Ideas For Non-Traditional Funeral Services

When a loved one dies, the funeral-planning process can be a time of great emotional upheaval for the entire family. For many of us, the thought of spending more time than necessary on funeral arrangements is too painful, making a traditional funeral service the simplest and most accommodating choice.

However, there are those for whom the funeral process (and by extension, the end of one’s life) is just as important as any other major ceremony, and who wish to plan it accordingly. More and more of us are making specific arrangements for our own funerals, ensuring that everything from the readings to the playlists reflects who we really are.

Whether you are making plans for your own funeral or hoping to create a unique and personalised send off for a loved one that reflects their life and personality, here are some of the options you can choose from.

Non Attendance Funeral Services

An increasingly popular non-traditional funeral option is to…not have a funeral at all. It is thought that as many as 2,000 people a year now opt for non-attendance funerals, or “direct cremations” as they are otherwise known. In this arrangement, the person’s coffin is taken straight to the place of cremation with no family or friends present (though in some cases, family members do watch the funeral procession).

Sadly, a number of these types of funeral arrangements are made out of necessity, as the costs of a non-attendance funeral are far lower than those involving a traditional service. But financial reasons are not the only factor for their rise in popularity. There are plenty of people who choose this kind of send-off for personal reasons, including big-name celebrities.

In 2016, David Bowie made headlines shortly after his death for choosing a non-attendance funeral. According to his family, his final wish was to go out “without any fuss”, with no public funeral or memorial service.

For personal reasons, some people simply do not feel comfortable with the idea of drawing attention to themselves, be it at birthdays, weddings or even after they are gone. This type of funeral arrangement allows them a far more private send-off that mirrors their preferences in life.

Green Funeral Services

Green (or eco-friendly) funeral services are hardly a new concept, but they are certainly becoming more popular as we become more environmentally conscious.

These services are conducted in a way that causes minimal harm to the surrounding environment. Green caskets are designed to be non-toxic and biodegradable, and instead of a traditional headstone, a tree can be planted in loving memory. In some circumstances, a wooden sculpture can be used in place of a tree, providing a greener alternative to a headstone, but still allowing your loved one a fitting tribute.

It may not be the strangest or most outrageous idea for a funeral service, but a green funeral is a easy way of doing something a little different, while still honouring the traditions of a funeral ceremony. For those that have been involved in environmental activism in life or were particularly environmentally conscious, a green funeral can also be a poignant way of honouring their memory in their final moments.

Themed Funeral Services

No matter what stage of life you are honouring, whether it be birth, marriage or death, a theme is often a big part of the celebration. When it comes to funerals, Western traditions are slowly moving away from a purely sombre and bleak tone. For example, a formal mourning period is no longer as widely practised, and even wearing all black to a funeral service can be seen as slightly old-fashioned.

A themed funeral service goes even further in altering this mindset, and posits that funerals can be positive occasions, if not outright fun. By shifting the focus to a specific (and often silly) aspect of their personality, a themed funeral helps to encompass the idea that life should be celebrated, rather than solely mourning their loss.

These types of funerals can and do take many different forms. Some people simply choose an unusual mode of transport (such as as a motorcycle) for a hearse, while others mandate a fancy dress code. Whatever the choice, a themed funeral can be a special and personalised experience that can help to shift the mood towards something more hopeful and positive.

Unique Coffins and Caskets

While a themed funeral will often involve some kind of unique coffin design, this doesn’t have to be gaudy or excessive Unique coffins can take numerous forms, and enhance even the most traditional of services.

Choosing a specific coffin design for a funeral not only helps to personalise the experience, but can also set the tone for the day. After all, if your coffin looks like a popcorn bucket, it’s likely that the people attending will not be able to keep a smile off their face for very long. For some, creating a positive and happy atmosphere is very important, even (and perhaps especially) at a funeral.

Some people even go as far as to design their own coffins, and take months or even years to do so. A man from Orlando spent 25 years creating his own Egyptian-style coffin after being a lifelong admirer of Egyptian artistry. Sadly, many funerals are planned without any input from the individual that passes. Even if they do take part in the planning process, there are few people that can say they have had a completely “hands on” experience in how their final farewell will be handled.  

Designing and making your own coffin may seem like a morbid exercise, but for some it can be a cathartic experience that helps them make peace with the finality of life. Above all else, it ensures that even in their final farewell, their own creativity can light up the service.

Unique Funeral Service Locations

Choosing a unique location for a funeral service can be a lovely way of honouring someone’s memory without necessarily changing the nature of the event. For those opting for non-religious ceremonies, the world really is your oyster when it comes to your choice of venue.

Some examples of non-traditional funeral venues have included museums, cinemas, football fields and even restaurants. Most of us have a place that is special for one reason or another, and holding a funeral in a place like this can be a poignant experience. Some people may even choose a funeral venue where other important life events, such as weddings, were held in order – combining what is likely an upsetting memory with something more happy and joyous.

For those opting for a more religious or traditional ceremony, you can still create a special and unique send off for your loved one after the service is over. The act of scattering ashes in unique places, for instance, can be a beautiful way to honour your friend or family member after they’re gone.

These days, the sky really is the limit when it comes to scattering ashes. Some people choose a location that has deep and meaningful memories to them, while others like to take the most lavish option possible; author Hunter S Thompson famously had his ashes fired out of a cannon, with Johnny Depp in attendance. If scattering ashes at sea isn’t unique enough for you, then you can even choose to have your ashes fired into space – a truly literal way of “going out with a bang”.


Whether it’s for yourself or a loved one, personalising the funeral experience can create a completely different atmosphere and mood at the ceremony, and turn the planning process into a creative experience.

While a fancy dress funeral may not be for everyone, there is nothing wrong with organising a funeral that is a little less on the traditional side – especially if you want to encourage a sense of celebration and remembrance, rather than one of sadness.


We are a family-led funeral directors in Essex since 1958.

Please contact us at any of our four funeral homes, Harold HillHainaultHarold WoodCollier Row, for any queries, support or advice regarding the funeral planning process.

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