Is the traditional funeral dying out?

Some people would like their pets at their funeral
Some people would like their pets at their funeral
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Are you hoping for black-plumed horses and a full cortege after you pop your clogs, or maybe you’d prefer a quirkier send-off? HELEN MCGURK looks at the latest report which suggests the traditional funeral is being laid to rest

Few of us would say we liked thinking about funerals - especially our own.

A very colourful funeral

A very colourful funeral

Daytime TV adverts in which disturbingly cheery Alan Titchmarsh enthuses about how good it feels when you have arranged your funeral tend to give one the creeps.

But of course Alan is right - it is sensible to plan ahead for the inevitable.

However, according to a recent report, the traditional religious funeral is on its way out, with people opting for quirky, personalised services celebrating their loved one’s life instead – or not marking their passing at all.

Getting a commemorative tattoo and disposing of ashes in the engine of a steam train or on a firework are among the most unusual ways to mark the deaths of loved ones, according to the funeral trends report from Co-op Funeralcare.

Some people opted to scatter ashes during a skydive, while others held funerals at “destination” locations including a zoo, cattle auction house and a teepee – as well as a McDonald’s Drive Thru.

Only one in 10 adults would choose a traditional, religious service, the study found.

One in three want their friends and family to have a get-together to celebrate their life, as opposed to a traditional service, while a third don’t want any fuss made at all.

In Northern Ireland more people are asking mourners not to wear traditional dark clothing at funerals with many asking specifically that they wear bright colours.

The most unique item a funeral director was asked to place inside a coffin in Ulster was alcohol and one of the most unique tributes arranged here was a firework display for a family at the deceased’s house.

Two fifths of adults think funerals will become more informal in the future and a sixth see the wake as becoming more significant than the funeral service itself.

One in 25 funerals arranged by the Co-op is now a “direct to cremation” funeral, where there is no funeral and no one at the service, as chosen by pop legend David Bowie.

Samantha Tyrer, managing director of Co-op Funeralcare, said: “The funeral sector is rapidly changing. While 16.5 million of us still feel uncomfortable talking about death, we’re clear on what we want and, in the majority of cases, it’s no longer a traditional funeral service.

“More so now than ever before, we’re seeing requests for wonderfully personalised ceremonies, whether that be on the 18th hole of a golf club or having a pet dog present on the day.

‘‘The choices are endless so it’s crucial that people make their wishes known to ensure they’re not missed.”

The study also found the use of formal pallbearers to carry coffins has declined in the past five years. Requests for ceremonies to take place away from churches have increased, with locations including a zoo, on a bus, on a golf course or in a teepee.

Most of the Co-op’s undertakers had arranged a funeral where mourners wore bright clothing and half have known mourners to dress in jeans and tracksuits.

More than half (57%) of funeral directors had received requests for pets to be present at funerals, whether leading the hearse, attending the service or joining the wake.

Three-quarters had organised unusual floral tributes including a packet of Werther’s Originals and a 3D lion’s head, while traditional coffins were being replaced by rainbow colours, football team crests and leopard print.

Humanists UK, the largest provider of humanist funerals in the UK, welcomed the findings.

Its director of community services, Teddy Prout, said: “This report gives insight into the changing nature of funerals in the UK, including the increasing numbers opting for personalised, bespoke funerals over traditional religious funerals, which are in decline.

‘‘This is reflective of the huge societal shift of more people identifying as non-religious than ever before and with that, perhaps, comes more open attitudes towards death.”

In the last year people choosing to put ashes into jewellery keepsakes has increased by a fifth, with most popular choices including tribute rings.

Co-op Funeralcare conducts almost 100,000 funerals every year for more than 1,000 regional funeral homes. The industry is being investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority to see if people are being charged too much.