Funeral directors, also known as undertakers, or morticians in the US, can be found on most high streets and in cities across the country. But what do they do? While we all know them as the people to go after someone we love has passed away, the specificities of a funeral director's role may be somewhat unfamiliar to a lot of us.
From collecting the deceased to supporting loved ones after the funeral, funeral directors are with you for as much of the process as you want them to be. They're there to help you with whatever you feel you need. In this article, we're going to discuss what funeral directors do, what they're there for, and whether you need one at all.
The role of a funeral director
The main purpose of a funeral director is to help you to organise a funeral. When planning a funeral, there are a lot of different elements to consider, from the venue and officiant to flowers and catering, and so a funeral director is there to offer advice and put everything together. Most people are not very experienced in organising funerals, and so having someone on your side who is familiar with the process can be really helpful — especially given the fact that funerals are arranged at what is often an emotionally difficult time.
Organising a funeral
When someone we love passes away, the prospect of planning a funeral can feel overwhelming. As well as the organisation for the funeral itself — and following memorial, if you have one — there are additional legal considerations, and the body itself may have to be moved from a home or other place of residence. This can all feel like a lot to manage, and this is where funeral directors come in. They will deal with administration, burial or cremation arrangements, and funeral specifics such as the venue, officiant, order of service, and even flowers. They also take care of any legal requirements surrounding a cremation or burial.
A funeral director will often start by taking the deceased's body into their care. They will then meet with the deceased's loved ones to explain how the process will work, their wishes for the funeral, and to learn more about the deceased. This can help them to personalise the funeral and better understand what the deceased may have wanted. Following this, the funeral director will begin to organise funeral arrangements, offering guidance to friends and family along the way. You can usually go and visit the body before the funeral, if this is something you want to do.
Funeral directors organise the funeral based on what you want, so make sure to share with them any thoughts or wishes you have. They're there to help and make things easier for you, so if you have any questions or there's anything you aren't sure of, make sure to ask them.
Supporting loved ones
As well as their role in organising the logistics of a funeral, a funeral director also offers support to friends and family in the lead up to, on the day of, and after the funeral. At the first meeting you will have with a funeral director, they will try and get to know you and the deceased. Here, they will explain the process to you and are there to support you both emotionally and practically.
Before the funeral takes place, you can get in touch with the funeral director whenever you want if you have any questions or concerns about the process. The practical support a funeral director provides can be invaluable: given the emotions we are facing when we lose a loved one, having someone with experience on our side can make a huge difference to the stress we feel.
On the day of the funeral, the funeral director is there to make sure everything happens as and when it should. Transport of the closest loved ones to the funeral is usually organised by the funeral director, and they are often available at the funeral itself to help with any questions and organisation.
When the funeral is over, funeral directors can help with the burial or cremation, such as by collecting the ashes for you or helping you to find a headstone. They can also help with administrative tasks such as handing over donations collected at the service. Most importantly, they can direct you to bereavement support and help you to find ways to move forward after a difficult time.
Finding and choosing a funeral director
When looking for a funeral director, it's a good idea to start by searching for one affiliated with an official body such as the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD). This ensures that the funeral director you choose will meet specific requirements and codes mandated by the organisation.
With fewer and fewer people in the UK identifying as religious, there is an ever-increasing list of ways you can celebrate the lives of your loved ones. Funeral directors are there to help fulfil your wishes, whether you want a priest, vicar, rabbi, imam, or a civil funeral celebrant, among many other options. Most towns and cities have more than one funeral director, and you may choose based on a range of factors — whether a recommendation you've received from friends and family, a director's popularity, their ability to cater to your wishes, or on a cost basis.
Asking the right questions
One of the most common deciding factors for many people is the funeral director's fees — on average, the majority of a funeral cost is that which you pay to a funeral director. It's important to keep in mind that you can contact multiple funeral directors before committing to one, so don't be afraid to ask around directors in your area for a quote.
If you're wondering what their most cost-effective option is, you can ask a funeral director how much their simplest service costs. As of 2021, funeral directors in the UK are legally required to display a Standardised Price List at their premises and on their website which includes the headline price of a funeral, the price of individual items that make up the costs and the price of certain additional products and services they offer — if you can’t find this easily or a funeral director doesn’t produce this when asked, this may be a bad sign for their trustworthiness in other areas.
While from the outside, it may seem that the business of funeral directing is very traditional, there is actually a huge range of funeral types. Most funeral directors have experience catering to diverse communities and so are generally able to accommodate your wishes, whether you want a service that's religious and traditional, secular and slightly more unconventional, or any combination of the two. There are many ways to personalise a funeral, but if you aren't sure that a funeral director will be able to cater to you, you can always ask.
To put it simply: if there is anything at all that you'd like to know before committing to a funeral director, you can usually visit them in person or contact them via phone or email.
Do you need a funeral director?
It is possible to organise a funeral service without a funeral director, and many people opt to do this in order to cut down funeral costs. There are a number of guides online to arranging a funeral by yourself, but the most straightforward way to do this is with a direct cremation.
A direct cremation is where you do not have a traditional funeral service with the deceased present, but instead, the body is immediately cremated. Direct cremations are by far the cheapest option because there is not any kind of service included. It is important to properly research a direct cremation as some people may regret not having a service — so before choosing this make sure you have a full understanding of what having a direct cremation actually means for you.
Many people who choose direct cremation do separately organise a memorial of some kind, whether this be meeting at the home of the deceased or their loved ones, at the deceased's favourite place, or having an interment of ashes or ashes-scattering ceremony. In this way, they can offer a lot more choice to loved ones as once you have received the ashes, the service can be held anywhere. For some, having a memorial at the deceased's home or favourite place is just as meaningful as having the deceased present at a funeral service. As there is no funeral with a direct cremation, there is no need for the services of a funeral director.
You can also organise a funeral service yourself, without the help of a funeral director. This still significantly reduces cost. However, it means you will have to organise everything yourself, including moving the body and any subsequent legal requirements. If this is something you are considering, it is certainly worth looking into — it is also possible to use a funeral director and cut costs in other ways, if this is something you are worried about.
It's about what you need
Most people in the UK use funeral directors when organising a funeral, but this by no means it's the only right thing to do. When someone we love passes away, our feelings are so personal and specific to us that the most important thing is what you feel that you need — you know your loved one better than anyone else. If you choose not to use a funeral director, however, you may need to seek bereavement support elsewhere: many Churches and religious communities offer support for those who have lost someone, and if you aren't religious, you can look online or on local noticeboards to see if there are any established support groups in your area. There are also many UK charities and services such as AtALoss which can help you to get help when you have lost someone.