As if the heartache of losing a loved one wasn’t difficult enough, grieving relatives are often faced with the struggle of being able to afford a fitting funeral, with the average cost of ceremonies now around £4,000.
But one Kent family took a different route when their mother passed away, which saw them doing everything from making the coffin to conducting the service themselves. Joe Crossley reports on why more people are turning to DIY funerals…
When retired English lecturer Faith Chantler died in St Brelades Care Home in Herne Bay, aged 74, her family were faced with a dilemma.
One of her daughters, Ellen, had flown over from New Zealand and wanted to be there with her loved ones to lay her beloved mum to rest.
But when the family received quotes from funeral directors, they were told it would be at least three weeks before they could arrange a burial, meaning she would likely miss the ceremony.
It was then they learned of another way – they could do it themselves.
By opting for a natural burial, they could arrange the transportation of the body, the making of a coffin, the burial itself and the service, all without a funeral director.
Her mum, an English lecturer at the University of Kent, had wanted to be buried in Wickhambreaux churchyard and had told her daughter that as she was a “feeder in life” she wanted her body “to go and feed in death; even if it’s just worms”.
They decided a natural burial would be a perfect fit and Rowena says, if her mum had not been suffering from dementia towards the end, she would have agreed it was “far more appropriate”.
The Hoath resident had previously assumed there were laws prohibiting people from conducting burials themselves, but this is not the case.
After getting in contact with Kent Natural Burials manager Sian Muir, the family were told all they needed was a death certificate to release the body from A Welch and Sons funeral directors – who were holding the body – as well as the means of transporting their mum to Riverview.
Having received the paperwork four days later, the family arrived to collect her in their VW camper van, and Faith was laid to rest within a week.
The coffin was made out of wooden pallets and constructed by a carpenter friend, who made sure the material was all recycled.
After being carried to the plot and lowered by her family, Faith was buried on March 15, 2022, in a shallow 3ft grave, much closer to the surface than a regular 6ft one to allow it to more quickly return to nature.
While the average cost of a funeral is around £4,000 in the UK, Rowena’s family paid just £1,655 for their bespoke ceremony, which included digging the grave and the plot itself.
They were charged £170 by the funeral directors for holding the body for the week, as well as a further £50 to view the body.
Rowena says the DIY funeral was perfect for the needs of her family and now “massively recommends” natural burials.
She added: “Initially the DIY funeral was all about quickness so my sister could be involved with the funeral but as it then happened it was absolutely perfect.
“We couldn’t have wanted a better burial with 11 of her closest family attending and conducting the service ourselves.
“It wasn’t stiff blokes in black suits, it was my brother in a campervan that my mum was fond of. It seemed so much more appropriate.
“We weren’t on a conveyor belt and turned up when we wanted and could take our time with the burial completely unrushed. We were the only people there the whole time.
“It was us who carried and lowered the coffin which took all the stiffness out of the funeral. We had never carried a coffin out from a van before so it was quite funny.
“By doing it ourselves it took the formality out of the situation and just made it a really nice day without conforming to any of the usual conventions, with my brother and sister saying a few words during the burial.
“The burial can be completely how you want it.
“It has even convinced my husband, who has always said he wanted to be cremated as he doesn't like the thought of being nibbled at in a grave, to say he would like to be buried at a natural burial site.”
The Riverview site, which opened four years ago, is the second opened by Kent Natural Burials.
The firm started up in 2007 on a brownfield site in Deerton, near Teynham.
In less than two decades, more than 650 people have been buried at the site, which has been transformed from an empty field into woodland.
This is part of the attraction of natural burials, as it is a more eco-friendly way of burying a loved one thanks to the planted trees which create further ecology in the form of animals and birds.
Because there are no cremations at the site, no fumes are released into the atmosphere.
Thanks to the environmentally-friendly nature of the burials, their flexibility, and cost-reducing potential, some 300 people have pre-purchased a plot at both sites for when they die.
The success of Kent Natural Burials correlates with the growth in the practice over the last three decades after Carlisle City Council opened the first site in 1993.
Since then more than 270 natural burial sites are now located in the UK.
Despite the growth in the industry, Sian says the “gentle and bespoke” practice is still “relatively unknown”.
At the moment Sian says there is around one burial a week at the Riverview site, which she says will be full in 12 years' time.
She added: “People are given the choice of what coffin they want, what the service will be like, what tree they would like and of course they are given the option to do everything themselves.
“Being buried here you are being very eco-friendly and are giving back to the earth as well as providing a habitat for the animals that come here.”