On delaying funeral rites

After my mother died, more than 2 years ago, one of the things I found hard was not having a funeral that included the presence of her body and its final committal for burial or cremation. 

This was as a result of honouring her plan to donate her body for medical education and research for an indefinite period of time after her death.

We held a Thanksgiving and Memorial Service which was beautiful and helpful but inevitably lacked the sense of closure that a burial or cremation can help to give. I wrote something about this last year in a post entitled 'On Not Having a Funeral'.

Since then 'life goes on', the initial rawness of grief has passed. I can talk about my mother without crying. The memories of her last dying weeks are more balanced now with memories of earlier years. I have mostly avoided thinking about how long the wait might be until my mother's mortal remains are cremated, mainly because it is has been uncomfortable to think about  what medical students and researchers might be doing with her body in the meantime. My mother as a living person is someone I think about almost every day, whilst successively blocking thoughts of the current situation of her dead body.

So when a few days ago I opened a letter informing me my mother's funeral and cremation is now arranged for a particular time and place in a few weeks time, I felt shocked. Yes, I knew this letter would arrive eventually but it was still a disconcerting pre-Christmas surprise, which left me feeling for a few hours as numb as on the day of my mother's death.

Now, decisions that my siblings and I did not have to make soon after our mother's death, now demand to be made. The 10 minute service of committal at the crematorium will be led by a medical school chaplain. It will be in a place where none of the family has any connection. We do not have to attend, but we may. That is the 1st decision to make - to attend or not attend? The 2nd decision is flowers or no flowers? That is easy. In these circumstances none of us see the point of flowers on the coffin. The 3rd decision is do we want to receive or not receive the ashes after the cremation? Yes we do, we have decided - we just need to decide who will collect them and when. The 4th decision is what do we do with the ashes? We will probably decide to scatter them in one of the places where we and our mother regularly walked with the dog. There will be many discussions to come about location and timing and yes I do know you are supposed to get permission from the landowner.

This experience is causing me to think how very hard it must be for people who are forced to delay a funeral for really difficult reasons, such as:

  • a death being presumed but no body found
  • or the body being needed for forensic work for a long time following a murder
  • or the recent case in the UK in which the funeral was delayed for months because relatives of different religions were unable to agree on the funeral rite and a court of law had to make the decision.
I'm feeling sad but also grateful:
  • grateful that my mother's death was peaceful
  • grateful that she wanted others to benefit from her death by using her body for medical education and research
  • grateful that we have not had family arguments over any of the things that have had to be done following her death.
  • grateful for knowing that her mortal remains are not her any more. As she rests in Christ, in hope of Resurrection, she has no need of them, for in the new heaven and new earth all is made new.
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth;
for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself with be with them;
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.
And the one who was seated on the throne said,
“See, I am making all things new.”
And he also said,
“Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Then he said to me,
“It is done!
I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the beginning and the end.
To the thirsty I will give water
as a gift from the spring of the water of life.
Those who conquer will inherit these things,
and I will be their God and they will be my children.”


  1. I can well understand your shock, Nancy, but your mother's wishes were honoured and much good came from them. Now you can say a final goodbye and be grateful for her life and your many memories.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I have just been informed that scattering of ashes is not permitted by the landowner of one of our preferred locations. Sometimes I wish I wasn't so law-abiding!

  2. This is something that we have contemplated as a couple, but in the end, decided against it. I think that you and your family were incredibly brave to honour your mothers wishes in this way. I have known a situation where a family endured additional grief, because they were unable to view the body of their son, because it was so badly damaged in an explosion on military operations. They really went through the mill on closure. Eventually, his body was released for cremation, and we had the funeral, but the Ashes were another story. It was six months before they felt able to inter the ashes after a memorial service. They said, that having the ashes at home, helped them to get some comfort at having him close. The ashes replaced the viewing of the body in terms of symbolism for them.

    Prayers for you as you make the decisions on how to proceed.

    1. I don't think we were brave. It never occurred to us to do anything else, so it was simply the loving thing to do, knowing that she had felt strongly about this and had registered her wish with the appropriate authorities. It helped to have been with her when she died and spent some time sitting with her dead body after death, so we did not have the problem that the family you mention had of not being able to see the body. In those circumstances it must be incredibly painful.

  3. Gosh, I must say I have never considered this really. I think it is really honourable that your mothers last wshes wee carried out but yes I understand the shock of now re-opening that wound with a full funeral. I pray all goes well and you get a sense of God's wonderful peace. Mich x

    1. Sorry for delay in replying. Thank you for your sympathetic comment and prayer. We have now made all the decisions we need to make in relation to this and I do have a sense of peace.


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