This question, often posed in a response to my reply to the “What do you do” at a social gathering is not a dissimilar question to the one that I used to be asked when I was working as a nurse in palliative and end of life care. My reply to both usually starts with “why wouldn’t I want to?”
The social taboo about dying and death and all the associated rituals and trappings in our Western society means that for many people thinking about spending time with either the dying, the dead or the bereaved is something to be avoided. Some people think it is depressing or something to be feared, morbid or just plain weird.
We all die but the sad truth is we do not all die well. For me, for the many years that I worked with people who are nearing the end of their life and with their families, friends and loved ones as a specialist in palliative and end of life care was an incredible privilege.
The opportunity to walk beside a person and their important people, during their journey towards the end of their life, to be of comfort, to offer a listening ear, to offer specialist advice for physical, emotional and spiritual issues, to simply sit alongside as a companion and witness, was a blessing and a huge joy in my life for many years. So therefore it felt really natural, as I was looking for ways in which to work in a different way, and still use my skills as a listener, as a healer, and as a companion, to become an independent funeral celebrant.
Like many people, I am sure we have all experienced funeral ceremonies of friends or family and some will have been poignant, memorable and very appropriate tribute to their life. However, like me you may have experienced other ceremonies that may have felt distant and following a rote with no individuality. Now, I am not knocking religious ceremonies; if someone is a person for whom religion or belief is very important then a religious ceremony, led by a minister or priest it quite fitting, especially if the minister personally knew the deceased.
However, ceremonies that rigidly follow a prescribed liturgy, when the celebrant does not know the person and for whom faith is not important, the words can feel empty and hollow.
As an independent funeral celebrant, I am fortunate in that I can offer a truly bespoke service to the families that I work with. Neither bound by religious tradition and liturgy nor a humanist approach where no religion can be included, I can include as little, or as much, spirituality, religion or none as is right for the person who has died and for those left behind. It is a great joy to be able to tailor an individual ceremony – as I get to know something of the deceased and their family we co-create a fitting ceremony to mark the life. Some people as they approach the end of their life chose to plan their own funeral ceremonies. It would be a privilege to be part of that planning as well.
Ceremonies can follow a fairly traditional format and be quite formal or can be lighter with humour and quirkiness. I can include elements such as balloon release, wild flower seed spreading or anything a bit different because I’m not constrained by the formalities of a particular approach and as long as the request is legal and doable (and for most things we can find a way to make it happen).
So working with the bereaved at this final stage of someone’s life journey, to plan and facilitate a meaningful, memorable, professional and bespoke ceremony to mark the ending of the life of an individual is both a privilege and a joy in a way that nursing the dying was.
If that makes me “weird”, well weird I must be……..