More people than ever before are choosing a direct or unattended funeral, and while the concept of being laid to rest without our friends and family might strike us as unusual, they now represent up to 18% of funerals carried out in the UK.
An unattended or ‘direct’ funeral is a farewell ceremony that occurs without the physical presence of friends and family. Also known as a ‘pure cremation style’ funeral or a no-service funeral, it consists of either a cremation or a burial, and can be organised by a trusted funeral director at a location chosen to honour the deceased’s last wishes.
In 2016, music legend David Bowie chose to have an unattended funeral, joining and – of course – influencing a growing trend of people choosing this alternative style of farewell over its traditional counterpart. Bowie chose an unattended funeral because he wanted to “go without any fuss”, having lived a centre-stage life in the spotlight, but there are many reasons why someone might choose to leave the party of life quietly and without fanfare.
While a traditional funeral and ceremony are still for many the preferred choice, unattended funerals are an alternative that is increasingly resonating with people – and in this article, we explore why this might be.
Why would you choose an unattended funeral?
When we think about how we would like to be laid to rest, we might make decisions based on our religion, principles, and the cultural norms with which we are surrounded. By choosing an unattended funeral, those things can still take a prominent position, but they do so alongside practical considerations such as cost, logistics, and character.
In our experience, listed below are the primary reasons why someone might choose an unattended/direct funeral rather than a traditional one.
In this climate of escalating expenses, unattended funerals stand as a practical and economically viable alternative. Direct cremations are often the least financially burdensome option for families and individuals, which may be preferred both for those arranging pre-paid funeral plans and people covering the cost of a loved one’s funeral.
The circumstances around loss will often squeeze people’s finances (for instance, needing to give up work to care for another, or losing income through illness) and the cost of living crisis is continuing to bite for many people, which means there may be circumstances in which there simply aren’t the funds available for a traditional funeral service. However, as was evident in David Bowie choosing an unattended funeral, monetary concerns aren’t the only consideration people take into account.
Free from large-scale event planning, an unattended funeral provides a minimalist approach to saying goodbye, which may reflect a person’s character or beliefs. As such, an unattended funeral can be a lifestyle choice for the person requesting it, one that says just as much about them as a song, reading, or eulogy at an attended event.
Those who ask for a direct cremation or funeral in their last wishes may also do so in the belief that they are making life simpler for their family. In fact, according to the Big Future of Funerals Survey Report 2022, “Less stress for the family and friends they’ll leave behind” was the number one reason people chose a direct funeral.
We would always recommend having a serious conversation about this, however, as families may feel honour-bound to carry out an unattended funeral because a loved one has mentioned it, even if it’s not what they would prefer. It’s human nature not to want to make a fuss or inconvenience others, but a funeral is as much about those left behind as the person who has moved on, and many grieving people wish to mark the event with a ceremony.
A direct funeral can give some people a sense of breathing room in the days and weeks after a loss, which may be particularly valued if they lack familial support, are unwell, or are overwhelmed by the process. Those who choose to lay their loved one to rest as part of an unattended funeral will often make memorial arrangements at a later date, for example, by holding a service at a location that was special to their loved one, or arranging a party for family and friends that celebrates their life.
At Harold Wood Funeral Services, we also provide the flexibility of ensuring that our unattended funerals are by no means impersonal or “one size fits all”. We have the facilities, experience and commitment to our role needed to give people the support they need and offer the choices they deserve.
Our promise to you
An unattended funeral doesn’t have to be a cookie-cutter farewell. With the help of independent funeral directors, there are many opportunities to make it unique. You may, for example, choose an eco-friendly coffin to align with a person’s beliefs, choose a piece of literature to be read as they are laid to rest, or incorporate personal elements at a separate memorial service – such as a style of food or genre of live music.
Sometimes unattended funerals and direct cremations can make the family feel as if major decisions are taken out of their hands, and limit the precious time they spend simply being with or honouring their loved one. This is something we work hard to make sure isn’t the case when we support people with a direct funeral. We provide people with options such as their choice in music, readings made at the farewell, the opportunity to decorate their loved one’s coffin, and spend time with them in our chapel of rest before the funeral. Our team can also livestream the service, or take photos, to send directly to family members.
We – as dedicated local funeral directors – promise to place your loved one’s memory at the heart of our service, whether unattended or traditional, and we are committed to helping you create a farewell that is as meaningful as it is mindful of your unique needs and preferences.