As more people are choosing non religious funerals, there is a demand for the services of funeral Celebrants to write and perform life centred goodbye ceremonies. We all have different beliefs and styles; but all reputable and professionally trained Celebrants have the same role in helping families say goodbye.
The role of the funeral Celebrant is one of involvement with the family of the deceased, which starts from the first contact via phone with a family. We arrange to go to the home of the widow, widower or deceased’s family to gather information about them to start to build a ceremony based on their life, loves and achievements.
Meeting families can be a new experience for them. Families have told us they aren't sure how to act or what to say when they meet us. This is usually due to not having any experience of being involved with a Celebrant. We always greet families with a reassuring smile, a hand shake and some light hearted conversation. The handshake evolves into a hug towards the end of the meeting and we always reassure them that we are here to help them.
We always ask to see a recent picture of the deceased so we have the image of their face in our head for the entire meeting. The ceremony is about them, and they are the main focus of ceremony. Finding out stories, memories, employment, family, likes, dislikes, habits, hobbies, musical tastes and other personal information is just the beginning part of creating a ceremony.
Informing a family who have said their loved one loved Bob Dylan or The Rolling Stones that music played at the funeral ceremony can be from those artists, is beneficial to them.
Every family informed that they can have any readings, poems and music usually respond with the same questioning statement of ‘I didn’t know we could have that’. If a Father loved Monty Python and wasn’t religious, why shouldn’t his funeral include the famous Eric Idle song but have The Lord is My Shepherd?
The Celebrant has to take on a detective like role and look for clues around the room and coax information from all present to include in the ceremony. It’s common for families to forget vital information such as hobbies or achievements during the meeting. We usually call families the day afterwards and tell them we will do this as more information comes to mind once we've left.
Occasionally, the role of the Celebrant can also be that of a mediator if family conflicts surround the ceremony. Sadly, this happens if there are family feuds, but these shouldn’t prevent the Celebrant for gathering information from all involved about the deceased and their relevance to estranged members.
Being asked to conduct a funeral, memorial or any other kind of ceremony is an honour. The role of the Celebrant is to be humble and professional. A family have given you, a complete stranger usually, the honour of saying the last words in public about their loved one. The funeral Celebrant’s job is to help a family say goodbye and acknowledge the life and passing of a loved one, and member of society.
The greatest compliment a funeral Celebrant can have is to hear families or friends of the deceased say the person ‘would have loved that’, or ‘you obviously knew them well’ or ‘you described them perfectly’. We are the last professional person to publicly have a role to play in the story of the deceased person’s life. We always thank families for compliments, but always tell them We just said their words, as it was their memories which created the ceremony.
Cast your mind back to a funeral you have attended. What do you remember about the funeral? Unless there were specific, nobody remembers the coffin, flowers, music or transport method. Everybody usually remembers the ceremony, particularly if it stood out as a reflection of them or sadly, if it wasn’t a true reflection of them.
The role of the funeral Celebrant is to help a family say goodbye to a loved one by commemorating and acknowledging the life of their family member. It’s such a rewarding feeling to know you have helped and encouraged a family to say goodbye in a way which suited the life of their member.
Adapted from a piece by Ellie Farrell