Using all five senses when planning a funeral

Three minute read

Hearing a song they loved, smelling the perfume they always wore, or eating their favourite food, can bring back memories of someone special far more powerfully than words ever could.

We all know that our senses trigger memories and emotions, both happy and sad. That’s why we encourage people not to limit themselves to words when planning a funeral, but to think about all five senses.

So, to spark some ideas, we asked our team of funeral directors, Hannah, Amy and Victoria, to share the sensory experiences that have stayed with them.


Motorcycle hearse, Poppy's, London funeral directors

This is perhaps the most obvious. You can use music at a funeral in so many different ways — by listening to a much-loved song, singing together or inviting live musicians to play.

Find ten ideas for using music at a funeral here.

“Music isn’t the only sound you can have at a funeral, especially if you are celebrating the life of a car or motorbike enthusiast,” explains Amy. “For example, at a recent funeral I organised, several vintage cars all revved their engines as loudly as they could while the coffin was being carried into the chapel.

“A funeral doesn’t have to be noisy though. By contrast, at burial grounds or cemeteries, the gentle sound of the wind in the trees and the birds singing is lovely too.”


Pouring prosecco, Poppy's, London funeral director

“Prosecco!” says Victoria. “I will always remember the funeral where everyone was given a handbag as they went in. The bags had belonged to the woman who had died.

"At the end of the service, her son told everyone to look in their bags and take out the mini bottles of prosecco inside. They all popped them open and toasted her there and then!”

Hannah remembers another occasion where sharing a treat brought back memories. “After one funeral I organised, everyone was given a Werther’s Original to suck — the favourite sweet of the person who had died.”


incense and scented candles, Poppy's, London funeral directors

Although you may not automatically think about smell when planning a funeral ceremony, it’s more important, and more evocative, than you might expect.

“We’re often asked if we can use someone’s favourite perfume or aftershave when we dress them for their funeral,” says Amy. “I’ve also had a request to spray perfume on the outside of the shroud of the person who had died, so that everyone at the funeral could smell her distinctive perfume.

“There’s also the fragrance of flowers on the coffin, the aroma of scented candles or incense when people visit our Friends and Family room and, on one memorable occasion, the smell of Sobranie cigarettes handed out with whiskey to toast someone at their graveside.”


Flowers on a coffin, Poppy's, London funeral directors

“It's really effective for larger funerals when guests have been told to wear a distinguishing colour (or hat, or face mask),” says Hannah.

“It creates a feeling of solidarity to see everyone coming together. Another thing I love is when guests bring flowers from their own gardens to place on the coffin. Once everyone's added their flowers, there's a multi-coloured mound of gorgeousness.”

Find out more about choosing flowers for a funeral


A woollen shroud from Bellacouche, Poppy's, London funeral directors

I love when clients choose the wool, willow or banana leaf coffins,” says Victoria.

“They are so tactile and the material really encourages people to touch the coffin. A special memory for me was enabling Allen, a partially-sighted client, to walk alongside his wife’s coffin, touching it as it was carried into the chapel.

Read or listen to Allen’s story

“And, of course, not to forget, the hugs you get from some clients at the end of a funeral when you say goodbye. It’s not always the ones you expect!”

To find more ideas to help you plan the funeral that’s right for you, check out all our Ideas and Guidance blogs on Talking Death.

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