Grieving and celebrating go together. When someone dies, their legacy is the memory of their presence and when the time comes to say goodbye to someone, it is the funeral celebrant’s job to lead the farewells.
Modern funeral services have evolved to make the person’s life the focus of the ceremony and though increasingly fewer people identify with a religious faith, ritual and ceremony are still important for many people.
After many requests in the last few years, at the beginning of 2019 I made myself available for funerals, in addition to my wedding and MC work. And I can honestly say that in my career as a celebrant I’ve never enjoyed any work as much – it is extremely rewarding.
And in my opinion, being a funeral celebrant requires a certain combination of qualities, because we have such an important role. It goes without saying that you must be a people person with good communication skills – good at listening, as well as speaking. You need to have the ability to put families immediately at ease and must genuinely want to help families get through what is often a very distressing time. Funeral celebrants must also possess the ability to be extremely tactful when emotions are running high, which is the case more often than not. A death invariably will bring families together, but can also create difficult situations and disagreements, which we then must be able to handle.
For me, it’s that interaction with grieving families – including the difficult stuff – that is really special. Conversations about the life of someone who has just died are never easy and throughout the process of the writing of a service I become privy to many personal memories, thoughts and experiences. For families to share those details with me is certainly a privileged position in which to be. And what that has reinforced for me is that every life is unique; every family is different, with a different story, family relationships and culture to consider. It has also shown me that those who we may have considered to have lived quite an ordinary life – often have an extraordinary story to tell.
And how many moments – good, bad, happy and sad – are there in a life? This past few months I have sat with families to discuss the deceased’s life story, and on more than one occasion, I have been brought to tears. That’s another quality I feel funeral celebrants should have – it’s very normal to feel emotional and to show the appropriate degree of emotion – because being human does not negate our professionalism. For me it is not possible to stand amongst people whose hearts have broken without feeling the sadness they are experiencing – celebrants must understand how grief affects the people we are tasked with supporting.
After my first funeral service was over, I was touched by the impact of the service on the family, which also had a huge impact on me. And since then, I have found consistently that people will take the time to seek me out after the service, to tell me how wonderful the recalling of the deceased’s life was. That feedback is always lovely to hear, but what matters most is what each person there got out of it individually. That and that together we have marked the end of someone’s journey in a loving and dignified way.
Coming together as a community to remember someone at their funeral is very special. It is a precious and important time, a great reminder of the value of life, and that we should each be living ours to our potential every day. That, and that funerals also bring to the surface a sense of our own mortality – which is a reminder that we should talk to our loved ones about how we each want it to be, when our life is over.
Thanks for reading.