The lives we hear about are fascinating. And the people who tell us about them are so glad to have an opportunity to do so, to talk proudly of someone to a stranger. For example, a woman who flew warplanes from one airfield to another, Spitfires, Hurricanes, supply planes. When she landed a Halifax Bomber the airfield manager asked her where the pilot was and wouldn’t believe it was her. Women with great mathematical minds who were code crackers at Bletchley Park, a shipwreck diver, a fire juggler, a top guitar maker for guitar ‘royalty’. We so nearly meet so many very interesting people! We do get to know about them.
But just as important are those who lead ‘ordinary’ lives, often extraordinary ordinary lives. One thing I learned in my psychotherapy training is that, once you get below the surface, everyone is fascinating. It’s the tiny details of people’s lives, the triumphs, the obstacles overcome, the tragedies, the idiosyncrasies, the anecdotes that stay in your mind – like the woman who, in her 80s, told her grandchildren to phone before coming round in case one of her lovers is visiting! There’s also sadness, the addicts, the criminals, those who give up on living, the lives that go wrong and seem tragic.
One role of the funeral celebrant is to encourage families and friends to talk about the person who has died in detail, not just to gain the information needed to write an accurate and characterful eulogy or apt committal, but to help them spark ideas about what would make a personal and heartfelt funeral ceremony for that particular person. These conversations bring tears and laughter, joy and sadness. The sense of involvement helps those left behind to feel they are doing their best for the person who has died through the quality of the service. This costs nothing extra. No one remembers an expensive coffin, but they do remember a heartfelt farewell with a community coming together.
Many people now don’t have a set religious belief. Conversations about what people might think happens to them after they die are fascinating, from being in a perpetual pub, to an everlasting garden, to being enfolded back into universal consciousness. Many say they are not religious, but still that they will meet up with those gone before. There are countless different versions of afterlife.
Religions are good at ritual, at evoking a sense of the sacred. Rituals work at a deep level to help people through rites of passage. For example religions use beautiful words from the 1662 Prayer Book, Koran, Siddur or Upanishads, sing hymns or chant together, burn candles and incense, wear traditional gowns, play traditional and celestial music, backfill graves. Too many celebrant led services ignore ritual or put it into the ‘too difficult’ box. Green Fuse put an emphasis on celebrants working with families to find and create simple (and sometimes complex) rituals which are in keeping with family traditions and culture. These are then repeated at the next funeral and become a part of the way that family does things. They find a way to create something sacred without religion.
The training we have been providing since 2007 equips new celebrants to feel confident in these and other areas. Preparing yourself to take on this complex role takes time, probably around 6 months with 5 days together and lots of online contact with groups and tutors. You need time for ideas and feelings to percolate and settle. We supervise you for your first 5 funerals to ensure these are as good as they can possibly be. Practicing on families is not an option.
Skills like being a warm presenter, a gentle leader, a good writer and excellent listener, are underpinned by qualities of empathy, kindness, sensitivity, calm, broad-mindedness, gentle humour and unflappability. There’s a lot of giving in this work, and the rewards are immense.
If you would like to join our Green Fuse community of dedicated professionals, please call us on 01364 644455 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.