As with many of life’s significant occasions, the funeral (or Celebration of Life \ Memorial) is a rite of passage. In the first stage, family or friends are waiting to say goodbye. They will be in various stages of tension and grief, and looking for some kind of resolution for their pain. This is often where the Funeral Celebrant meets the family and/or friends for the first time, usually in someone’s home.The most important thing at this time is to have compassion for their loss. By listening closely to what they are saying, we have an opportunity to get to know the person who died, in the context of their lives. This creates a rich amount of material for a funeral that is unique, sensitive, loving, and sometimes even humorous. By sharing memories, the family has also taken an important first step in their healing.
The second stage in the rite of passage is the funeral service, which acknowledges the life of the person who has died, and the love, friendship and respect from those left behind. During this time, we need to be able to “hold” people emotionally, so they can connect with each other and support one another. A good funeral creates a safe time and place for people to cry together and share their sorrow and their loss; to laugh together and share memories of their love and relationship. This is where the artistry of a Funeral Celebrant is perhaps most obvious. In this moment, we can communicate the meaning of love and sadness, and touch people’s hearts and spirits. We can weave the thoughts and feelings of family and friends into a narrative that engages people’s imaginations and spirit. To this, we can add music, poetry and symbolism to create healing.
The less obvious but perhaps even more essential aspect of our work as Funeral Celebrants is to engage and involve family and friends as much as possible. The most rewarding and memorable funerals are those in which they have played a key role either in the planning or the service itself. And perhaps even more importantly, their involvement will have an important impact on their healing, in crossing the threshold from the past to the future.
The third stage, the final one in the rite of passage, is one of feeling somehow refreshed, and at least able to see the potential of healing. Their loss has been recognized, the person they loved has been treated with dignity and respect and will be remembered for all the right reasons. They have been given permission to go through what they needed, whether it was laughter or tears or just roaming through their many memories. In considering the one who has died, they are given a fresh perspective of life.
The right ceremony can take the edge off deep sadness, and create a memory that eases pain and can commence a healthy, healing. If done well, and combined with warmth, sincerity and compassion, we as professionally trained Funeral Celebrants have the ability to do immense good in the world.
Funeral Celebrant Janis Horne