The Structure of the Funeral Service

There are three key parts to a funeral service:

Remembering your loved one

Sometimes called the Eulogy, or the Address, this is the bit where we talk about your loved one’s life and character. It normally lasts around ten minutes or so, and the idea is to try to capture not only the facts of their life, but something of their spirit and character.

Giving Thanks

Most funeral services include an opportunity to give thanks for the person, and their life – for all the blessings that they brought to those who knew them. This doesn’t have to be religious (though of course, it can be – for example, it might be a prayer of thanksgiving to God for their life).

Having an opportunity to give thanks for a person can be an important step in the grieving process – a way of expressing gratitude for all that this person meant to you.

Laying to Rest

Also known as the Commendation & Farewell. This is the moment when, having remembered your loved one and given thanks for all that they have meant to you, we now lay them to rest. We don’t ever lose the person who has died – so much of their life and spirit lives on in us, in the way they’ve left their mark on us – but still, there is a sense of ending, and the “Commendation & Farewell” is a way of expressing and marking that fact.

Normally, the Commendation & Farewell consists of a very simple set of words (either religious or non-religious) said over the coffin by the celebrant. Some crematoria have a curtain which closes around the coffin as these words are being spoken. There is no need for this curtain to be closed during this final act: some families find it quite traumatic as their loved one’s body is slowly hidden behind the closing curtain; however, others find it helpful – again, as a way of providing a sense of ending and closure.

But how does this translate into an actual funeral service? Read on...

So… What actually happens at the funeral?

Here’s a more detailed summary of how these core elements of the funeral are incorporated into the whole

Music on Entry

Normally, we gather outside the crematoria until the hearse has arrived. Then I normally lead the coffin into the chapel as an opening piece of music is being played, with the family and mourners following on behind. If you prefer, the congregation can gather inside the chapel before the hearse arrives - some families find it quite difficult to walk in behind the coffin, so being seated inside the chapel beforehand may be a helpful option.

The family and mourners follow the coffin into the chapel as a piece of music is played...

We are here for your loved one: to say our goodbyes, but also to give thanks for their life...

Welcome & Opening

I normally begin the service by welcoming everyone, and setting the scene a little – explaining that we are here for your loved one: to say our goodbyes, but also to give thanks for their life and all that they mean to us. I normally include a short pause for reflection at this point – an opportunity to call to mind those things about your loved one that we liked, admired and loved, the things that we would like to give thanks for. But as well as giving a chance to call your loved one to mind – to get them into focus, right from the start – it’s also a chance for you to take a moment or two to be still, and settle yourself at the start of the service.

At the end, I usually read a few very simple words – perhaps a poem, or a simple reflection or, if you prefer, a prayer. Alternatively, this might be a good point in the service for a family member to come forward and read a poem or short reflection.

Eulogy & Reflection

The eulogy - also known as the tribute - is at the heart of the service. This is the moment when we talk about your loved one - their life, spirit and character. Afterwards, families often include a piece of music for reflection: this gives people time to reflect on the eulogy, and in particular any other memories that may have come to mind as they listened to what was said.

Time to reflect...

An Act of Thanksgiving

This is the moment when we formally give thanks for your loved one: for who they were, and are to us still; for all that they did and for the things we carry with us still us as we journey on.

It’s also an opportunity to give thanks for all those who cared for your loved one – perhaps particular any doctors, nurses or care workers. And it’s a chance for the congregation to remember you, your family, and all those who mourn – just to surround you with their love at a difficult time.

Commendation & Farewell

Just before I say the final Commendation & Farewell, there’s a chance to pause for a moment, to prepare ourselves to do this final thing for your loved one. Sometimes we have the Music for Reflection here, or we can just be still.

Then comes the Commendation & Farewell - the moment in the service when we lay your loved one to rest. Sometimes, family members like to come forward and gather around the coffin as these words are spoken, and perhaps lay a flower on the coffin as a parting gift.

Sometimes, family members like to gather around the coffin as these words are spoken, and lay a flower on the coffin as a parting gift

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Ending on a note of comfort and hope... 


After the Commendation & Farewell, I normally include some closing words. These provide a way of rounding off the service, and ending on a note of comfort and hope. It might be a poem, a blessing, or some other suitable closing words. Afterwards, the congregation are thanked for coming; if there’s a collection, I usually flag this up here, and if there’s a wake or After Party after the service, I encourage members of the congregation to go along to join you for refreshments.

A final piece of music is played. Members of the congregation are invited to sit and listen for as long as they like, and then to make their way out of the chapel when they’re ready. There’s no need to stay to the end of this music. As people are filing out, families sometimes like to encourage people to go over to the coffin (assuming the curtain has been left open), just to touch the coffin or to lay a flower on it – again, as a very personal way of saying goodbye.

After the Service

Sometimes, families like to release doves after a funeral service, just outside the chapel and once everyone has exited. Or you might like to give everyone who has attended a dram of whisky, so that they can toast your loved one. There are all kinds of ways in which you can personalise the service!