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Funerals - A celebration of life

A recent survey found that 80% of people questioned wanted funerals that celebrated life rather than marking death. It seems that the taste for Victorian style pomp and heavy mourning is declining, and there’s a move towards farewell parties that reflect the life of the departed. Even so, the UK population’s reluctance to address this emotive subject can cause difficulties when someone dies. Grieving relatives can be left to pay for the funeral out of the deceased person’s estate, planning what they think their loved one would have wanted, often without having any clear idea about what that might involve. The choices are many. Funerals today might include music associated with the person who died, poetry, a humanist or non-religious ceremony, even a woodland burial. The survey showed that people want welcoming funeral parlours (even the word is Victorian), customised coffins, maybe a release of doves and scattering ashes out to sea. And why not? The liberalisation of the funeral is partly due to the growth of consumerism, in which choice is the key word, and a sense of individualism to replace traditional ritual. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea:  for some mourners ritual is comforting and predictable, but for others it is an unnecessary interference with their personal grief and their relationship with the departed. Traditional funerals survive also because most people do not wish to contemplate their own demise and don’t plan in advance. But leaving clear instructions and getting the ending right can add meaning and give extra comfort to those who mourn. 

The Woodland burial is one newly developed option, proving increasingly popular in the UK, as many people find traditional mourning customs of black dress and hearse, and cemeteries with headstones impersonal and inappropriate to their wishes

What is Woodland Burial ? It’s the planting of trees as living memorials, allowing families to have a service which they feel is most appropriate to their loved ones wishes, whether religious or non-religious.

Where do they take place ? In woodlands in rural areas of natural beauty. Hinton Park woodland burial ground in the Christchurch New Forest of Dorset has been in existence for nearly 7 years.  During this time over 850 burials have been carried out, with a further 3,000 burial plots being pre-purchased for future burials. There are woodland burial ground sites in almost every county in the UK.  In total there are over 200 woodland burial sites in the UK.

How do they work? Woodland burials plant trees as living memorials after the burial and do not use headstones. The trees produce growing woodland for the years ahead. There is usually a wide choice of trees and many woodland burial grounds also have small name plaques to go with the tree.

Location and surroundings Woodland Burial Grounds are set in areas of natural countryside and for many families the beauty of the surroundings help make their sad situation that little bit easier. The burial grounds support a variety of wildlife and some have added features such as Hinton Park in Christchurch which has a deer paddock, Shetland pony fields and a lake.

What kind of service? Whatever is wanted. Services are arranged in strict accordance with the wishes of the deceased and their families. Even time of day may be a matter of choice. Some woodland burial grounds have hearses and vehicles which are not black, with drivers dressed in grey or dark green. Services can be traditional religious services or more tailored to personal wishes. Families can even organise and conduct the funeral service themselves or make very specific requests about how they would like the service to be. These have included a bagpipe player in the distance, a New Orleans style jazz band playing at the burial, poetry being read, music requested and even fireworks.

What does a Woodland Burial cost? A traditional burial today usually costs between £1000 and £1600, excluding the headstone. A traditional cremation costs around £1,100. Woodland Burials cost on average between £600 and £1,200 depending on location. If no outside funeral director is involved, the total cost will almost certainly be less. Some woodland burial grounds also arrange cremation, with costs usually less than £800.
The Help the Aged pre-paid funeral plan gives you the opportunity to plan and pay for your funeral in advance. The plan is provided in partnership with British company, Golden Charter, is inflation-proof and you are guaranteed acceptance, regardless of age or condition of health. Help the Aged website:

Facts and figures about funerals

Europeans are far more comfortable about discussing death and planning for their funeral than their UK counterparts, and this relaxed attitude has led to more than half of the funerals taking place in many European countries being planned and paid for in advance.