What is a direct cremation and is it right for us?

What is a direct cremation and is it right for us?

A direct cremation is a cremation where there is no ceremony, with no family or friends in attendance. It can be followed at a later point by a memorial service, celebration of life or scattering of ashes, which brings together the friends and family of the person who has died.

After someone dies, there are many plans to make and decisions to take. It can feel overwhelming.

One of the most important, and most urgent, is organising the burial or cremation of the person who has died. This means deciding how you will celebrate and remember their life. A traditional funeral can cover both of these needs, but there are other options available.

The cremation or burial, and the memorial ceremony or celebration of life, do not have to happen at the same time. As the cost of living rises, some people are opting for direct cremations as an affordable cremation alternative to a traditional funeral service.

An empty bench looking out at a misty lake, next to a large tree.

But what exactly is direct cremation, why do people choose it and what does it include? We answer some common questions.

What is a direct cremation?

A direct cremation, sometimes referred to as a simple cremation, is a cremation without a ceremony. There are no family, friends, minister or celebrant in attendance. Apart from that, the process itself is exactly the same as any other cremation.

A direct cremation takes place at a time and place chosen by the cremation provider. This may be early in the morning when crematoria are quieter and appointments are less expensive, or at a dedicated direct cremation venue some distance away. The time spent at the crematoria is much quicker than for a standard cremation, as there is no funeral service or ceremony. The  cremation provider will also choose a simple, inexpensive coffin.

Independent funeral directors, larger chains and specialised direct cremation services all now offer direct cremation as an option. However, if you want a simple cremation, it is worth checking that your funeral director offers this, as not all do.

You can search for direct cremation services online. It’s a good idea to compare several different companies to see what is included in the price and what kind of service feels right for you.

Why do people choose direct cremations?

An affordable cremation

People choose them for different reasons. A common one is that a direct cremation can be very cost-effective. This makes it a good choice if you have a tight budget and are looking for a more affordable cremation option.

The cost of the cremation itself is reduced. This is because of the flexibility of timing and location. Other costs associated with a traditional funeral, such as cars, flowers and more elaborate coffins, are also lower, or even non-existent. These elements are not needed for a simple cremation.

A single white flower on a white sheet

A simple funeral

However, there are also other reasons for choosing a direct cremation. It could be that something simple feels more meaningful, or that it is a good option for someone who was not religious.  If you know that the person who has died didn’t want any fuss, or you would rather celebrate and remember their life on another occasion then a simple cremation can be a good choice.

Direct cremations were growing in popularity even before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with lockdown restrictions limiting the number of people who could attend a funeral, the pandemic meant that many people were forced to opt for something smaller. In 2021, even once restrictions were relaxed, around one in every seven funerals was a direct cremation.

Flexibility on timings

For families who live far apart, a direct cremation can mean they have more choice over when to come together to honour the person who has died.

That said, direct cremations are not the right choice for everyone. Some people find comfort in the familiarity and ritual of a traditional funeral supported by family and friends, and feel that it helps the grieving process for them.

However, if you do choose a direct cremation, a memorial ceremony can bring close family and friends together in collective remembrance of the person who has died, and can provide some solace.

Can I attend a direct cremation?

Not usually. However, a few providers will enable a small number of people to attend if they wish, usually for an additional fee. Even if there are people in attendance, there will be no ceremony and no words are said.

What does a direct cremation cost?

The cost of a direct cremation, including a simple coffin, varies depending on where you live in the country and on which provider you choose. This more affordable cremation typically costs around £1,500. The average cost of funeral director services in 2022 was upwards of £3,000.

What happens to the ashes after a direct cremation?

The ashes will be returned to you some time after the simple cremation – you will be advised when. You have the choice whether to scatter them, keep them or inter them.

A humanist celebrant can advise you on planning a ceremony for the scattering of ashes, or including the ashes within a celebration of life or memorial ceremony.

Can I have a memorial ceremony after a direct cremation?

Sunlight filtering through autumn leaves

Yes. Many people choose to hold a memorial ceremony at some point after a direct cremation.

Waiting a little while after the cremation enables family and friends to find a good time to gather, especially if people need to travel long distances to be there. It also gives you the time and space to plan the kind of ceremony that you want, wherever and whenever you want to hold it.

Humanist celebrants conduct personalised and meaningful, non-religious celebrations of life and memorial services before or after direct cremations.

They can help you to plan the best way to remember and honour the family member or friend who has died. This could be an outdoor service somewhere special to them with a scattering of the ashes. It could be a relaxed get together at their local or a more formal ceremony in a dignified space. A humanist ceremony focuses on the person who has died and reflects them.

You can find a humanist celebrant near you on our map or find out more about what humanist celebrants can offer here.

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