How do You Say Goodbye When There is no Funeral?

The pain associated with losing a loved one can feel insurmountable, but a formal goodbye can provide a valuable sense of closure to you and those who are mourning. While the act itself is unlikely to lessen the emotion associated with loss, it can help in the healing process and act as a starting point for your journey through grief.

In short, a formal goodbye is a valuable part of our relationship with loss. But how can closure be attained without one? Is it possible to begin healing when the departed – or their family and friends – chooses an unattended funeral? You may have found that an unattended or direct funeral is the best choice for you and your family, but still have concerns that you’ll find it difficult to move on without a ceremony to mark their passing. 

Like no two people, families or even communities are exactly the same, every funeral is unique, and what’s right for one person will not necessarily be right for another. An unattended funeral may not personally be your first option, or you may see the benefits but have some reservations, but we would like to reassure you that unattended funerals can still offer closure and comfort. 

But before we explore the specific ways to say goodbye if your loved one has an unattended funeral, it might be wise to define exactly what we mean by that concept.

What is an unattended funeral?

An unattended funeral (otherwise known as a direct funeral) is a burial or cremation that takes place without the presence of any friends or family. While there is no service for guests to attend, independent funeral directors – like our team at Harold Wood Funeral Services – will still handle the necessary arrangements and legal requirements with professionalism, empathy and care. 

The option of an unattended funeral or direct cremation is often more affordable than attended alternatives because the venue, transportation, and staffing costs are significantly reduced. But aside from being more affordable, unattended funerals have become increasingly popular in recent years because people see it as a way of reducing the stress of funeral planning on their families (although it’s always important to have a conversation about this, as your family may feel differently), or believe that it represents a way to celebrate their life rather than mourn their death. 

Is an unattended funeral the same as a direct cremation?

Yes. An unattended funeral and a direct cremation are both characterised by an absence of ceremony and guests present at the time of cremation or burial. 

How to say goodbye when there is no funeral

Not being present at the moment when your loved one is laid to rest or cremated can be a daunting prospect. But if you are considering this option, or your loved one has requested an unattended funeral, there are several ways that you can say goodbye and remember your loved one without a formal ceremony with guests. 

It is always important when we are grieving to find opportunities to remember our loved one, commemorate the life they lived, and carry the memory of them as we move forward through life. Here are some ways to begin the process. 

Organising a memorial reception

Grief – especially when it is very raw – can make organising a farewell event very difficult, but an unattended funeral or direct cremation separates the act of laying your loved one to rest from the goodbye itself, which makes it possible to plan a suitable memorial reception when you feel ready to do so. That reception might be a formal affair, one at which guests make speeches or read eulogies, or it might take a more informal shape, perhaps at a location that meant something important to the departed – such as a rugby club, community hall, pub or beauty spot. 

Writing a letter to the deceased

The passing of a loved one is often quite unexpected and sudden. As the shock passes, we may be acutely aware that we didn’t tell them exactly how much we loved them and what they meant to us. Even if you are fortunate to have had an open and honest relationship with the departed whereby you were able to express yourself freely, you might still want to say goodbye in a way that feels permanent and meaningful. A letter can capture your love, goodbye and heartfelt sentiments perfectly, and many people find that this process is a therapeutic one – one in which the full stop at its end also provides some closure.

Planting a memorial tree

While the act of saying goodbye can feel quite final, planting a memorial tree creates a lasting legacy and acts as a living tribute to your loved one, growing and flourishing for decades, if not centuries, to come. We are all quite aware of the state of nature and its need for a helping hand, so planting a tree – such as an English oak (Quercus robur) as part of a woodland burial – can provide habitats and food for wildlife, making your goodbye a more natural one. 

Organising a remembrance walk

Gathering friends and family members for a climb up a mountain, a stroll through the countryside, or a wander around a nature reserve can be a special way to say goodbye to a loved one. A scenic viewpoint might, for example, elicit a fond memory which can be shared with the group, and a trail through picturesque landscapes can provide the perfect backdrop with which to mark their passing. With the appropriate permissions in place, you might choose to scatter their ashes in a particularly special spot or simply pause to say a few words.

Producing a memory token or keepsake

A tangible connection to the departed that provides long-term comfort can be achieved with the creation of a keepsake or memory token. Items such as jewellery incorporating your loved one’s ashes, a garden ornament, or a photograph to hang on the wall can all act as powerful reminders of a life well lived, often created as part of a final farewell, independent from an unattended funeral or direct cremation.


A formal funeral service is not the only way to say goodbye to your loved one after they have passed away. While an unattended funeral or direct cremation might be a departure from tradition, it is an increasingly popular choice. Choosing a burial or cremation without fanfare opens the door to alternative ways of saying your goodbye, such as gathering friends for a memorial walk, creating jewellery incorporating the departed’s ashes, or holding a funeral reception after the pain of loss is not quite so raw.
If you would like to know more about either a direct cremation or an unattended funeral, and learn how we can support you through the process with empathetic and personalised care, speak to our team today. We are also happy to chat if you are struggling emotionally th the idea of organising an unattended funeral and need further support.

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