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What is a silent funeral service?

You might think silent funerals have no readings, music or singing. Sometimes this is true – people will sit in silence throughout the service. Other times, they're mostly silent but people can speak if they want to. And some funerals include times for silent reflection as part of longer, more structured ceremonies.

Let's look at several kinds of funerals that take place completely – or partially – in silence.

Completely silent funerals

Completely silent funerals aren't very common in the UK. While some groups practise silent funerals as part of their cultural traditions, most people who choose a completely silent funeral do so for personal reasons.

Perhaps the person who has died just didn't want a lot of fuss. Maybe they thought that readings and hymns would be too much, but they wanted some sort of service that family and friends could go to.

Or perhaps the person simply appreciated the beauty of silence. If you're arranging a funeral for someone who loved meditation or quiet nature walks, a silent funeral might feel like a fitting tribute.

A silent woodland burial

London funeral director Poetic Endings shared a story about a man whose wife had died. The death was unexpected and he was deeply shocked and upset. He couldn't think of any words to express his grief, so he chose to avoid words and music altogether – a simple, silent burial 'said it all'.

The funeral took place beside his wife's grave at a natural burial site near their family home.

Quaker funerals

A Quaker funeral is a type of Christian funeral. However, while most Christian funerals have hymns, Bible readings and a spoken eulogy, Quaker funerals can be almost completely silent.

At the graveside, the mourners stood in silence for ten minutes. No words were spoken; the only sound came from the breeze rustling through the trees, gentle birdsong and crying – the soundtrack to the family’s grief.

Quaker funerals aren't led by a priest or celebrant. A 'Friend' (member) of the church will arrange the funeral, but they won't do much speaking. Instead, people sit and quietly reflect on their relationship with God and the person who has died.

If someone feels like speaking, they're allowed to. But this doesn't always happen. Sometimes, people will sit in silence for an hour or more, before the person arranging the funeral decides to bring it to a close.

This silence might feel unusual – and even uncomfortable – if you're not used to it. However, sitting in silence for funerals and other occasions is an important part of Quaker tradition. Quakers believe that gathering in silence is a better way to connect with God than singing hymns or doing other types of religious ritual.

Silent reflection as part of a funeral

 Some types of funeral include a part where people can reflect in silence. Unlike Quaker services, which are unstructured and mostly silent, these funerals follow a set structure and include things like music and tributes. The silent section is just one part of a longer order of service.

This moment for reflection could be held in complete silence or include soft background music.

Here are some examples of funerals that have opportunities for quiet reflection:

  • Humanist funerals: Humanist ceremonies usually include a moment for private thoughts. Although Humanist funerals are non-religious, people are allowed to pray during this quiet time.
  • Civil funerals: civil funerals are very flexible. If you arrange a civil funeral, you can include a moment of silence for religious or non-religious reflection.
  • Church of England funerals: these Christian funerals often set aside a time for people to pray and remember the person who has died.

Quiet visits for direct cremations and burials

Silent funeral is sometimes used as another name for an unattended funeral. These types of direct cremations and burials are becoming more popular. If you choose this type of funeral, the person who has died will be cremated or buried without a funeral service.

Many funeral directors give people a chance to visit the person who has died before they're put to rest. The body will be prepared for viewing and placed in an open casket in the chapel of rest. Then a few family members or friends will be allowed to view the person and say goodbye in their own way.

How to arrange a silent funeral

The best way to arrange a silent funeral depends on the kind of funeral you want.

If you're arranging a silent funeral for personal reasons, it's worth looking for a funeral director who's open to different kinds of funerals. You could use our free funeral director search tool to find options near you.

If you need help arranging a Quaker funeral, talk to fellow Quakers at your local Friends meeting house. You could also look for funeral directors with experience in Quaker funerals.

If you'd like an informal visitation before a direct burial or cremation, you'll need to find a funeral director who offers this service. It’s a good idea to talk to a few funeral directors about how they can help before you make your choice.

Funeral Choice helps people find and compare funeral directors for free. For more support, visit our funeral advice centre.

Photo by Pedro Lima on Unsplash.