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  • Writer's pictureSian Storey

Part 1: Three things you must do and four you don’t have to do when organising a funeral

I recently joined the Natural Death Society (set up by the Natural Death Centre for several reasons but mainly to ensure that I was as informed as I could be about all matters death related when it came to looking at a Natural Burial. There are so many options today and this is one very close to my heart.

I had assumed, like many others I’m sure, that there would be a great many laws and regulations associated with funerals in general. There are however, only three rules that apply:

1) You must register the death or obtain the coroners permission to go ahead with the funeral arrangements. If the death has been reported to the coroner, you cannot register it until the coroner's investigations are finished (1)

2) You must ensure that the body is disposed in an approved way (usually burial or cremation but we’ll be looking at other ways “to go” later on in the series)

3) You must not expose a dead body on a public road. I would dearly love to know the background to that piece of legislation!

But that’s it. Nothing else.

What a great many people do not realise is that you do NOT need to:

1) Employ a Funeral Director. Most of those that do, however, value or need their support at what can be a harrowing time in anyone’s life, but it is not a legal requirement to do so. Families are still being advised by misguided individuals that is the law to use one. It is not. You can organise a funeral without a Funeral Director, but it does take time and advanced planning and that is probably one of the reasons why most people prefer to use one.

2) Embalm a body. Our body tissues start to break down from the moment we die, and embalming slows down the initial stages. The most commonly used embalming solutions are a mixture of chemicals including formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, methanol, ethanol and phenol. All these noxious chemicals are the main reason why embalming is prohibited for “green” funerals at natural burial grounds, to prevent embalming fluid leaching into the soil. The two main reasons why anyone needs to be embalmed is if they are being repatriated from abroad or there is a really long delay until the funeral. You should never feel pressured to choose embalming.

3) Use a hearse for transporting the deceased; any vehicle is acceptable as long as it is roadworthy and specialist insurance is not needed. So, if you want to arrive in a Harley Davidson or Uncle Geoff’s camper van why not?

4) Use a coffin; there are now some lovely shrouds available which have integral carrying straps. You can even bury someone simply wrapped in their favourite eiderdown if that is what they wanted. NB For Cremations: automated crematoria equipment requires that the body is in a rigid container so always check with the staff that your coffin choice is cremation compatible before purchasing.

This all sounds so clinical, factual and dispassionate and life and death are not like that are they? Our emotions are heightened, we may feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with making any decisions on our own. It’s so much easier to let someone else deal with it all. This is why discussions about what is wanted at end of life are so very important.

Over the next 5 sessions we will be looking at a variety of aspects with regard to death and dying. For example, the person who arranges the funeral is responsible for paying the final bill (1) and it is important to know where the money for the funeral will come from. There are few people that have the available financial resources to fund an unexpected funeral and so we will also be looking at some different options to consider.

If you know what to think about, to plan for and put those plans in place with all the information to hand about what to do, that’s half the battle won.

Part 2 will focus on the paperwork involved and what to do with it.

Thank you to the Natural Death Centre for their permission to use their information.

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