Paul Cuthell: So you want Darth Vader to lead off your funeral?

Fireworks made out of ashes, Darth Vader leading a cortege, dead people making an appearance 'as live' at their own funeral '“ times are changing quickly as people look for far more out of a funeral than simply remembering a loved one.

Paul Cuthell, National Association of Funeral Directors
Paul Cuthell, National Association of Funeral Directors

A growing trend in modern times is a move away from the more sombre affair towards more of a celebration of life, with personalisation playing a major role and mourners coming up with ever more innovative way of saying good bye.

This means several things for the funeral director, whose job is increasingly diversifying, as, more than ever they are playing the role of event planner and manager.

The recent Sun Life Cost of Dying report highlighted that one in seven people questioned are now making special and more unusual requests. The statistics in the YouGov survey, commissioned last year by the NAFD, highlight that people are increasingly turning away from straightforward religious ceremonies. Woodland burials, humanist ceremonies and other types of funerals are all becoming more popular.

What, then, is behind the current trend, what does it mean for your funeral director, and what do you do if you want to do something a little different?

First and foremost, talk to your funeral director. You will be surprised by the wide range of information, people and businesses we are connected to – whatever you would like for a loved one, however unusual it is, we can normally lay our hands on it.

There is a growing number of businesses selling unusual services. I mentioned earlier that people can turn their ashes into a firework. That’s not the only thing. At this year’s National Funeral Exhibition I saw a company that can add a proportion of ashes into a vinyl record, with a message from the person who has died recorded on it.

These days there is so much more people can do. In terms of the funeral ceremony itself, people are looking a more inventive ways of marking the moment.

Wild West themes, a procession of tractors, morris dancing – the list goes on. Motorcycle funerals – with the coffin carried in the sidecar – are increasingly popular. What you will generally find is that your funeral director is happy to research and facilitate, maybe even join in with the dress code too, in order to make the day exactly what you want.

The fast-growing trend has implications. We see a lot in the media about the rising costs of funerals and one of the reasons this is so is because people simply want to do more and more around the funeral. While the funeral director’s fee is unlikely to change in the face of dressing up as a superhero, special requests can add up.

Logistics also play their part. If someone would like a cortege of slow-moving tractors, the funeral director has to assess the impact on local roads and if necessary, inform the authorities. For certain situations, a licence is required. There are lots of scenarios where, as I said, event planning becomes the order of the day as much as conducting the funeral.

If you want a send-off that truly reflects a life in a way people may appreciate, whether it’s your own funeral or someone else’s, ensure the day goes smoothly and without disappointed by dealing with your local NAFD member – you will see the Association badge displayed in the shop window as a mark of quality and standards. They will always been happy to help, even if it’s just a chat to see what’s out there and feasible.

One key point is to give the funeral director as much notice as you can, so that if they have to order or organise something specific, they have enough time to do it. The My Funeral Wishes guide, downloadable from the NAFD website, is a great way of putting down in writing exactly how you would like your funeral to go and, if filled out and given to your funeral director, it will give them the time to ensure they can provide what you have specified.

The job has changed enormously over the last couple of years, and continues to do so. What hasn’t altered, though, is our commitment, as a firm, as an Association and as a profession, to help and provide the best service we can; so whatever unique farewell you’re planning, you can guarantee that the first call to your funeral director will help get the ball rolling.

Paul Cuthell, National Association of Funeral Directors