Last updated 31st May 2019
Unusual send offs — alternative and non‑religious funerals
We’re lucky enough to live in an age where almost anything goes and the logical next step in our new found freedom is how we’re choosing to leave this world. These days traditional and religious funerals are still popular, but alternative and non–religious funerals are being chosen more frequently.
You can now have a send off inspired by anything from science fiction (or is it fact?), and technology to history and the natural world without a chapel, a crematorium or even a coffin.
If you’re thinking about planning your funeral and are looking for something a little bit out of the ordinary, here are just a few of the non‑religious funerals and very different goodbyes currently on offer.
The Hollywood image of a beautifully carved Viking longboat set alight by a fireball arrow, floating out to sea, was reserved for high ranking Vikings. Boats were too valuable for every Tom, Dick and Erik.
These days, sending a burning boat out into the shipping lane isn’t the done thing but that didn’t stop one devoted widower fulfilling his wife’s last wish to pay homage to her Scandinavian roots. He built a replica 3‑foot vessel to carry her ashes, set it on fire and watched it float off into the sunset. Quite a romantic way to go!
A Pagan funeral can be a bit of mystery, mainly because the beliefs can differ greatly from one Pagan to another and there is no set structure. However generally they are quite a beautiful and mystical ceremony with reincarnation a key focus.
Often conducted outdoors, the elements of air, earth, fire and water are brought into the ceremony.
Strong religious belief is declining and in recent years alternative, non–religious funerals have become more popular, particularly Humanist funerals presided over by a celebrant, rather than a minister.
Humanist funerals don’t look to the afterlife, instead they focus on the person’s life, what they brought to this world and the impact they had on those around them. It’s also an opportunity to pay tribute to the people who played an important part in the deceased’s life.
Since arriving on our shores in the early 1990s, woodland burials have really taken off as an ecological choice for a non‑religious funeral. Not only are they kind to the environment, they can also be cheaper than a more conventional funeral, as the body is laid to rest pretty much in its natural state to avoid polluting the woodland with embalming chemicals.
Burial at sea
Contrary to popular belief, a burial at sea is not only for former sailors or naval personnel. Anyone can opt for a watery end, but you can’t conduct a sea funeral wherever takes your fancy. There are only 2 designated locations in the UK and for very good reason. While the chances are low, the sites have been carefully chosen to avoid any risk of the body returning to shore or being caught up in nets.
While sea burials are considered quite a green way to go, only a few dozen take to the high seas each year.
Burial at home
If you think a burial in the garden is only for the aristocracy who can afford an elaborate crypt in their sprawling grounds, you’d be wrong.
So long as Government guidelines are followed, you can be buried in your own back garden along with the family pet. However, you might want to think about how long the home will stay in the family as you need to register it on the deeds and it could put off alot of potential buyers.
Donating your body helps medical students learn life saving techniques and gives medical science more opportunity to explore cures — both priceless gifts to future generations.
It’s growing in popularity, in part because it’s the cheapest option. Once the body has provided all the learning it can, a simple funeral is arranged and paid for by the medical school. Be warned though, medical schools only need a limited number of specimens and are under no obligation to accept a body that has been donated.
For a mere £90,000 you can sidestep a funeral all together and have your body cryonically preserved, in the hope medical science finds a way to bring you back to life at some point in the future.
Only 150 people have ever gone through the process. Maybe it’s the price or the thought of waking up in a completely different century that’s putting people off.
Plastination replaces body fluids with a curable liquid polymer that preserves the body. This has mad scientist written all over it (have you seen Gunther von Hagens?), but it’s drawn a lot of interest around the world.
Thousands of people who long to be immortalised have registered to donate their bodies for plastination, but getting to the front of the queue is a long shot. Just one body takes up to 1,500 man hours to complete!