Why do people sometimes call a humanist funeral “Celebrating a Life”?

A humanist or secular funeral focuses on celebrating the life of the person who has died, while also expressing the sadness of losing a loved one.

The ceremony allows you to honour and to say goodbye to your loved one.

It will also acknowledge how they’ll live on in the hearts and minds of family and friends.

Humanist funerals are secular funerals and are becoming more and more popular as people who live their lives without religion choose this option to celebrate the life of a loved one in a very personal way.

Where can a humanist  or secular funeral be held?

Humanist  or secular funerals can be held in any suitable venue.  Often they are held in a “chapel” at a crematorium, at the funeral director’s premises, or at the graveside. I have also conducted funerals in family homes and gardens and then gone on to a crematorium or cemetery. Humanist or secular funerals may also be held in a local sports or community hall or perhaps at a hotel.

It’s best to check with your funeral director about suitable venues in your locality.


What’s the format of a humanist or secular funeral?

Generally the ceremony will open with music and the family will enter – with the coffin if appropriate. Then I will welcome people and say the opening words, after which there will likely be contributions from family members or close friends.  If family/friends do not wish to speak, I can speak on your behalf.

The family will usually choose suitable readings and music and other elements – for example placing flowers or mementos. Some venues have facilities to have a photograph on screen or indeed a photo collage. I will bring the ceremony to a close with some final words including a reference to the humanist outlook that focuses on how a person lives on in our hearts and memories. If appropriate I can include thanks on behalf of the family and an invitation to join them for refreshments afterwards. Typically there will be music to conclude / while people exit.

Like any ceremony, live music can be a wonderful addition to a funeral. If there are family members who can play or sing that is lovely. Your funeral director will also have contacts with singers and musicians who can be booked for a funeral.

Recorded music is used by most families and generally funeral venues can play the music you want from a Spotify playlist or similar. Or you can just let me or the funeral director know which songs you want and the venue will find them online.


Does a humanist or secular funeral have to take place at a particular time?

You can arrange a humanist or secular funeral for any time of day, subject to availability of your funeral director, your venue and your celebrant. Crematorium chapels can be busier from mid-morning to lunchtime with families coming from church funerals, so it is often best to arrange a humanist or secular funeral for 10am or for the afternoon.


How long does a humanist or secular funeral take?

That depends on the family and how much you want to include. Generally speaking I’d advise allowing about 40-45 minutes depending on contributions. This includes time for mourners to enter and to exit. In Dublin crematoriums, this typically means you’ll need a ‘double slot’. The shorter time slot is designed for families who have already had a church service.


Who can have a humanist or secular funeral?

Anyone can have a humanist or secular funeral.  If you want to have one yourself, make sure that you make your wishes known to the people who will be making the arrangements. It’s a good idea to put your wishes in writing.

Many funeral directors have booklets available that allow you to make an Advance Funeral Plan. If you have any questions regarding the ceremony, I’d be happy to chat to you about that.


What happens if the venue where we want to have the funeral ceremony can’t accommodate a coffin?

You can, if you wish, arrange to have the cremation in advance – and then have the urn with ashes at the funeral ceremony a few days later. It’s also possible to have a private burial and then have the funeral ceremony later in the day.


Can we have prayers as part of a humanist or secular funeral?

Prayers and references to a spirit world or afterlife do not sit well with the humanist or secular outlook. That said, if it is important to you, you can, of course, include a short prayer as one of the readings to be read by a family member or friend.

If you want to include prayers and other religious elements, but don’t want to go to a mainstream church, there are other funeral celebrants who can do a religious funeral service for you.


How soon after death does a funeral happen?

In Ireland, the tradition is to have funerals very quickly – typically about three days after death, sometimes even less. In my experience dealing with bereaved families this is simply too quick. I would advise, if it suits you and your funeral director, to wait at least five to six days after the death of your loved one.


How do I arrange a humanist or secular funeral for a loved one?

Your funeral director will be able to help you with the arrangements and contact a celebrant on your behalf or you can contact me directly on 087 64 66 162 or siobhan@siobhanwalls.com.


What happens next?

Once I have been contacted and have confirmed I am available to conduct a funeral ceremony, I will get in touch with next of kin and arrange to come and meet with the family. If it is not possible to meet in person, we can talk by phone or Zoom.

I will work with the family to compose a ceremony that is personal and meaningful. I will ask them to tell me a little about their loved one who has died. We will also discuss what they’d like to do in terms of music, who’s going to speak, would anyone like to read a poem, etc. I can also speak on your behalf if you’d like something said, but feel you might be too emotional to speak yourself.

After the meeting I will follow up by email / phone with a running order for the ceremony and over the following couple of days before the funeral I will finalise the ceremony with the family.


How much does it cost?

The fee is €365 of which €40 goes to the Humanist Association of Ireland. If I need to travel some distance and/or the funeral is in two parts, I will add something to this.

Typically your funeral director will pay my fee and include it in the final bill to the family.


Do you have training and experience as a funeral celebrant?

I have been trained and accredited by the Humanist Association of Ireland and have been working as a celebrant since 2014. I conducted my first funeral service during Christmas week 2014 and since then have been celebrant at more than 140 funerals. [April 2024]

I aim to be sympathetic and understanding with a professional focus on providing a funeral ceremony that will be the most appropriate for the circumstances.


Click here – and go to Page 14 – to read a piece about funerals that I contributed to the HAI digital magazine Being Human.

And click here to hear an audio/podcast version of it.