Beginners Guide to Alternative Funerals

The information is written in a matter of fact way to keep it clear and straightforward. Our intention is not to cause distress. Please keep this in mind if you decide to read further.

There are very few regulations covering the disposal of a body in the UK. You must undertake either to bury or cremate it, and you must have a death certificate signed by a doctor and a Certificate for Burial or Cremation from the Registrar of Deaths. This last document is very important, and most hospitals and mortuaries will not release the body until they've seen it.

Donating your body to Science – Bequeathing your body for medical science is a courageous alternative to the traditional funeral. However there are criteria that you have to fulfill in order to be able to leave your body to science. These include the death has occurred from natural causes ie old age or a heart attack or similar and up to the time of death the person was generally fit. The hospital is not full at the time of donation, that no post mortem has occurred, that no limbs are missing and that no infectious agents (HIV aids etc.) can be found as this would deem the body non acceptable.

Should you still be interested contact your doctor or your nearest teaching hospital and request a registration form this will need witnessing by your next of kin and you should discuss your ideas with all the close family.

A body may be kept for medical teaching purposes for up to 3 years. The medical schools will arrange and pay for a simple funeral, or the relatives can do this themselves. The medical school can advise relatives when the body is available for funeral.

This could be a very satisfactory way to help doctors and nurses and indeed manned after death but is not for everyone. For more info contact: HM Inspector of Anatomy
Woodland Burial – Some people are choosing a woodland burial site instead of a cemetery or crematorium. There are now many in the UK, some run as annexes to local authority sites, some as charities and others as businesses. The cost varies greatly from site to site.

Each woodland burial site will have its own criteria and it is best to contact the one you wish to use as soon as possible in order to make sure you avoid later complications.

Burial at sea – You should tell the registrar that you're planning a sea burial and obtain a coroner's 'Out of England' form. The license is free and can be obtained from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Burial at sea is a complicated process and one that is best planned and searched well in advance.

Less that 50 burials at sea are conducted each year. There are only a few places where these are permitted, mainly due to the technicalities of the body being washed to shore, in situations and tides and other various issues that most of us land lovers would not even consider.

It is important to know that a body that has been embalmed will not be able to be buried at sea. You will also need an appropriate certificate stating that the body is clear of infection or fever.

DEFRA for the reasons mentioned above tend to advocate scattering the ashes at sea for which you do not need a license under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985.

Tributes & memories Diamonds – A touching way for some to remember their loved one is to have the ashes turned into diamonds Prices range from £ 2,250 for a 0.5 carat to £ 11,950 for a 1 carat gem

Fireworks – It is now possible to have ashes put into a firework, the cost ranges from approximately £ 370 – £ 1000. There are companies within the UK that will choreograph and entire display including creating the ashes firework and can be found on most reputable search engines. This is not an option for the fault hearted but you would definitely go out with a bang!

Memorial websites – Memorial websites can be a touching tribute to someone's life, allowing friends and families from everywhere across the world to gather at one place, share memories and support each other through the grief.

Do-it-yourself Funerals A growing number of DIY funerals are conducted each year, some encouraged by the desire for personal occupation and some to find an inexpensive or gerner alternative to the conventional funeral. You will find that some funeral homes will aid you in the process, a list of local funeral directors can be found in our directory.

Conducting a DIY funeral can be a very personal but difficult process. Most people who take on the arrangements do so with advance planning. However you can, with the help of a good funeral home be involved in the funeral arrangements without having to take on the entire process.

Initially a death certificate signed by a doctor the next of kin or the person arranging the funeral must take the certificate issued by the doctor to the Registrar of Births and Deaths within five days from death.

After the death either yourself or the local district nurse can carry out the last offices. This is where the body is laid on its back, eyes closed and the natural outlets of the body are plugged with cotton wool. The body may also be washed and dressed at this point.

If you are walking the body at a home until the funeral you will need to keep the body in a well ventilated, cool room.

If the death occurs in hospital, the mortician may agree to keep the body in the hospital mortuary until the day of the funeral, there may be a charge for this and you will need to discuss this will the hospital mortician.

If the death occurs at home, a local funeral director may agree to provide a mortuary facility only.

You can make or obtain a coffin (although not all funeral directors sell them without providing the undertaking service), and ask staff at the hospital or public mortuary to put the body into it. It is worth knowing that if you plan on moving the body as well it is advised that most funeral directors place the body into a coffin once it is out of the hospital for logistic reasons including, amidst other things, manoeuvring a coffin down stairs and round corners.

Environmentally-friendly coffins are available throughout the uk. Almost all crematoriums now accept cardboard coffins. Some crematoriums and cemeteries accept bodies without coffins if placed in a body bag and supported by a plank but it is essential that you check with them first. They will give you instructions on labeling the coffin and any requirements that they need you to fulfill.

Burials at sea have their own criteria for coffins and you should check that with them initially. Woodland burials are advocates of 'green' coffins that are biodegradable. In some cases no coffin is required at all. Again you should check with your chosen site to confirm their requests.

Even in a 'traditional' funeral a large selection of coffins can be available for you to use. Your home will be able to give you a choice of the coffins they supply.

To book a date and time for a burial or cremation, you'll need to fill in an application form as soon as possible.

If you'd like a priest to take the service, or to hold it in a religious building, you need to book these as soon as you can, too.

A truly personal service can be held if you ask someone who knew your loved one well to conduct the ceremony. No special requirements are needed just confidence and courage.

If the burial is connected in a church yard you will need to find a grave digger, the best person to consult on this is your vicar or priest.

Transporting the body You can transport the coffin in any vehicle, such as a hearse, estate car or horse and carriage; as long as it's big enough there is even a motorcycle company that specialize in Harley Davidson hereses (Google search UK). Some funeral homes will hire just the hearse to you and supply a driver. If you're considering a particular unusual mode of transport, check with the cemetery or crematorium first.

Four pall-bearers are typically enough. Friends and family usually consider it an honor to be asked to carry the coffin.

By N Taylor

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