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How to have a funeral without a service

Last updated 15th April 2024
5 min read

A traditional funeral usually includes a service before the deceased is cremated or buried, often in a crematorium or place of worship. However, these days it’s becoming more and more common for a funeral to be held without a service.

There are several reasons why you might choose not to have a funeral service. But if you still want to remember and celebrate someone’s life, you can do this in a number of other ways.

Whether you’re planning ahead for yourself or organising a loved one’s send-off, here are some things to consider before deciding on a funeral service.

Direct cremations and direct burials

A direct cremation is one of the most popular forms of funeral without a service. The deceased is cremated with no ceremony beforehand and no attendees present, and the ashes are given to the family afterwards. Find out more in our article ‘What is a direct cremation?’.

Similar to this is a direct burial. This also skips the service, but instead the deceased is taken straight to the cemetery and buried.

SunLife’s Cost of Dying Report – which looks into funeral prices and trends – has found that both popularity and awareness of direct cremations have continued to grow since the pandemic. Our research has also revealed that, although levels are lower for direct burials, the majority of funeral directors now offer them as an option.

However, just because there’s no service, it doesn’t mean that these types of funerals need to happen in isolation. When we asked those who had organised a direct cremation in recent years, around a third said they held a wake afterwards. A further quarter said they held a memorial service, and around a fifth said they held both. Find out more about these two options later in the article.

What happens at a funeral service?

A funeral service – sometimes also called a funeral ceremony – is what happens between the deceased arriving at the funeral venue and the body being cremated or buried.

Usually, the coffin is transported in a hearse (followed by other vehicles) from the deceased’s home to the crematorium, church, or other venue – this is known as the funeral procession. The pallbearers then carry the coffin inside, and the service begins.

A funeral service can include a number of elements, but some of the most common are:

The service is ultimately an opportunity to remember and celebrate the life of the deceased. It often lasts between 30 and 45 minutes, and is led by a celebrant, a member of the clergy, or even a relative.

After the ceremony has finished, there’s often the committal service. This is where the body is cremated or buried, and may take place at the same or a different location as the funeral service. Many send-offs finish with the wake or reception at another venue or a family home, where mourners can gather and reminisce.

Why choose not to have a funeral service?

A funeral without a service tends to be cheaper than one with. Year after year, our Cost of Dying Report finds that direct cremations are less than half the price of traditional cremations. But in fact, there are several more common reasons for choosing not to have a service.

When we asked those who had arranged a direct cremation what their main reasons were, many responded that it was simpler, quicker, or less stressful to organise.

Others said that a direct cremation had been requested by the deceased, or in some cases, already arranged by them.

Of course, some organisers did report financial concerns – either that they couldn’t afford a funeral with a service, or that they preferred to spend the money on something else.

And during the pandemic, direct cremations grew in popularity significantly as COVID-19 restrictions made minimalist funerals a necessity.

How to remember someone in other ways

Even if the funeral is a simple affair without a service, there’s no reason you or your loved one can’t be remembered in other ways.


One of the most popular options is a wake. Also known as a funeral reception, this is a social gathering of friends and family to celebrate someone’s life or to mourn.

A wake can take many forms, but it often happens just after a funeral, at a venue (such as a church hall, social club, or hotel) or family home. It tends to be more casual than a funeral, and food and drink is usually provided.

If there’s no service, a wake can be a good alternative for people to gather and reminisce. Although it’s common straight after a funeral, a wake can take place at any time. This could be months later or even beforehand, so there’s flexibility to organise one at a time right for you.

Memorial service

A memorial service is similar to a funeral service, except that the body of the deceased isn’t present. There can be eulogies, songs, and poems, but it tends to be a more celebratory ceremony. The service can sometimes take the form of a celebration of life, which aims to be more upbeat and less formal.

Like a funeral service, a memorial service can take place at a crematorium or place of worship – or like a wake, at a private venue or family home. Many people choose to hold the ceremony some time after the funeral, often on a meaningful date (such as the deceased’s birthday or the anniversary of their passing).

If you’re struggling to organise everything following someone’s death, a memorial service may be more suitable than a funeral service. There’s extra time for planning and preparation, and relatives from further afield may be able to attend more easily. You can also tailor the ceremony as much as you like to reflect your loved one’s personality.

Scattering ashes

If someone’s been cremated, it’s common to scatter their ashes in a small ceremony at a place important to them. This makes it an ideal way to say goodbye to those who have had a direct cremation.

There are lots of options for where and how you can do it – take a look at our comprehensive article on scattering ashes for location ideas and ceremony advice.

Plaque, bench, or tree

Another common way to remember a loved one is with a memorial – a physical object that you can visit. This could be many different things, but some of the most popular choices include a plaque or stone, a bench, or planting a tree in memory.

Album, book, or social media

A memorial object could also be a collection of memories to look through, such as a photo album or scrapbook. You can memorialise social media accounts too, which allows friends from near and far to view and share memories on the deceased’s profile.

Other activity

If the idea of any type of service or ceremony is unappealing, you can instead choose a more casual or fitting activity to remember your loved one. It could be as simple as going to their favourite restaurant or bar, doing their favourite hobby or sport, or volunteering for a cause important to them.

More funeral planning articles

Check out our dedicated funeral planning hub for more helpful articles and tools. And if you’re thinking about not having a service, these pages might give you some further inspiration for your funeral options:

The thoughts and opinions expressed in the page are those of the authors, intended to be informative, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SunLife. See our Terms of Use for more info.