All About the Humanist Funeral

The humanist funeral does what it says on the tin: It puts the human experience at the centre of the ceremony, rather than being religiously guided.
All About the Humanist Funeral

Before we get into the funeral specs, let’s first consider humanism. Or, in other words, the humanistic worldview that a humanist generally identifies with. It’s unlike a religion, but rather a label that can apply to a range of principles held by non-religious people, whose main concern is with leading an ethical and fulfilling life on the basis of reason, science and humanity. For humanists, there is no mysterious, supernatural side to the universe – i.e. no afterlife. But they believe the time we are given on Earth is a precious one-time-only gift to be used wisely.

In practice, this means the humanist approach emphasises the important things in life, such as the value of family and the community, and always being kind and tolerant toward others. In contrast to putting revelation and religious authority on a pedestal, this world view is distinguished by placing moral action in the welfare of humanity, rather than in fulfilling the will of a God.

What Makes a Funeral, Humanist?

The humanist attitude that people can live an honest, meaningful life without following a formal religious creed, undoubtedly informs the way humanists do death. The occasion becomes an opportunity to acknowledge the end of an individual’s consciousness and that their death is simply nature taking its course. They recognise that when a person dies, they are clearing the way for a new life, and the way they led their life, their happiness and experiences are engraved into history. They live on through experiences and memories held dear by their loved ones.

The end of life ceremony itself does away with any mentions of God or faith, and may have a strong appeal for people who did not necessarily lead a religious life. Becoming more and more popular, the future of funerals is changing in this way. Instead, the emphasis in the humanist funeral is always fully and completely on the deceased - the life they led, the relationships and stories and quirks that defined their identity. 

Another element that sets the humanist funeral ceremony apart is that it is conducted by a humanist funeral celebrant. It is both a celebration of life and a dignified personal farewell. The celebrant will often work closely with family members or close friends to write the personalised tribute. This includes spending time with them before the funeral, to get to know them and understand their wishes (and the wishes of the deceased if they wisely prepared their online Will!).

Other Elements of the Humanist Funeral

Despite being secular, the humanist funeral service might share some similarities with more traditional proceedings, such as including readings, songs and a eulogy of a person who has died. The service may even follow the format of traditional funerals. Typically it will be held before the cremation or burial. There is often also some time carved out for a joyous moment of reflection among guests.

In terms of location, humanist funerals can take place in crematoria or cemeteries, depending on the way in which the body is being laid to rest. As for the memorial ceremony (sans cremation/burial), this can be held anywhere the heart desires. It would most likely be a location that was special to the deceased, or simply an accessible spot for loved ones to gather to celebrate the person’s life.

Some Humanist Inspo

Humanist funerals can be poetic and full of meaning, and the words spoken may draw on a wide range of sources given the proceedings do not involve any excerpts from religious texts. 

Some popular humanist funeral poems and readings that might be incorporated include:

  • When I am Dead, My Dearest - Christina Rossetti
  • The Life That I Have - Leo Marks
  • Death (If I Should Go) - Joyce Grenfell
  • Roads Go Ever On - JRR Tolkein
  • Death Sets a Thing Significant - Emily Dickinson
  • Play Jolly Music at My Funeral - Richard Greene
  • Dear Lovely Death - Langston Hughes
  • Requiem - Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep - Mary Elizabeth Frye

Ultimately, whichever words are chosen should evoke the legacy of the deceased: how they have lived a fulfilled life and how they’ve connected with other people and with nature along the course of it.

Wrap up

Celebrations that commemorate life’s most important milestones and moments are deeply important to all involved. Willed’s service is designed to help you create a funeral ceremony that will honour your loved one, regardless of whether they lived with or without religion. Willed’s knowledgeable support staff will take care of the tough stuff, so you can focus on the life your loved one led, the relationships they forged, and the legacy they left. Our humans are here for you.

Speak with the team at Willed today by calling 1300 945 533.

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