I’d forgotten that I started blogging on Google, and have found this post relating to when I started doing funeral ceremonies. I called it, simply, “Being a celebrant”. It still surprises me how often people in West Wales tell me they didn’t know that there is an alternative way of conducting a funeral other than through the church (or through a humanist celebrant). I found it difficult to control my emotions in the early days and still vividly remember these three funerals.
Being a Celebrant
“Two months and three funerals on from my first diary entry, I may not have much more insight into what gives me the right to be a celebrant, but I do have insight regarding what it means to be one.`
I have performed funeral ceremonies for a man and a woman around their 80’s and a woman who died aged 49.
The Romantic Life Remembered
The first, for the man aged 79, was after a 6 year illness, and happened to be the husband of one of my neighbours, although I barely knew them. The wife was prepared for this event, and had been blessed to have had 26 years of very happy marriage with her husband. She obviously adored him, as did many others and the service had a theme of “our hero”. There had been issues surrounding offspring from the deceased’s previous marriage so my instruction was to focus on the last 26 years. This led to a wonderful reflection on the love and romance experienced by the couple during this happy time of their lives. I led the mourners into the building to the strains of The Animals playing “The House of the Rising Sun”, how dramatic! It was clear that this was to be a celebration of a life well lived, and I couldn’t have asked for a nicer person to have as a client for my first contract. There was laughter through the tears, and smiles through the hugs I received outside the crematorium. The second mourner, a niece, had previously worked in a crematorium in England and gave me a reassuringly big hug, telling me I’d done a “great job”
The Brave Celebration of a Mother’s Life
The next funeral followed only a week or so later, and was a very different affair. The family truly wanted a celebration of the life of their mother and wife who had been taken far too soon, aged 49. Her adult life had been dedicated to her children; the younger child, her daughter, being 19 years old. This is only a year older than my girl, and I admit I struggled to keep my emotions in check when I visited the family, and even more so in the crematorium. The music had been chosen by the deceased before she died, and whilst the family wanted a celebratory tone, the music, as the daughter ruefully explained, would create a “sob – fest”!
And so it proved. We entered to “You’re going to make me lonesome when you go”. Two women came to the front to express their love for their friend in short passages and I read a heart breaking paragraph written by the daughter. Dolly Parton sang “I will always love you”, and my voice wobbled all the way through, I think, but I forced myself to maintain eye contact even when most of the eyes were overflowing with tears. The final tune was a quirky number from Oh Brother Where Art Thou, chosen by the husband. He said they played it in the car and regularly watched the film. I saw his face crumple when the music started, and wondered whether he’ll ever be able to listen to it again.
A Funeral Bringing the Family Together
Today was the funeral of a lady who was 82 years old and had been suffering from cancer. There was an obvious rift among the siblings, and I had the job of creating a ceremony that would be approved at some level by all. One daughter explained that her mother had requested a small, private funeral, the other two siblings would have preferred something bigger, as their parents had been very well known in their equine profession. I was warned that we would come across this sort of scenario; it seems that funerals force families to communicate when in the normal course of life they will exist month to month (year to year?) with no communication at all.
The lady organising the funeral was concerned that her siblings did not express their emotions; neither, indeed had her mother. “She only told me she loved me 2 weeks before she died”….my unspoken reply to this was “well, she was middle class and English”, but I kept that to myself. I thought I could understand the rest of the family’s impatience with having displays of emotion forced on them. I am aware, of course that I will never understand what is behind family interactions in my work.
The ceremony eventually was written, compromises reached. It turned out to be very moving. At first, I thought I could feel an uncomfortable atmosphere, but as the tribute progressed, everyone relaxed and I could see nods and smiles of recognition as the lady was remembered. A feature of this funeral was that each person would lay a flower, with a message attached, on the casket. It was really, very touching, and I again had to check myself to hold back my own emotions. The poetry chosen all had a reconciliatory tone, and my heart went out to them all, I hope it worked. The music was gentle, classical and calming, as chosen by the daughter organising the event. Until the last tune, that is, which was the theme from the Horse of The Year Show. After what I interpreted as a shocked look on many faces, the desired effect was reached, and the smiles started. I can only hope that the siblings will find ways to smile together again in the future, now that their parents are no longer with them.”