The journey of a new funeral celebrant
Guest Blog by Gill Bunting, Heart-led Celebrant
The Heart-led training I completed with Veronika and Paul has been enlightening and thought provoking. They both provided a toolbox of practical knowledge and tips. I have often dipped into the handbook; ‘The Celebrant’ magazine and referred to my copious notetaking to help me with the work I’ve done so far.
Working alongside families during a very vulnerable time of their lives is the part of the job that I knew would bring great personal reward. It is always my hope that in some small way I will provide comfort and support to the families I work with. A client recently said after a meeting, ‘that felt really therapeutic, and it wasn’t the sad experience I was expecting’. My role, as I see it, is to discretely direct the family discussions with a few questions; listen and make notes whilst the family share their memories – the friendly stranger simply providing the scaffolding.
It is the complexity and the uniqueness of each family that brings the challenge, the history, the soul searching, the pain, the joy and job satisfaction by the sackful.
For a couple of my families, they seemed to feel that their relative had lived a humble life, believing there wasn’t going to be enough information for a eulogy. But how amazing by the end of the meetings, where different memories are shared, the pages become filled with notes which are ready to create a unique and beautifully coloured patchwork of life. A truly delightful part of the job.
There are the bittersweet moments, which perhaps is a common experience for anyone who has lived through the death of a relative or friend – the realisation of an important discovery that has only been revealed after death. Often leaving many unanswered questions and regret.
The greatest challenge I find is getting the work from Funeral Directors. Having spent time visiting them to introduce myself and them saying, ‘yes we’ll definitely be in touch’, this hasn’t been the case that often. Currently the work I’m getting is mostly coming from friends.
I have had support from one of our established Funeral Directors, who feels the area is ‘almost overwhelmed with celebrants’ and it is a challenge for the funeral arrangers to distribute work fairly. However, at times, it leaves me thinking, it’s an area of the business which could be better managed, especially when a member of staff from my local crematorium said, ‘how lovely to see a new face’.
The writing of the eulogy and putting the ceremony together is obviously a huge part of the job and a part that I really enjoy. Where to start is the most daunting – the blank page on the screen, sitting alongside the information that I’ve collected from the family and friends. Hmm… where to start? For me the writing process starts as I sit with the family. I can feel myself reacting to certain memories they share, and my mind creates clear images which I know will transfer into words on the page. I draw a circle around these parts.
Usually, I will write these little stories in isolation and later in the process, I weave it all together. So not a chronological process.
I have included some eulogy extracts (names changed for anonymity).
Growing up during World War 2 brought with it frightening little tales and one which Joan shared with her family. She recalled how she remembered standing in the darkness, by the sea at Grimsby, listening to the approach of the German Doodlesbugs; hearing the engine being cut and imagining the horror of the stealthy bombing missions which targeted London.
One of Isabelle’s favourite places. A place for her to sit and contemplate, to write stories, memoirs and make observations of the people she saw there. What would she notice? Perhaps the kindness of a stranger, a nice smile or kind eyes. There is good in everyone was always her belief.
Whilst living at the care home, Jack’s independence continued to shine through for a time. How he enjoyed being able to walk into town from there, by himself, and have a coffee at his favourite café. He joined in with the activities at the Home, including a re-awakened interest in painting and enjoying dancing with the care assistants.
Our world is full of wonderful people who all experience ups and downs. Some people appear to achieve greatness in a very public way. Let’s not though, overlook the quieter ones who, in smaller often unseen ways, have lived equally remarkable lives – no life is simple no matter how it may look at first glance.
As a funeral celebrant, we are placed in a rare and privileged position within a family for just a short time but the rewards this work brings last a lifetime.
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