Memorable and unusual funerals
With over 800 funeral homes across the UK, we’re involved in thousands of funerals every year. However, for our funeral directors, every single one is as special and individual as another - so picking one that really stands out from the rest is a tall order.
Burial at sea
For Duncan Mason, funeral director and area manager based at T J Davies & Sons, funerals have changed massively since he joined the profession in the 1980s.
“30 years ago, the most unusual request we would get was to sing a song that the organist didn’t know. These days, people personalise funerals to the same extent that they personalise other big life events, such as weddings. We often get requests for dove releases, or to source unusual vehicles such as VW campervans - as long as it is decent and legal, we’ll pull out all of the stops to make it happen.”
Asked if there is a funeral that stands out in his mind as being particularly memorable, Duncan is hesitant, “Every funeral is special and every single one is memorable in its own way. However, the most unusual one - one that I’d never done before and haven’t since - was a burial at sea.”
“The burial at sea was for a lady who planned her own funeral. She and her boyfriend had spoken to a local funeral director who had told them it just wasn’t possible. When she came to me, I was determined that we would make it happen somehow- she’d always loved the sea and this was her dying wish.”
Duncan set about making the arrangements - which included contacting the Marine Management Organisation to get permissions and determine the exact coordinates of where the burial could take place, and arranging a coffin which was specially made for the occasion. Never having arranged this type of funeral before, Duncan left nothing to chance, travelling to Southampton on a Sunday to check that the boat, meeting place and venue for the wake were all suitable.
"He was confident that if she’d wanted to go to the moon, we would have done our utmost to make it happen."
“The funeral was a first for everyone involved - the harbour master, the boat owner and our team of funeral operatives. A lot of work went into making it the best that it could be - but, as we lowered the coffin into the water, said a few words and everyone raised a glass of champagne as the sun went down, we all agreed that it was an absolute pleasure and privilege to have been involved.”
“Afterwards, the lady’s partner said that he was confident that if she’d wanted to go to the moon, we would have done our utmost to make it happen. For me, it is not about going above and beyond, it is about doing what is needed. And we did. We always do.”
Find out more about burials at sea.
A fitting final journey
For Annette MacDonald, funeral Director and business manager at Dignity Funerals Aberdeen & North Scotland, the funeral that stands out the most in her mind was the funeral of a local businessman who ran a skip hire company.
Annette explains, “The family wanted his final journey to be on the back of a skip. It’s unconventional, but it certainly isn’t unheard of, or impossible.”
Annette and her team worked closely with the family and employees of the skip hire company to deliver a funeral that they were proud of. The skip truck was dressed in a faux grass and the bed of the truck built up to provide a platform for the coffin to rest upon.
"You could really see how much it meant to everyone involved.”
“As with any funeral, a great deal of care and attention goes into making sure that the service exceeds the expectations of the individual’s loved ones. I have a passion for looking after people and delivering the best funeral that I can is the only way I can relieve their burden at a terribly difficult time.
“For this particular funeral, the bit that really stood out was when the skip-truck pulled into the skip yard - the other trucks in the fleet did a guard of honour with the arms of their skip truck. You could really see how much it meant to everyone involved.”
High profile funerals
For Philip Smyth, manager and funeral director for JH Kenyon in central London, much of his work stays true to the more traditional funerals of years gone by. However, the funerals that Philip has been involved in are memorable for a totally different reason.
With a reputation for serving several generations of the same family, JH Kenyon has a long and distinguished history, and has been involved in many funerals on the national stage. For many years the firm has served the Royal Family and was involved, for example, with the funeral of HM King George VI in 1952, as well as Queen Mary (the late kings' mother) the following year. These funerals involved JH Kenyon providing the royal, lead-lined oak coffin, the embalming and care of the deceased, and finally the burial at Windsor.
The firm was also entrusted with the State Funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965, at that time the largest attended funeral in the nation's history. Sir Winston's funeral was unusual in that HM The Queen accorded it the rare honour of being a State Funeral, something only usually reserved for a Sovereign. JH Kenyon has had a long relationship with the Churchill family, having also conducted the funeral of Sir Winston's father (Lord Randolph Churchill) in 1895, as well as many other members of the family up to the present day.
Asked about the funerals that he had been directly involved with, Philip is respectful and cautious. “I don’t want to risk breaking any confidences, but I was involved in the funeral of a very high profile politician in recent years. It was an amazing privilege. My role is - as always - to ensure that everything runs smoothly. In this case, it involved liaising with the Church; Parliament; the police, regarding road closures; facilitating the procession of the cortege across Parliament Square - all in the midst of many hundreds of mourners from all walks of life.”
"We treat every single person, and every single family, with the same respect, dignity, care and decency.”
“Despite all of this happening in front of live TV cameras and the world’s media” explains Philip, I never lost sight of the fact that I was dealing with a family who had lost their dear Dad.”
For Philip, though, it is not the fact that he deals with high profile funerals that motivates him to deliver a high-quality service. “I always refer to something that I once heard said by the Matron of St Mary's Hospital, Paddington: From the Palace to the park bench - and everyone in between! That’s who we care for. For me, that sums up our business. We treat every single person, and every single family, with the same respect, dignity, care and decency.”
A celebration of life
For Emma Sparre-Slater, funeral director at Francis Chappell & Sons, perhaps the most memorable funeral she has been involved in was that of a friend of hers. But not for the reasons you’d think. Pre-arranged before he died, Emma’s friend wanted a flamboyant affair. With fire breathers, fancy dress and Father Christmas in attendance, Emma was able to help deliver his vision.
"The most important thing is that the day is a positive memory for the family."
“I think of myself as a pretty traditional funeral director,” Emma smiles, “but it is also important to have a ceremony that really reflects the life and the wishes of the individual. The most important thing is that the day is a positive memory for the family. As funeral directors, we are not there to judge, we are there to provide a sense of composure and calmness, to make sure everything runs smoothly and to give the family complete confidence that the days are going to go to plan.”
“When I first started in the profession, people would come in and literally ask us to do ‘whatever is normal’ for their loved one's funeral. These days, people have a far clearer idea. Working alongside a family who has ideas is an absolute joy - and helping facilitate them is an honour.
“The most important thing is to remember that no request is odd - if it means or meant something to someone then it is important that we get it right.”