Reflections on planning a funeral

One year since the funeral of our boys’.

I wanted to write a blog post about planning a funeral for a baby. Having never organised a funeral before, we were faced with overwhelming decisions, none of which I had ever anticipated making. I’m hoping by sharing here our experiences, other couples going through something similar may draw strength.

There is no right or wrong way to celebrate or commemorate your baby, so my main message would be to do what feels right for you.

Before we were discharged from the hospital, we were given some options for arranging a funeral; We were offered a cremation, organised by the hospital, and the option of attending a joint ceremony with other babies who were sadly not going home with their parents, or we could make our own arrangements.

For us, it seemed right to have a private funeral, where we could honour our boys in the way we wanted. I didn’t want to share my grief with other people in a public service. We signed forms to say that we would be planning the funeral ourselves.

Time seems to be both standing still and speed up after you lose a baby, so I can’t remember exactly when we started planning the funeral.

We chose a crematorium near to where my parents live; the place we had been for my Grandad’s funeral, shortly before our wedding 3 years before. We were living in London at the time, but it felt right to have the funeral ’at home’ where I grew up, and where we have since moved to.

My mum was there with us every step of the way. When every single decision seemed both overwhelmingly difficult, and also inconsequential and unimportant both rolled in to one, she was there helping us. I don’t think we would have had the strength or logic to perform even the simplest tasks. She called the crematorium, the celebrant, funeral director and the florist, helping to take charge, but not overstepping the mark.

The funeral director came to see us at my parent’s house, to help go through the plan for the day, and so we could sign the necessary forms. The next day, they drove to London, to collect the boys and bring them back to the funeral home.

We chose not to visit the boys in the funeral home, although this was an option. When we left the hospital, we had said our last goodbye, and given them their final kiss and cuddle. However many parents will keep visiting their babies right up until the funeral. 

We decided not to have any funeral cars or procession, and that the coffin would be waiting inside for us. James didn’t think he would be able to carry the coffin in, and such a big procession didn’t seem to fit for us.

When it came to choosing the coffin, I looked through a magazine of coffins for children. The simple fact that this brochure exists breaks my heart. We ended up choosing a simple wicker coffin for them both to go in together.

We arranged for a small posy to be put on top of the coffin. When I was early on in the pregnancy, my mum had bought me a tub of sweet peas to grow, so in the posy were lots of white sweet peas, yellow roses, and some daisies. I have since pressed the flowers, and made frame displays of them, something I am so glad I did, as they are beautiful reminders of Cecil & Wilfred.

The celebrant explained that the service could take any format we chose – this at the time felt quite difficult to imagine, as I had never been to the funeral of child before. He, helpfully suggested a format, which included two poems, and some music. We spent a long time selecting the songs, as music can sometimes overwhelm the emotions. We wanted the music to feel joyful, as well as highlighting the sadness we felt.

In terms of guests, again it didn’t feel right to have a big ceremony, so we kept it small, inviting only our parents and siblings.

As we stood outside the crematorium, chatting about the sunny weather, how lucky we were that the sun was shining down on us. None of our guests were wearing black, as it felt too sombre for us.

On the door was an order of service for the day, with a list of all the funerals that would be taking place. Near the top of the list was ‘Baby Cecil & Baby Wilfred’. Seeing the ‘Baby’ in front of both of their names was shocking and really brought home how desperately sad our situation was. I wondered if any other funeral goers would look at that list, and see that for us, the natural order of things had been turned on its head.

Seeing the tiny coffin inside was a hard moment. Despite knowing exactly how small they were, it seemed so unnatural to see it.

We sat in the front two rows of the crematorium, whilst we heard the service, and listened to songs and poems we had chosen for the day.

James had written some words which he chose to speak. Those words were truly beautiful, and I am so incredibly proud of him for standing up and speaking, whilst his heart was breaking.

Standing outside in the sunshine, I was struck with a finality, although of what I’m not sure. My brother came over and gave me a big hug, and that is something I’ll never forget, as I was feeling particularly wobbly by this point.

After the funeral, we all drove to the nearby seafront and had a quiet lunch together. It felt like a simple, but special way to end the day.

The funeral was an incredibly difficult day, but it was also filled with lots of love. I felt that James and I had made the right decisions, and the day was a fitting way to remember two little boys who were very loved.

The crematorium, funeral director and the celebrant all waived their fees, which is so incredibly kind. The professionalism shown, not to mention the empathy and understanding was remarkable, and we are so very grateful.

Since the funeral, we collected the ashes, and have them made into a rings. James and I both wear one, so we can take Cecil & Wilfred with us everywhere we go.

As I mentioned at the beginning, there is no right or wrong way to remember your baby. A year on from this day, and I remember that yes, it was a very difficult day, but it was a day where our closest family came together to acknowledge that our sons have left a huge whole in our lives.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on planning a funeral

  1. I don’t know how you have had the strength to write this, well done. It brought back memories and but when I think of our baby’s funeral I think how lovely it was. We organised our own too and I am so grateful for the opportunity to hear our fav children’s book read out and to hear music special to us.
    I visited her in the funeral home 3 times. She was in her casket though and I would read and sing to her with her little coffin sat on my lap. It made up for the lack of time I had with her in the hospital.

    I am with you with the shock of seeing the word ‘baby’ in front of their names. I still suck in breath when I think of it and when I look at my daughters box of ashes. I had the same thoughts wondering is anyone noticed it on the funeral list board. Some months later when we went back to discuss a plaque I saw a baby’s name on the board and I closed my eyes and thought of their parents and for second I tried to share their grief. I will never forget the care and dignity of the funeral directors and crematorium. They do a very special job.
    No one should have to see a baby’s coffin. Peace and love to you xx

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  2. I will read this all later. Thirty seven years ago our baby Philip died after diaphragmatic hernia repair. I had inverted uterus so was not able to see him. I held his hand in the incubator for two minutes straight after birth before he was whisked away. They christened him with my Husbands name.
    His funeral was arranged by the hospital and my Husband and I only attended. I had step children living with us so didn’t grieve at the time. I had Ross 11 months later.

    Only now with my daughter in laws (2) understanding have I been able to begin to talk about it. I am in pieces. I have recently had a gravestone erected and realised he was in a paupers grave.

    You are helping me so much as I begin to share this with my husband, three sons and seven grandchildren. Thank you xx

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