Celebrant Views

A More Holistic Approach to Funerals

A More Holistic Approach to Funerals

I don’t think the role of a funeral director has changed much over the years but I do think its time to incorporate a more holistic approach to funerals.

I was fortunate enough to attend (via Zoom) the National Celebrant Convention 2021.  There were some truly interesting, and informative speakers.  But there was one who blew my mind.  Everything about his presentation was uplifting and forward thinking.  He is basically modernising the Funeral Director industry.  David Billington is a Funeral Director at Full Circle Funerals.

It is interesting to look for a new model for a more holistic approach to funerals. The growth of the celebrant industry is one way that helps those grieving in a more holistic way than the traditional protocol.  But Full Circle seem to have reinvented the role of the funeral director and offer a more rounded package of help, support and advice.

Full Circle Funerals is “a female-led, forward thinking, modern firm of Funeral Directors” with 5 branches in the Leeds area and the first franchise about to open in Manchester.  The firm take a holistic approach to funerals recognising that offering more control, input and choices to the bereaved really helps the grieving process.

It is on this exact premise, that I wanted to become a funeral celebrant. 

I wanted to throw away the rule book.  Spend time really listening to the families and create, from scratch a unique, and personal memorial/life celebration for the person they were grieving.  I wanted to offer any number of songs, readings, dress codes, alternative venues and rituals based on what we discussed, so that their farewell not only truly reflected the person they had lost but gave them the opportunity to enact and engage in activities that would aid their grieving.

My role, like theirs is one of compassion, friendship, advocacy and empowerment.  By truly taking time I am able to offer unique solutions to the family.

Offering alternative and personalised solutions

This could be simple things to start with like, knowing you do not need to acquire a coffin via your funeral director.  That there are alternatives to coffins  and that there are all sorts of options when it comes to both burials and cremations.

Or pointing out that the service does not need to happen at a church or crematorium.  But can take place absolutely anywhere including your own home.

That a service does not need to happen on the same day as the commitment and can be done before or after, or both.  Also, if you have opted for cremation it can be, what is known as a direct cremation. A direct cremation is one with no-one in attendance.  You can still have a life celebration/memorial with eulogies, readings and songs but you can conduct your service/celebration/ remembrance elsewhere and even at a completely different time.

Its even worth suggesting that it is possible to have more than one event based in different locations, potentially with different groups of friends and family and with completely different feel is often not only helpful but quite a relief to those trying to organise the farewell.

A particularly lovely idea presented by Full Circle was the idea of getting a plain cardboard coffin and having an event prior to the funeral where certain people gather to reminisce and decorate the coffin.  I was moved by David’s story of one lady who had lost her partner suddenly and unexpectedly; who took a cardboard coffin to her house and lovingly spent time on her own gathering her memories, cuttings, adding artwork and quotes to the box prior to the cremation.  It afforded her time to reflect, meditate and come to terms with her loss and enabled her to find solace in her grief.


I have written before about alternative and eco burial options but, until this conference, the word RESOMATION was not part of my vocabulary.  In fact I was still getting excited about the possibility of an alternative to burial being human composting and its ability to offer a ‘greener’ solution to burials  both in requiring less space and in helping return us to Mother Earth.

What is resomation?

The process is also known as bio-cremation, flameless cremation or water cremation.  Simply put, it is alkaline hydrolysis; the use of a strong water soluble alkali (sodium or potassium hydroxide) and heat.  The solution has a caustic effect and quickly dissolves the body into the liquid.

Resomation uses significantly less energy and emits significantly less greenhouse gasses than flame cremation.   It is a solution that many people will be grateful for and is a much needed environmental solution.

It was developed in 2005 by a  company called Bio-Response solutions and in 2007, a Scottish biochemist by the name of Sandy Sullivan, started a company making the machines,  and named the process and her company RESOMATION.  In 2017 Rowley Regis Crematorium became the first in the UK to permission to extend its premises to include a resomation machine.  Resomation is yet to gain a foothold in the UK but there are now 18 state in the USA who approve it.   I imagine there were similar reservations when cremation was introduced in 1874 as an alternative to burial!

Modernising the Funeral Industry

Full Circle  was founded by ladies with backgrounds in health, social and pastoral care meaning they have the experience to help people to work out what might be helpful for them while making funeral arrangements. And they offer so much more within their communities like education and bereavement support.  I sincerely hope this is a model that spreads far and wide, because as wonderful as most funeral directors are; and as compassionate and sensitive as they are;  this holistic and flexible approach seems like a perfect and appropriate modernisation of an age old profession.

Other ideas for a more holistic approach to grief , funerals and memorials.

As well as having greater choice in the type of coffin /shroud; where to obtain it from and what type of burial or cremation you would like; there are so many other ideas to help those left behind through the grieving process and saying ‘farewell’.

After death care

Dealing with grief is not helped by the ‘mystery’ of what happens to the body after a person dies.  Did you know that it is not essential to have the body removed as soon as a person has died?  Did you know that you are allowed to help wash and dress the body if you want to  either at home or alongside the funeral director?  You may wish to do the persons makeup yourself?

It is possible to get support to keep the body of your loved one at home for a few days after death or until their funeral.  You can get advice on how to clean and care for the deceased until it is time to say the final goodbye. You can create a sense of ritual by using music and candles or just sit in privacy and comfort gently getting to know that their life has gone and your relationship has changed forever.

Don’t restrict yourself to one ‘farewell’

Consider having more than one ‘event’.  If you have lots of different people and lots of different ideas for ways you want to honour or remember a person, then go for it.  Some people want a church service, others a crematorium.  Some might want to read eulogies in the garden or at a place that holds specific significance to them or their loved ones.  Others may want to create something; partake in an activity or have a wild party.  You can do some or all of these things with the same or different groups of people who want to say goodbye.

Getting the coffin in advance

You can have the cardboard coffin sent to your home and decorate it yourself or with your friends and family.  Another idea is to invite people to write a personal message on it, or stick on a photo that holds a special memory; or the lyrics of a song.  A wicker coffin  is perfect to have flowers and trinkets woven into it.

Something other than a wreath

Why not use home grown flowers, flowers from the hedgerow or dried flowers  if you want a display at the service.  How about posies or single flowers; perhaps everyone brings a flower from their own garden and lays them on the coffin, or weave them into a wicker one… or floats them down a river.  Or what about scattering seeds.

Video and photo montages

More and more people are putting together montages on video to play at a service.  One idea is to invite everyone to send in a photo that is meaningful to them.  You can create a collage or album in advance  and also create a video montage.


Its far more common these days to pick music other than traditional hymns for funerals, but what about live music?  And I’m not talking traditional church choir, although, obviously that is an option.  What about a singer, harpist, jazz band or something else that reflects the person you are remembering.

Live broadcasts and recordings

Since lockdowns throughout 2020/2021 it has become far more common to live broadcast a service taking placer in a church or crematorium.  But there is no reason why you should not choose to have a videographer or professional photographer and produce a more permanent memorial of the farewell.







(1) Comment

  1. Excellent and informative post on an important topic.

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