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The Ultimate Guide to plan a burial service
Choosing what type of funeral would be best for your loved one is a huge, difficult decision. You want to make sure you are paying homage to the person who held such an important role in your life, while dealing with your own grief. It’s far from easy, but saying the ‘right’ goodbye can be an incredibly cathartic part of the grieving process. The most traditional option to do so is a burial service.
Burial is the oldest funeral option; it’s been around for over 130,000 years. Today it remains a popular choice for families saying their final farewell to their deceased. Essentially, it is made up of a main funeral service followed by a short ceremony where the coffin is lowered into the ground. As with all funeral ceremonies, it is a time to celebrate the wonderful life the departed had lived and reflect on the impact that they had on your life.
How to plan a burial service?
Once you have decided to have a burial service there are still several factors to take into consideration. From location, to how you mark the grave and what you want for the order of service, there are several decisions to make.
We want to ease the burden of these decisions as much as possible for you: that’s why we have broken down the steps below in order to help you navigate this emotionally challenging time.
What are the different places of burial?
When planning a burial service for a loved one, the first step is to decide where you want the burial to take place.
There are three main locations for a burial, and depending on the wishes of the deceased and your own personal circumstances, it may be an easy choice to opt for one rather than another.
Graveyard or churchyard burial
A burial service can happen in a graveyard (sometimes referred to as a churchyard) if the departed was a local parishioner. They may also be entitled to be buried in a churchyard if – at the date of their death – their name was entered on the church electoral roll of the parish. In some cases, you may also gain permission from the minister of the parish.
However, it is important to note that this a graveyard burial is not a straightforward choice; often, graveyard burial spaces may be limited or, in some cases, full. It is therefore important to reserve the space if possible; otherwise, you will need to choose a different burial site.
The difference between a cemetery and a graveyard, is that a cemetery is not linked to a church; it is – in its purest form – a place where people are buried. It comes from a Greek word, meaning “sleeping place”, and is a spot of land specifically dedicated to burials.
You will often see the term ‘graveyard’ used instead of ‘cemetery’; they are not the same, and a graveyard only refers to a burial ground within a churchyard.
In general, cemeteries are not connected to one religion, and so you have the freedom to hold the type of service or ceremony that is most meaningful to you and your family. You can purchase a grave plot in advance in some cemeteries; this means you will be the owner of the ‘Exclusive Rights of Burial’ (rather than the land itself) and will have automatic right to be buried within that grave space.
Natural burial site
Natural burials are growing enormously in popularity as a unique alternative to cemeteries and graveyards. The focus of a natural burial is returning the body to the earth in the most natural way possible. Coffin contents must be natural and biodegradable, and you will not use traditional headstone markers; essentially, the grave will eventually be drawn back down into nature.
Natural burials could be set in forests, wild flower meadows, fields or parkland settings. In fact, as natural burials become more and more renowned, the spaces to hold one are increasing too.
What are the different types of grave?
Broadly speaking, a grave will fall into one of two categories.
The grave could be a ‘new grave’ – as the name implies, this will be an unused plot and it could be of single, double or triple depth (this will largely depend on local regulations and burial ground conditions). If more than one member of the family will be buried in the same spot, you will likely choose either a double or triple depth.
The grave could also be an ‘existing grave’. Reusing a grave is highly common, and is often chosen if part of a family plot; that way, you are able to bury your loved ones together. You will need to provide the deeds to the grave if you want to make use of an existing grave.
How much does a burial service cost?
Cost is a big factor when considering how to plan a burial service for your loved one.
While it is difficult – if not impossible – to pinpoint an exact cost for a ‘standard’ burial service, it is generally agreed that an average cost in the UK for a burial service ceremony is £5,000. Saying that, this price can differ enormously based on some varied elements. The main points that will initially alter your price are:
- Where you are holding the funeral – different cities have varied costs attached, and so this will immediately impact your overall cost
- What type of burial service you are organising – whether it is graveyard, cemetery or natural
- Whether or not the departed chose to use a funeral plan
There is no escaping the fact that the cost of the grave itself has a large cost attached; this is the main part that makes a burial more expensive than a cremation. Other fees you may need to consider include:
- The rights to the burial plot
- The ‘interment’ – this refers to the actual preparation of the burial plot
- The cost if you are reopening an existing burial plot
- Any memorials that you want to feature, such as headstones
- The cost of the coffin
- Maintenance fees for the grave
- The funeral celebrant (if you choose to use one – you can get an idea for their fees through our directory here)
There are a few ways you can save on these burial costs. You could choose a natural green burial (these tend to work out less expensive) or you could even bury your loved one on private land and cut out the burial fees; remember, you will need permission of the land owner and it is worth consulting your local authority, too.
In addition, holding the burial closer to home and picking a less popular time during the week could reduce your costs.
What are the legal requirements for a burial?
The core legal requirement is that you will need a Certificate for Burial before the burial can go ahead. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘green form’ – it is free of charge and gives permission for the person who has passed to be buried or cremated.
You can gain this certificate in the following way:
- You will need to register the death of your loved one by contacting either their GP or the Doctor of whom’s care they were under. They will then arrange the Certificate of Cause of Death for you.
- Once you have this, you will contact a registrar in order to officially register the death. It is important that you do this within 5 days if you are in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, and within 8 days if you are in Scotland.
- You will then be given a Certificate for Burial or Cremation. The funeral director will need this so that you can start planning the burial service.
- If appropriate, you will then need to fill in a burial plot application form – you will submit this whether you are requesting a new or existing grave.
There is no legal requirement that you need to have an undertaker to hold a burial – you can be the funeral director, and there is also no legal requirement saying that you cannot bury your loved one in your own land, if that is what you want to do.
What happens at a burial service?
Typically, a burial service will be held after the main funeral service at the graveside of your loved one. It may include prayers or readings – this is entirely up to you and the beliefs and wishes of the departed.
You can choose to hold the main service in conjunction with the burial service – generally, this will be restricted to the closest family and friends of the deceased, who will come together on chairs set up beside the grave.
When the time comes and you are ready to say your final goodbye, the coffin or casket will be lowered in the ground. At this point, mourners will traditionally scatter soil onto the coffin or drop flowers into the grave.
You will be given time to leave floral tributes next to the grave and pay your final respects. This is an important part of the burial service as it gives family and friends the chance to personally reflect and say goodbye to the person they have lost. If you decide to hold a wake or reception, you will then leave and come back together with the many people there to celebrate the life and love of the deceased.
How is the grave marked in a burial service?
There is no legal obligation to provide a headstone or memorial for a grave. Even so, the majority of people choose to have one as they are a symbolic way to mark the person’s life.
You do not need to have the headstone or grave marker ready for the burial service. Some people wait weeks, if not years to place the memorial at the grave. In fact, if you choose to have a headstone at the grave, you cannot put this in place until the ground has settled, which can take up to six months.
A headstone or marker will normally say the name of the person who has passed, the date of their birth and death and may also include personal information such as images or a meaningful quote.
The type of headstone or memorial you choose is also a personal choice. Different options include:
- Flat markers – these lie flat on the ground at the head of the grave, flush within the grass
- Bevel markers – these tend to be around 8 inches thick and lie flat on the ground at the head of the grave, but above the grass
- Slant markers – these are sometimes called ‘pillow stones’ and are around 18 inches tall. They sit flat on the ground with the front of the stone angled backwards
- Monuments – commonly called ‘headstones’, these are the traditional tablets that stand upright from the ground
- Ledgers – these are usually 8 inches thick and lie flat across the entire length of the grave. They can be engraved or include an additional monument at the head
Whatever you decide on, keep in mind that a headstone or memorial will take around 8 – 12 weeks to be completed.
Can a funeral celebrant help me with the burial service?
As well as leading the ceremony, a funeral celebrant is there to help you craft the perfect goodbye. And this is where we can really help you.
You can browse our huge range of celebrants in our Funeral celebrant Directory. We hope you will find one that you connect with… one that will be alongside you to create a final farewell befitting of your precious loved one.
We have also created a useful checklist for planning a funeral – you can download it here. We hope it helps you through this difficult time.