What’s involved in a D.I.Y. Funeral Service?

In the second of this two-part series I am talking about DIY funeral services. In this post, the assumption I am making is that you have chosen to have a leave-taking service for your loved one.

There are two key parts or functions, if you like, to a “funeral”. The first is the all the things that happen between your loved one dying and their funeral service or memorial and the second is the planning and delivery of the funeral or memorial service. The difference between a funeral and a memorial service is simply that the body of your loved one is present at a funeral and is not at a memorial – although your loved one’s ashes might be present. With those elements defined I will refer to “the service” as a cover-all for funerals, memorials, thanksgiving or leave-taking services.

It is the DIY service for your loved one that I will be talking about in this post.

There are some people who have queried why funeral celebrants get paid ‘as much’ they do… and a few people have asked me why that figure is so low. For those of you that may be unaware – or are paying attention to other things when in grief – what follows are the things that I do as a celebrant, and the things that you can expect a great celebrant to do for you. These are the things that people who want to do a DIY service might not be aware of.


When it comes to so many areas of life – from brain surgery to firefighting – experience is important. It’s the knowledge of what is important in delivering a great outcome; it’s the number of times a professional has undertaken a task; it’s a prepared awareness of all the things that have to be considered; and it’s the ability to foresee what can go wrong and to take appropriate actions to ensure that the service you are receiving is what you expected (or more). There is a seemingly endless list of things that can go wrong at a funeral… horror stories abound. Great and experienced funeral directors and celebrants can help manage the enormous number of details associated with a smooth and wonderful leave-taking service.

Preparation | An Opening Conversation

A funeral celebrant comes to an agreed location – usually the home of the family member who is the person or people responsible for “the service”. The celebrant’s role is to provide as much, or as little, guidance as a family needs to plan, coordinate and deliver “the service”. A conversation to plan a relatively simple “service” can take about 90 minutes to two-hours. For a “service” that involves many tailored or unusual elements; many speakers (four or more); or special and specific ceremonies and rituals within “the service” then many more discussion and hours can be involved.

Preparation | Planning

A great celebrant will help you realise the special or unique elements you might want to include as part of “the service”. They can suggest ideas that you might not have known were possible. They can assist you to understand the limitations that a particular venue might present or how to arrange a venue to allow for the ceremonies or rituals you want to have as part of your service. Essentially, they will be able to take an overarching view to ensure your loved one’s “service” is remembered for all the right reasons.

These possibilities are one reason why it can be appropriate to speak to a celebrant before a funeral director (who is generally responsible for booking a venue) especially if you are looking to have a “service” that is outside what many people might call a “simple service”. And, for many people, a simple “service” is entirely appropriate. For others, they are looking for something different. All options are OK and a great celebrant working alongside a flexible and accommodating funeral director will help you deliver on your ideas.

Preparation | Creating and Designing

Creating a “service” that suits your loved one and your family and friends is crucial. Tailoring opening, closing and ritual elements of the service; selecting or suggesting poetry, prose or readings; creating flow amongst speakers and other elements of the service; using language that is fitting; creating a “service” that is appropriate in length; and making recommendations as to how your desired elements will best fit are some of the key functions of a great celebrant.

Preparation | Co-ordination

Leading up to “the service” a celebrant works in the background with both the funeral director as well as family and friends who will be actively involved in “the service”.
A great celebrant will:

♥ provide the structure and content for the service and provide an overview for the preparation of a printed order of service if one is being made for “the service’

♥ ensure all the speakers have thought about and prepared for their role in “the service”

♥ offer and provide support for speakers to ensure their tributes or eulogies are well-structured, provide enough context and are not repetitive across a number of speakers. Imagine being the last of four speakers and everyone who has gone before you have told all of the stories you wanted to share about your loved one…

♥ provide people speaking with the support, encouragement and strategies to allow for the best possible outcomes when delivering eulogies and tributes or sharing memories

♥ advise the funeral director and the venue of any special requirements for the service, including any music selections and when they will be played during the service

♥ prepare a written copy of “the service” for the family that meets their expectations and the ideas that were discussed, and ensure that they, as the celebrant, are not saying any of the things family members are wanting to talk about.

write a eulogy or the story of your loved one’s life for you. They will also deliver it or support someone else to deliver it.

♥ where circumstances allow, be open to changing ideas or adding new ones


On the day, a great celebrant will arrive ahead of time. For a simple “service”, half an hour ahead is fine. For a more unique or complex “service” earlier than that will be appropriate. If it is important to you, you can ask your celebrant when they will arrive.

A great celebrant will:

♥ make sure they have met all the speakers and offer appropriate support and guidance

♥ provide an overview or a full version of “the service’ as per the funeral director’s preference to ensure “the service” runs smoothly

♥ deliver a service which matches the family’s expectation with respect to the mood and feel requested

Your celebrant is there to help you feel like you have farewelled your loved one in a fitting and appropriate manner, respectful of the fact that for you these are some of the most difficult days experienced in life.

Given all of this, exceptional family led services are possible when there is someone who knows what to look for and take care of. Sometimes, without considering all the things to do – that a great celebrant can bring to your loved one’s “service” – families can miss the opportunity to be in the experience of mourning while seeking to take care of all the details involved in planning, creating, preparing, coordinating and delivery a beautiful and respectful farewell. For some, organising and delivering “the service” can be an important part of the grieving journey. For many others, it is simply more than a grieving mind can manage.

So, with all that is offered here I hope that you have a clearer picture of what is involved in preparing and delivering a great farewell “service” for your loved one and the difference an experienced and great funeral celebrant can make. Before you decide to DIY, I invite you to consider what you are seeking to achieve, gain or benefit from when you DIY a “leave-taking service”. You only get one chance to do a leave-taking service in a way that is befitting for your loved one.

We have just one life…

Jacqui Chaplin

Independent Funeral Information | Life Story Collector & Writer | End of Life Tributes | Easier End of Life Experiences | Funeral Planning and Celebrancy

Just One Life… doing and designing dying and death differently and with dignity and distinction.

For more information on doing dying and death differently or to start thinking about how to handle a death of a loved one before you are overtaken by grief, organise a conversation with Jacqui today.

Call +61 (0)412 741 531 or email jacqui@jacquichaplin.com

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Jacqui Chaplin is a Lifetime & End-of-Life Commemoration Specialist (a funeral celebrant among other things) based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves capturing stories about the nature of life and being human, as well as, celebrating and commemorating well lived lives and lives that have ended. Jacqui has a passion for bringing the conversations that many of us find difficult to think about, let alone speak about, out in the open so we can see how our stories, values and beliefs influence our attitudes.

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