A guide to what happens at a funeral

A funeral is a very personal service and will usually reflect the wishes of your loved one. Some people may have taken out a prepaid funeral plan before a death has occurred, or if the death was unexpected, the bereaved families choose how they would like to say goodbye to their loved one.

Here is our guide to what happens at a funeral.

People singing a hymn at a funeral service

What happens on the day of a funeral?

On the day of a funeral, the funeral director will transport your loved one from the funeral home or family home to the funeral service in a traditional hearse. We have a large network of funeral vehicle providers and can offer unique alternative travel arrangements including: a horse-drawn hearse, 4×4 Land Rover, a motorcycle hearse, VW Campervan etc.
Any pre-selected flowers or photo tributes will also be placed alongside the coffin. A procession of cars or limousines may follow behind including a vehicle carrying the close family and friends of the deceased.

Who walks in first at a funeral?

There is no right or wrong order, each service is catered to the family wishes. The order is down to the next of kin to decide.

Who sits in front at a funeral?

Traditionally close friends and family sit on the front row closest to the coffin of their loved one. However, it is up to the family to decide who sits there.

What happens at a funeral service?

Every funeral is different, and the order of service will depend on the personal requests of the deceased and their family. That being said, most funeral services follow a similar layout:

  • Funeral procession – pallbearers will carry the coffin into the venue hosting the funeral.
  • Ceremony – this usually lasts 30-45 minutes and is usually lead by a member of the clergy or a celebrant. However, certain denominations may require a longer service.
  • Committal service – after the ceremony ends, your loved one will be taken away to be cremated or buried. This may be at a separate location.

What to expect during a funeral?

The funeral service is typically led by a member of the clergy or a celebrant, but anyone who was close to the person who has died can do it. A funeral service may include eulogies, funeral hymns, readings, and music. Some families will also choose to include a photo or video slideshow.

What happens after the funeral service?

It is common for family members to wait at the exit and thank guests as they leave the funeral. If it’s a burial, the coffin will be transported to the cemetery or burial ground where pallbearers or a team organised by your Funeral Director will lift the coffin and lower it into the grave.

What to expect when attending an open-casket funeral?

If you’re planning to attend a funeral with an open-casket, the body of the person who has died will be visible. For some, this can offer a source of comfort, while others feel uncomfortable seeing the body of their loved one. If you don’t want to view the body it’s perfectly acceptable to take a seat and not approach the coffin.

What happens at a cremation?

  • Funeral procession arrives at the crematorium – pallbearers place the coffin on a catafalque or raised platform. This may be at a different location to the service.
  • Guests gather and service commences – a cremation service usually lasts 30-45 minutes.
  • Committal begins – once the service ends, the congregation will leave, and the cremation will take place. Some crematoriums will close the curtains or lower the coffin out of sight.

For more information, please see our guide: What happens at a cremation service.

What happens at a burial?

  • Funeral procession arrives at the burial ground – the coffin will be removed from the hearse and carried to the grave.
  • Mourners gather – here the person leading the service, a celebrant or member of the church, will say a few words.
  • Coffin is lowered – pallbearers or a team organised by your Funeral Director will lower the coffin into the grave.

For more information about woodland burials, please see our guide.

What happens at a wake?

A wake, also known as a reception, is where mourners gather to reflect on the life of their loved one. It normally happens straight after a cremation or burial and can be held at a family home or other appropriate venue. Some families will host a memorial service on the one-year anniversary of their loved one’s death.

How long does a funeral usually last?

Depending on the religion and where the service is held, funerals usually last 30-45 minutes.

What time are most funerals?

Funeral timings will vary depending on what the family organise with the Funeral Director. They can occur any time throughout the week, including weekends and bank holidays depending on your local crematoriums’ rules and regulations.

What to wear at a funeral?

For advice on what to wear at a funeral you can view our full guide here.

Taking children to funerals

Children can attend funerals. If you are concerned for a child attending a funeral, there are ways to make it easier for them to understand and feel comfortable. For example, your chosen Funeral Director could show them round the crematorium before the service. It is a good idea to explain to them in detail what will happen throughout the day, so they know what to expect. We have put together this guide – Should children go to funerals? – to help with your decision.

For more information about the day of the funeral, please contact your local funeral home

What to wear to a funeral

If you have never attended a funeral before, deciding what to wear can be difficult.

Compare Cremation Funeral Services

Cremation services usually involve a gathering of family and friends and a cremation committal to say goodbye to a loved one.

Letting people know

Picking up the telephone to tell close family or complete strangers such as an employer about the death is usually difficult.

Further Reading: Arranging a funeral

Read about how funerals are arranged and what services you can expect to get.