Last year I had never heard of a Celebrant. A what? What do they do? Sounds weird.
Last week I walked into a room with 20 strangers, all there to learn about how to make a funeral personal & each life meaningful. When I was told that on the last day of training I would have to present a eulogy I had written for a fictitious person I felt overwhelmed, “How in the world will I do that?” I wondered. After 2 days of full training we were split into groups and given a situation to create a service around.
Suicide. Baby. Alzheimers. Senior. Child.
“Molly, you’re team has the teenager.” deep breath, ok, a teenager. Ugh.
I got together with my teammates, now friends after these few days of deep and incredible learning & discussion. We created Jimmy Green, a young man, a soccer player who died of leukemia leaving behind parents, a brother and sister.
I was up until 2am writing Jimmy’s eulogy and presented it with my teammates the next morning in the string of the 8 funerals enacted. As I spoke about Jimmy’s life an odd thing happened, my voice choked and caught with emotion and I had to pause in grief over a boy who never lived. I looked up to see others in the audience also with tears in their eyes and I knew that what I was doing was powerful.
Today I am a Certified Funeral Celebrant and passionate about informing the world about the beautiful service a Celebrant can give to a family.
THE PURPOSE OF A CELEBRANT
To quote our trainers, the amazing Doug Manning (author of The Funeral & Don’t Take My Grief Away From Me – read these!) and brilliant Glenda Stansbury, “A Celebrant provides a funeral service that is personalized to reflect the personality and life-style of the deceased.”
The original idea of a Celebrant came about as a solution for families who didn’t have a home church or religious affiliation. Australia was the first place to create this unique role, built around telling the story of the life as it was lived. There are many families where a religious funeral doesn’t fit and the need for someone who can tell their story even so is needed.
Please don’t mistake me for saying that pastors do not give meaningful services, many of them do. The issue lies in creating a service that stays true to the life being honored. If they weren’t religious, then the family may feel a religious service isn’t appropriate. While that’s up to the family, isn’t it wonderful to have an option that can speak straight and truly to the life being remembered? I think it’s pretty wonderful and VERY important.
WHAT A CELEBRANT DOES
A certified Funeral Celebrant will meet with the deceased’s family the week of the service for several hours. This meeting serves to acquaint the Celebrant with the myriads of stories that the family has to tell, the good, the bad & the ugly.
After listening, note taking & asking questions, the Celebrant leaves to write the personal story with the tools of their training.
Furthermore, Glenda encouraged us all to take our tribute a step further by finding a giveaway token that represents an aspect of the life we honor. Whether it’s a favorite candy, signature recipe, a game piece or custom bookmark, giving your audience a token of remembrance validates their relationship lost and gives them an object of comfort. Beautiful? Yes, beautiful.
WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER A CELEBRANT
The Celebrant’s goal and purpose is to tell the life story with an honesty and graciousness that presents a real and full picture of the person we have gathered to remember.
One of the services that we heard in the training was for a young man who had struggled with drugs and addiction for nearly all of his 30 years. The eulogy touched on his AA experiences, incorporated some of the inspiriting quotations that AA focuses on, and still left each of us with the knowledge that he had led a life that had mattered, that had mattered to others, and that was going to be missed. Celebrant services are quite often given to people who some might deem unworthy of a service – to them I say, every life has a meaning and a story that should be heard.
I attended a funeral where the deceased was hardly mentioned. The way he died (which was tragic) was never spoken of, and the pastor’s attempt to be personal amounted to him telling us the different nicknames his family had for him. I didn’t hear about my friend, I couldn’t find him in the service and I had come to find him and to say goodbye.
I left that service with a deeply unsettled heart. My friend wasn’t spoken of, the tragedy of his death was the elephant in the room that the pastor couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge. This felt so wrong and like such a disservice to the joyful life and friend I had known. The pastor knew almost nothing about him, it was obvious. He had hardly even bothered to learn about the life we were there to remember, he was unworthy of telling the story.
Doug said in our training,
“Even the worst commercial is scripted, planned & rehearsed. But not funerals.”
In a similar way, we extensively plan weddings, birthday & retirement parties that are usually uniquely customized to the preferences of the person being celebrated. So why does this happen so little at a funeral? Families make wonderful gestures by bringing in photos, trinkets and beloved possessions of their loved one but shouldn’t the eulogy reflect who we are there remembering as well?
A personalized funeral does not just tell the story, it also provides a fitting tribute that families crave and need as they begin their journey through grief. A story left untold or told poorly lay troubled and burdened paths out before the grieving.
We feel charged as leaders in our profession and guides for our families to bring them the very best.
If you would like to learn more about Celebrants, we have an opportunity for you. On April 3rd we are hosting an “A Celebration of Art: Two Paths One Journey” at the mortuary featuring the art of one of our favorite Funeral Celebrants, Ty Rose. Ty will share briefly about his experience as a Celebrant and how the impact of his work has shaped and given purpose to so much of his art.
The evening is open to all and I sincerely hope you’ll come to enjoy some fine art, taste good food, sip some wine and mingle with our Celebrant friends.
Finally, my favorite line of Glenda’s: “The highest compliment I receive as a Celebrant is when someone comes up to me and asks, ‘How long did you know Jimmy?’ to which I reply, ‘You know, I actually never knew him, but I wish I had.'”