Guide to Outdoor Funerals
Organising a funeral can be a challenging process, and with so many options to choose from, planning the perfect send off can feel like a very daunting task at an already difficult time. You may be reading this guide to outdoor funerals because you feel you’d like to be in a natural, outdoor setting when the time comes. Or perhaps because the person was a nature lover, had a favourite outdoor spot, or was environmentally conscious. Maybe you’d love to plant a tree or dedicate a bench in a beautiful outdoor space, or perhaps you just want to be amongst the beauty and tranquillity of the natural world as you say your final goodbyes.
Whether you are arranging a funeral or thinking about the options for your own funeral, we hope to provide an insight into the world of outdoor funerals, memorial services and natural burials, and highlight the key options to consider when making your arrangements.
Funeral or Memorial Service?
It is first important to highlight that ‘funeral’ has become an all encompassing term for what is essentially two separate processes: a memorial service (often called a ‘celebration of life ceremony’) and the committal of the body. In the UK, a traditional funeral involves a ceremony at an indoor venue such as a religious building or the chapel at a crematorium, followed by a burial or cremation. For burials, family and friends often gather at the graveside after the ceremony to say their final goodbyes, and with cremations the ashes are collected at a later date.
But many people choose to make these two processes very separate occasions, holding a smaller committal with a few select people, and then holding a memorial service/celebration of life ceremony for other guests to attend. This provides plenty of flexibility when it comes to the choice of venue, as ceremonies that do not involve the committal process can be held absolutely anywhere, provided you have the owner’s permission of course.
This is a key consideration for anyone hoping to hold an outdoor ceremony. You may have a particular spot in mind that holds a special significance for the person whose life is being celebrated, or you may wish to hold a ceremony in your own garden. Working with a funeral celebrant will enable you to devise a truly personal ceremony at a location of your choice, involving any words, readings, music and symbolic gestures that hold meaning for you. Such ceremonies are less likely to be bound by time restrictions, and therefore they allow more time and space for people to reflect, support each other and celebrate the person’s life. You may also find that you can remain at the same venue for a reception or wake, creating an occasion that flows organically as the day goes on.
Many of our listed outdoor ceremony venues would be happy to accommodate celebration of life services. Browse our directory of outdoor venues to find the one that’s right for you.
Natural Burial Grounds
Natural burials (often called woodland burials) are becoming increasingly popular in the UK as we become more environmentally aware, and there are now close to 300 such sites across the country. The ethos behind a natural burial is to return the body to the earth in a natural way with a completely environmentally friendly burial or interment of ashes. This involves the use of biodegradable coffins or shrouds (or caskets/urns for ashes) and usually prohibits any chemical embalming of the body. Plaques made from natural materials can be placed to mark the grave, along with flowers, and there is sometimes the option to dedicate a tree or even a bench to the person at the site. Natural burial grounds also allow family and friends to return to visit the grave as often as they wish to for years to come.
A natural burial is a very personal choice and the ecological requirements may not suit everyone, but they can be the perfect solution for those looking for somewhere natural, peaceful and beautiful to say goodbye and celebrate a life. Ceremonies can take place by the graveside, are usually not subject to rigid time restrictions, and many sites also provide indoor options for ceremonies if needed.
Most natural burial grounds are also happy to take advance bookings, which is ideal for those who want to make arrangements for their own funeral in order to ease the strain on their loved ones when they pass away.
Appointing a funeral director
Most people choose to appoint a funeral director (FD) to guide them through the process of arranging a committal and funeral, especially if this is a new experience for them. However this is not a legal requirement, and you are free to make your own arrangements if you feel comfortable doing so. There is lots of good advice about ‘DIY funerals’ on the Natural Death Centre website.
If you meet with a funeral director, tell them what your hopes and wishes are for the funeral. Any good FD will have a flexible approach and do their utmost to ensure that your wishes are met. If you would like to hold an outdoor ceremony, whether that be a separate memorial service or a natural burial ground ceremony, your FD should be able to accommodate that and liaise with your chosen venue and suppliers to make it happen.
Appointing a celebrant
Choosing an independent celebrant to plan and conduct the funeral gives you the chance to create a truly personal ceremony. Celebrants will work closely with you to find out the key elements of the person’s life you would like to remember and celebrate at the funeral. They will also be able to guide you through the process and provide you with ideas wherever needed for eulogies, readings and music. Celebrants can conduct funerals at crematoriums or celebration of life ceremonies at any venue you choose, and will usually be happy to include both secular and religious elements.
Here at Outdoor Ceremonies we list a large number of celebrants across the country; take a look at our celebrant directory to find the right person for you, or read our Guide to Celebrants for more information about how they will work with you to plan the ceremony.
The future of funerals
There is a definite shift occurring in the funerals market at present, with the increasing demand for more personalised services and more environmentally friendly committals driving this change. At a time when traditions are being challenged and more options are being opened up, the planning process can seem all the more daunting, but we hope that this blog and the resources provided within it will make the process seem a little clearer.
The key thing to keep in mind is that you have a choice, and if an outdoor funeral or celebration of life ceremony is something that feels right for you, you can make it happen.