Every life is fascinating when you start to hear about it. Imagine sitting in a room with a few people, and giving them all the time they need to talk about their loved person with a stranger who knows nothing about them. They might begin tentatively, thinking they need to tell you biographical details, what they have done in their lives, where they have lived and other factual details. But soon you help them to explore the true nature of the person and they begin to tell stories, express the things that to them made that person special, their quirks and foibles. There’s tears and laughter and a beautiful, intimate atmosphere. By talking about them at length, they start to make connections to them early in their lives, putting aside perhaps difficult last years. These connections help them to explore what would be the right kind of funeral for them.
This builds the relationship between celebrant and family. You will become an important person to them through regular contact during the period until the funeral, possibly more than the funeral director has. Together you will build a script for the funeral that truly reflects the life values and beliefs of the person who has died, including tributes, music, readings, sentiment.
The process of writing the script is creative. As you think deeply about the person you have been hearing about, you weave together the ceremony using as much as possible the words you have heard. A funeral is a rite of passage for the mourners, an aid to their grieving process. It needs a sense of the sacred, a feeling of being something important and special, which can be achieved with beautiful words, but also rituals like singing and saying things together, placing an object, flowers or rosemary for remembrance, silent reflection, prayer.
On the day of the funeral you will arrive early to check everything is in order such as the music. You will be there to greet the family, perhaps introduce yourself to people you spoke to on the phone or via Zoom but haven’t met. Your calm assurance will help them to feel reassured and begin to settle them. Then when the funeral director and the coffin arrive you lead in and you take care of proceedings. It’s a slightly strange role. You are the main speaker, but you are not the centre of attention – it’s the person who has died in their coffin.
In this role you play so many roles - listener, storyteller, confidante, speaker and something close to being a priest. Do your job well and the family and friends will be for ever grateful to have had exactly the right funeral, the right tone, accurate in content, absolutely unique for that one special person. I can think of no more fulfilling and deeply satisfying role.
You feel you have known the person who has died as well as their family. You meet people from all walks of life who have led such varied and interesting lives. I remember particularly a woman who flew 18 different types of plane between airfields during the 2nd World War; another who was a code cracker at Bletchley Park; circus performer and fire eater; comedian; criminals; lords and ladies; but most of all extraordinary ‘ordinary’ people who have led their lives with authenticity and humanity.
You have no idea what each week will bring, because each family and their circumstances is different. If you love people and variety, you will love doing this.