Most popular funeral readings in the UK

Most popular funeral readings in the UK

by Jon Crawford2023-12-120

Whatever type of memorial you are planning, the funeral reading is an opportunity to celebrate the life of your loved one and bring comfort to those in mourning. 

Picking out the perfect text is not always an easy task, especially if the deceased did not leave specific funeral wishes, but a little time spent finding the right words can create a personal, evocative and enduring tribute.

At Fenix, it’s our mission to make all aspects of funeral planning as simple and stress free as possible. With that in mind, we have put together this list of funeral readings that may help inspire those looking for the right words to express their loss. 

From poems, novels, songs and scripture, we hope it will help those looking to create a beautiful, bespoke funeral service. 

And remember, for impartial assistance on any aspect of funeral planning, you can contact us today and speak to one of our trained, compassionate advisors.

How to choose the right funeral reading:

  • Consider your loved one’s beliefs. If the deceased was religious, you may want to choose a reading from their holy book, though this is not mandatory. If they were not religious, you might find a humanist poem or reading that suits the ceremony.
  • Consider your loved one’s personality and interests. Perhaps they had a favourite author, poem, or song that they were particularly fond of? Little details like this can make the service more personal and heartfelt.
  • Also, think about the general tone of the funeral service. Will a reading that is uplifting and hopeful, or more reflective and sombre, work better?
  • Keep the length of the reading in mind. Funeral readings are typically around 2-3 minutes long. Readings that are too long make it hard for both the person reading -  and the mourners - to stay focused.
  • If you are struggling to choose a funeral reading, talk to your family and friends. They may be able to offer suggestions or help you to narrow down your choices.

Funeral readings to bring strength and hope 

The loss of a loved one is one of the hardest things we have to endure in our lives. Marked with sadness, despair and regret, it is often hard to see an end to these dark times. 

Sometimes, however, some well-placed words can offer hope for brighter days ahead and give strength to those who are left behind. The following are all popular uplifting readings at funerals in the UK. 

“When I Am Dead, My Dearest” by Christina Rosetti

This is one of the most popular funeral readings in the UK. The poet speaks of the uncertainty that death brings to those left behind, but also the permanence of nature and its enduring cycles. She calls upon those left behind not to mourn her death: “Haply I may remember/ And haply may forget”.

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.
I shall not see the shadows,I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain;
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember
And haply may forget.

“If I Should Go” by Joyce Grenfell

Joyce Grenfell was a popular comedian, writer and performer who penned one of the most enduring readings commonly used in funerals in the UK. It is lighthearted in tone but also poignant and uplifting, again reassuring bereaved people that “life goes on”.

If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone
Nor, when I'm gone, speak in a Sunday voice,
But be the usual selves that I have known.
Weep if you must
Parting is hell.
But life goes on.
So... sing as well.

Humanist funeral readings

If you are searching for a reading for humanist celebration of life or funeral, you can draw inspiration from any source you like, though most readings still tend to be poems and verse.

“All Return Again” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do notdie, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again.Nothing is dead; men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals and mournful obituaries, and there they stand looking out of the window, sound and well, in some new strange disguise. 

Jesus is not dead; he is very well alive; nor John, nor Paul, nor Mahomet, nor Aristotle; at times we believe we have seen them all, and could easily tell the names under which they go.

Funeral readings for emotional family farewells

Most of the funerals we attend in our lifetime will be those held for family members. Choosing the right reading is essential to in effect act as a collective voice for the family. To reflect the feelings of those left behind and honour the character of your loved one. 

As with all funeral readings, you can choose from poems, songs, literature or other sources to find the perfect words to say goodbye and pay tribute.

Funeral readings for Mum

The following readings are all popular as beautiful and moving tributes to mothers. They offer comfort and hope to mourners while celebrating the special bond between a mother and her children.

If you are searching for a funeral reading for Mum, consider choosing a text specific to her interests. If she loved the creative arts, you could choose a poem by her favourite poet or an excerpt from a cherished song or film. Take for example, the excerpt below from the song “Angels” by Robbie Williams. It is one of the most popular funeral songs in the UK, but can also make for an emotional reading too. It offers comfort to those in mourning, suggesting that a mother’s love lives on somewhere other than earth, offering support and strength - much like a guardian angel.

“Angels” by Robbie Williams

When I’m feeling weak
And my pain walks down a one way street
I look above

And I know I’ll always be blessed with love
And as the feeling grows
She breathes flesh to my bones
And when love is dead
I’m loving angels instead

And through it all, she offers me protection
A lot of love and affection
Whether I’m right or wrong
And down the waterfall
Wherever it may take me
I know that life won’t break me
When I come to call she won’t forsake me
I’m loving angels instead

“Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Written in 1932, this poem can offer comfort and resilience to those left behind by the death of a loved one, particularly a parent. It is a popular choice of reading for those looking for a funeral reading for their mother.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep. 
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain. 
When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there,
I do not sleep.
(Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!)

Excerpt from “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

“Little Women” may be an old book, but it has been enjoyed by audiences across many generations. Many daughters may recall reading it with their mother when they were younger. This excerpt, which describes the death of one of the sisters in the book, Beth, makes a poignant reading, perhaps especially so for a ceremony for Mum.

“With tears and prayers and tender hands, Mother and sisters made her ready for the long sleep that pain would never mar again, seeing with grateful eyes the beautiful serenity that soon replaced the pathetic patience that had wrung their hearts so long, and feeling with reverent joy that to their darling death was a benignant angel, not a phantom full of dread.

When morning came, for the first time in many months the fire was out, Jo's place was empty, and the room was very still. But a bird sang blithely on a budding bough, close by, the snowdrops blossomed freshly at the window, and the spring sunshine streamed in like a benediction over the placid face upon the pillow, a face so full of painless peace that those who loved it best smiled through their tears, and thanked God that Beth was well at last.”

Funeral readings to pay tribute to Dad

Excerpt from “The Measure of a Man” by Martin Luther King Jr.

This excerpt from a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to the character and values that define a person's true worth. It emphasises the importance of kindness, generosity, and compassion, qualities often associated with fathers who lead by example. The quote could be expanded to suit.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Excerpt from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare

The world’s best-known bard has many quotes about fathers in his literary canon, so it’s worth revisiting his work, especially if your father was a lover of literature and the stage. Even if he was not, Shakespeare’s words still hold power and gravitas to this day, as the excerpt below demonstrates. It speaks of a father’s influence over his children, his guidance and power.

“To you your father should be as a god;
One that composed your beauties, yea, and one
To whom you are but as a form in wax,
By him imprinted, and within his power
To leave the figure or disfigure it.”

“Let me Die a Young Man’s Death” by Roger Mcgough

British poet Roger Mcgough is known for his comic works and irreverent verse. This poem is a little risque in parts, but a popular choice for those whose fathers had a ‘wild side’ and lived life to the full - or just loved a good laugh. It’s a good choice if you’re searching for a humorous funeral reading or a difficult person who lived a troubled or turbulent life, too. The following is the first and final verse, but the whole poem can be found online.

“Let me die a youngman's death
not a clean and in between
the sheets holy water death
not a famous-last-words
peaceful out of breath death …

… Let me die a youngman's death
not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax and waning death
not a curtains drawn by angels borne
'what a nice way to go' death.”

Funeral readings for grandparents

If you are looking for a funeral reading for Nan or Grandad, then a more traditional verse might be the order of the day. Previous generations in the UK grew up at a time when religion played a greater part in daily life so it is not unusual for a Bible verse or other religious text to be used (more on those later), though there are plenty of non-religious readings to choose from too.

“She Is Gone” by David Harkins

This is one of the most popular funeral readings in the UK and a common choice to say goodbye to Nan. Like other popular funeral readings, it speaks of drawing strength from the legacy of your loved one, cherishing their memory to gain the power to “go on”. It is a versatile piece that can easily be adapted as a funeral reading for Grandad too, by replacing “she” with “he”.

“You can shed tears that she is gone
or you can smile because she has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that she’ll come back
or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left.

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
or you can be full of the love you shared.

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterdayor you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember her and only that she’s gone
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
or you can do what she’d want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”

Lyrics from “We’ll Meet Again” performed by Vera Lynn

“We’ll Meet Again” was a popular wartime song that will resonate with older mourners in the UK. The lyrics can be adapted to a short and uplifting funeral reading that speaks of brighter days ahead and a reunion in the beyond.

Let's say goodbye with a smile, dear
Just for a while dear we must part
Don't let this parting upset you
I'll not forget you, sweetheart

We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day

Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
'Til the blue skies chase those dark clouds far away

Popular Religious Funeral Readings in the UK

As funerals have become less religious and traditional in the UK, funeral readings have continued to be drawn from a wider range of sources than just the Bible and other holy books. 

However, Bible funeral readings are still common, and their timeless words can offer great comfort to mourners, even if they are not particularly religious themselves. Here are some of the most popular religious funeral readings in the UK:

Psalm 23 - The Lord is my Shepherd

This is maybe the most popular Bible funeral reading used in the UK. It is an Old Testament funeral reading and the words offer comfort and resolve in the face of darkness and death. 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

John 14:1-3 - Do not let your hearts be troubled

The words of Jesus comforting his disciples are often chosen as a Bible funeral reading in the UK. 

Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 
My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am.

Revelation 21:1-4 - And I saw a new heaven and a new earth

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

Catholic funeral readings

A traditional Roman Catholic funeral will understandably be underpinned by Bible readings. The Priest will usually read a Gospel passage and other readings from the Old Testament and New Testament can be read by family members or friends.

Both Psalm 23 and John 14:1-3 - already listed in the above section - are very popular readings for a Catholic funeral in the UK, along with the following Bible verses.

1 Corinthians 15:20-26 - Christ has been raised from the dead

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. 
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 

Philippians 1:21-23 - For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 
But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labour; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.

Unusual funeral readings

A funeral or celebration of life in the UK can now be completely personalised to suit the character and passions of your loved one. If you are arranging a funeral for someone who liked to do things differently here are some of the quirkier options.

“Star Wars” themed funeral reading

The cult sci-fi action franchise has devotees young and old. Some fans are so obsessed that they are given an intergalactic send off. Star Wars fans have been honoured with a reading based on these words spoken by Yoda in “Revenge of the Sith”: 

"Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealousy. The shadow of greed, that is."

An alternative take on Psalm 23 - “Gangsta's Paradise” by Coolio

An edgy reference to the Biblical verse might just be the right reading for someone who lived a difficult life or made some decisions they came to regret. The complete lyrics can be found online but the first and last verse, below, make for a powerful reading.

As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I take a look at my life and realize there's nothin' left
'Cause I've been blastin' and laughin' so long that
Even my momma thinks that my mind is gone

Tell me why are we so blind to see
That the ones we hurt are you and me?
Tell me why are we so blind to see
That the ones we hurt are you and me?

More help planning a funeral and finding the perfect reading

For any further help in planning a funeral, including speaking to a funeral director who can help advise on funeral readings and all other aspects of the service, contact us today.

Our trained bereavement specialists and advisers are always here for you, offering impartial advice and non-binding quotes. Let us take some of the stress of planning a funeral off your shoulders.

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Frequently asked questions

Consider the deceased's beliefs, personality, interests and the tone of the funeral service. The reading should be meaningful and reflect the person being memorialised.
Readings can include poems, passages from novels, songs, scripture, or any piece that was significant to the deceased or offers comfort.
Yes, humanist or non-religious readings are common, especially if they reflect the beliefs of the deceased.
Ideally, a reading should be about 2-3 minutes long to maintain focus and emotional impact during the service.
Yes, there are specific readings that beautifully reflect the bond with parents or grandparents, and these can be tailored to the individual.

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