The future of funeral ceremonies: eight trends for 2019 by Rosalie Kuyvenhoven.
Funeral ceremonies are changing. An increasing number of people opt for a ceremony that focuses on the life of the person who has died rather than a traditional, religious service led by a faith leader.
This has a major impact on how funeral ceremonies are designed and officiated.
There is no standard script that follows a particular structure of prayers, hymns and traditional religious rituals. Instead, a funeral service is designed around the beliefs, wishes and personality of the person who has died. Their life story is at the heart of the service. Music choices are based on what this person enjoyed listening to, flowers may represent their favourite colour and photos may show them at their favourite holiday destination. Instead of a member or the clergy, a celebrant officiates the service. Family members and friends may have an important role in the service, or even lead the service themselves.
What does this mean for the future of funeral ceremonies?
In the following, I highlight eight trends for 2019. These trends are based on my experience as an independent funeral celebrant, and observations based on articles and conversations with other funeral professionals.
The trends are intended to trigger a conversation, make people aware of the options that are available and inspire them to have a funeral ceremony that feels right and fitting for them
1. Personalisation of options
Coffins, flower tributes, hearses, and more: nowadays, a wide range of options is available to personalise a funeral. These options will continue to grow.
Families may want to have a coffin in a favourite colour, decorate the coffin themselves, choose a woollen or banana leaf one, or prefer to have their loved one cremated or buried in a shroud.
For many, a traditional black hearse is still the obvious choice, but also people-carriers, leopard printed vans, horse-horse-drawn carriages, hand cart biers, motorbike hearses, campervans and other options are available.
People who don’t fancy the traditional white lily coffin spray may choose a one made of their favourite flowers, either ordered from a florist or hand-picked from their own garden. Some opt for an alternative decoration. Some examples are: the person’s walking shoes filled with their favourite flowers, a cycling wheel, a football flag or their favourite sweets.
2. Variety of ceremonies
Nowadays, funerals can have any shape, content and structure and this variety will continue to grow. Some families prefer a traditional, solemn funeral service. Others are looking for a dignified way to grieve a death and pay tribute to a life lived in a reflective and relaxed way. A growing number of people wants a celebration of life, with room for laughter as well as sadness.
3. Families in control
An increasing number of people become aware of funeral options, know what they want and take control. For example, they will search for coffin options online, bring their own flower tributes to the funeral service, write and read the eulogy themselves, design their own order of service sheet, or decorate the place where the funeral service takes place.
Some families have carefully thought about the elements of the funeral service and are rather looking for someone to advise them and hold it together on the day than someone to take the lead and direct the service.
4. Alternative funeral venues
Most funerals take place at a crematorium chapel or a church. For many people this is the right place to have the funeral service. For others, the design, religious setting or designated time-slots may not feel right and they prefer to have a funeral service at an alternative venue.
A funeral service can happen anywhere, and it’s a beautiful way to have a funeral at a location that is meaningful to the person who has died. There is no licence needed, although not every venue allows a coffin on site so it’s important to discuss this beforehand. I have conducted funerals at community houses, a private garden, and a theatre. Hotels, pubs, sports grounds, your own house or a school are other examples of locations where a funeral ceremony can take place.
5. New funeral rituals
People’s beliefs and spiritualities are emerging. When traditional religious rituals are no longer meaningful, new symbolic rituals are needed to express thoughts and emotions that arise with the death of a loved one.
Examples of alternative symbolic rituals are: writing a message on a card for the person who has died, throwing autumn leaves in a grave as a symbol of letting go, lighting a candle to represent someone’s light and love, forming a circle and holding hands to express standing together in grief and support, covering the coffin with a blanket as a gentle gesture of saying farewell, blowing bubbles to express the beauty and fragility of life.
6. Use of technology
We are living in a digital age and technology will become a bigger part of funeral ceremonies.
Social media is being used to announce details of the funeral ceremony, webpages can be set up to commemorate someone, lit a digital candle or make an online donation.
During the funeral service, people from all over the world can be connected through live streaming options.
Another example is commissioning a professional photographer or videographer to delicately capturing details of the funeral service as a precious keepsake for family and friends.
7. Inclusive funeral ceremonies
As much as a funeral ceremony is about the person who has died it aims to creates a space for the living to grieve a death, pay tribute to a life and find hope and comfort for the time to come.
Using inclusive language for people of all ages, gender identities and abilities will help everyone to feel included.
Specific support may be needed. If one or more people in the audience have hearing problems, a sign interpreter could be brought in to ensure they understand what is being said. People living with dementia may require some special attention to ensure they feel safe and understand what is happening.
Children can be included by, for example, including them in the welcome address, or by asking them to say or do something during the ceremony. They may also help choose photos, music or readings.
8. Funerals as ‘events’
A next step in the personalisation of funerals is to plan them as events. Some of them might have a specific theme which is not only reflected in the coffin, choice of flowers or the way people dress, but also in invitation design, the reception afterwards, and thank you gifts or keepsakes.
Musicians, photographers, caterers and other suppliers are being hired to help make the day a memorable experience.
Choose the funeral professional that is right for you
These eight trends are an important shift in the way we approach funeral ceremonies.
A good funeral director and celebrant will be able to advise on these trends and the options available. They will carefully listen to the needs and wishes of families, will gently guide people in making choices and provide bespoke and flexible services in co-creating a funeral that feels right for the people involved.
If you are planning a funeral, it is important to meet a few funeral directors and celebrants before you decide who best meets your wishes and needs.
Curious to learn more?
If you are interested in learning more about person-centred funeral options, Sarah Jones’ book ‘Funerals Your Way’ is an excellent starting point.
Death Cafe is a global movement where people gather to drink tea, eat cake and discuss death. It provides an open, relaxed and safe environment to exchange experiences and share thoughts and questions about death with others. Death Cafes are organised all over the world. More information can be found here.
By Rosalie Kuyvenhoven. Rosalie Kuyvenhoven is creates and conducts bespoke, warm and inclusive ceremonies for any life-event. Originally from the Netherlands she now lives and works in London, working in the UK and abroad. Trained minister, award-winning celebrant, dementia champion, supporter of the LGBT+ community and mother of two she offers inclusive funerals for all ages, backgrounds, abilities and gender identities. In 2018, Rosalie won the National Celebrant Award for Outstanding Funeral Celebrancy. She also was a regional finalist for the 2018 Wedding Industry Awards.