plus readings from poetry or inspirational authors. However, the main focus of the ceremony is the tribute section. There is no time limit for this part of the funeral, but generally it can last up to around 15 minutes and consists of tributes paid by friends, family and a tribute written by the celebrant. 

Following on from the tribute section, there is usually a moment for reflection before the committal takes place. The ceremony will end with a few final words of thanks.  

Where can you hold a humanist funeral?

There are many suitable venues for a humanist funeral, both inside and outside. Practically, as long as you obtain the correct permissions, humanist funeral services could be held anywhere.

The majority of humanist funerals are held at cemeteries, crematoria, or woodland burial sites. But there’s no reason why you can’t hold one in a public park, a theme park, a marquee, private home, on the beach, at a football stadium, or even the Albert Hall.

However, you cannot hold a humanist or civil ceremony in a church as this is against church law. 

The role of the humanist funeral celebrant

A more recent funeral trend is to celebrate the life of the deceased rather than mourning their loss. The role of a humanist funeral celebrant is to construct and lead a personalised,  life centred funeral ceremony.

To help them create such a personal ceremony, the celebrant gathers information from the family of the person who has died. The goal is to create a celebration of a person’s life which honours their memory and reflects their relationships, personality and experiences.

What are some popular humanist funeral readings?

It can be challenging to find the right words to say goodbye to a loved one when they pass away. While a traditional funeral might include excerpts from the bible or religious poems these aren’t appropriate for a humanist funeral.

Some popular humanist funeral poems and readings include:

  • When I am Dead, My Dearest by Christina Rossetti
  • The Life That I Have by Leo Marks
  • Death (If I Should Go) by Joyce Grenfell
  • Roads Go Ever On by JRR Tolkein
  • Death Sets a Thing Significant by Emily Dickinson
  • Play Jolly Music at My Funeral by Richard Greene
  • Dear Lovely Death by Langston Hughes
  • Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Ideas for humanist funeral songs

You can play music at a humanist funeral, and there are no rules or etiquette to follow. The best place to start is with your loved one’s favourite tracks. 

However, if you need some inspiration, here are a few ideas:

  • My Way by Frank Sinatra
  • What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong
  • Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds
  • Always Look on the Bright Side of Life from Money Python’s Life of Brain
  • The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel
  • Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
  • Daughter by Peter Blegvad
  • Bring Me Sunshine by Morecombe and Wise

What to wear to a humanist funeral

Because a humanist funeral is non-religious, there is no need to wear mourning clothes or colours, unless it has been specifically requested. It is far more common for people who attend a humanist ceremony to wear casual or semi-formal clothes. 

If the funeral incorporates elements of a celebration of life ceremony, attendees may choose to wear clothes of the deceased's favourite colour, bright cheerful clothes, or perhaps even formal party wear. 

If the funeral is taking place outdoors, attendees should consider the weather and wear appropriate clothing for walking through the woods. 

How much does a humanist funeral cost?

The cost of a humanist funeral ceremony is similar to the breakdown of more traditional funeral costs. An approximate cost for the celebrant ranges between £150 and £350. 

However, bear in mind that the total  cost of a humanist funeral will depend on the venue and funeral director fees.

How do you organise a humanist funeral?

Your funeral director can connect you with a humanist celebrant, you can also find a trained and accredited funeral celebrant via the Humanists UK website or a recommendation from someone you know.  

A celebrant will help you organise a funeral ceremony that is most fitting for the deceased, but of course you can organise a humanist style funeral yourself.

Consider alternatives to a humanist funeral

When it comes to saying goodbye to a loved one, there are lots of alternatives. If you want to create the perfect farewell and memorial service, then think of elements hat really capture the unique memories you have with the deceased.

If you need advice on the cremation process itself or want to start making arrangements, our dedicated team will offer their expert guidance and support to keep things as simple and as stress-free as possible.