Real Funerals – Nan

I’m going to be sharing some real funeral stories on The Winding Sheet. I hope these will help inspire, comfort and instill some confidence in your own abilities to organise a beautiful funeral when the time comes. We can learn so much from other people’s experiences (both positive and negative). We can gain some brilliant practical advice from these accounts but sometimes it’s enough just to know you are not alone and your ideas are not strange or disrespectful and it’s perfectly reasonable to insist everyone wears pink or that the Macerena gets played on repeat during the whole thing.

clown funeral

To start these true tales off I’m going to tell you about my nan’s funeral.

The year nan died we lost five family members in the space of about two months (including nan). It was, quite obviously, awful. As a result we attended a string of funerals all equally sad and sombre and upsetting. It sounds strange to say it but nan’s was really the best funeral I’ve ever been to. Obviously there were certain factors that made it less sad and more celebratory. Reaching a good old age and having a lovely life being two of the main ones. However, there was more to it than that. And that’s not to say that the other funerals were ‘bad’ of course, it’s just the difference in the atmosphere was quite remarkable.

My nan was always very frank about death and had no problem discussing her funeral with us A LOT (no prizes for guessing where my death positivity comes from). This meant that all her wishes could be catered for and no one was left second guessing what she wanted. No church, no black clothes and she wanted to be taken to the burial ground in the boot of our car.

Nan’s funeral was held in July 2004.  Alternative and green burials were relatively new at that time and there was definitely a lack of information about all the options available. We wanted to do as much as possible ourselves but were given the impression that this just wasn’t possible. We ended up hiring a ‘traditional’ funeral director and let them take over the parts we were advised against doing ourselves.  Knowing what I do now I will always regret this.

We hired a humanist celebrant to help us with the ceremony. We did this because we were worried that if emotions took over we would be unable to keep the ceremony running along and we wanted someone there who could gently guide us through it.

We found this green woodland burial site in Olney which is set in stunning countryside with sheep roaming around and songbirds trilling.  Pretty idyllic.  The staff were incredibly helpful and compassionate and went out of their way to make sure everything was perfect.

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We chose a gorgeous wicker coffin which was completely covered in stunning flowers. It was so beautiful my dad wanted to take a photo of it but the idea got frowned upon. I wish we had done it now as I’d love to be able to look back on what was a true celebration of life (I’ll talk more about photography at funerals in a later post). We had filled the coffin with messages and drawings and scattered flowers on the top of it after it had been lowered into the hole.


Everyone wore their brightest party clothes and we all told funny stories about nan, listened to country music and cried together. It was perfect. We still talk about it now and reminisce about the funny things that happened. Like our little cousin getting stuck down the cattle grill and when another one mistook the tarp over the earth mound to be someone camping amongst the graves.

A few months later once the grave had settled we went back for a tree planting ceremony. We chose a species that produces a lot of berries that attract birds. We go back every year to plant wild flowers (appropriate for the local eco system) and admire how big our tree is growing.

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It’s probably unnecessary to say this but EVERY SITUATION IS DIFFERENT. What’s right for you might not be right for the next person and as I’ve stated previously this blog is not about preaching a right or wrong answer when it comes to funerals. It’s about having the freedom, information and confidence to make your own choices. Only you know what’s right for your family. Follow your instincts and listen to what your internal voice is telling you.

For us this funeral was nothing short of perfect. To go from traditional church services and cremations to standing on a hillside overlooking flocks of sheep was literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air. I felt we had more room to grieve and the less formal atmosphere let us express ourselves more fully and do what we needed to do in order to start healing. It was a real awakening for me and several other members of our family. Nan may have been the first of our gang to have a green burial but I can guarantee she is definitely not the last.


Nan’s tree in the autumn

I’ll just leave you with one of the songs we played at her funeral. Nan didn’t have a bank account. She kept all her money in a Don Estelle record sleeve. This one’s for you Nan xxxx

If you have any questions about green or alternative funerals or in fact anything funeral related please don’t hesitate to email me at

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