Finding The Right Language As A Funeral Celebrant

As a funeral celebrant, I’m in the delicate position of meeting people when they’re in a time of deepest grief. Pre-COVID, I would have visited their houses, but now I’ll have the conversation to plan the funeral ceremony over Zoom or WhatsApp. And because of this delicate situation, I’ll use the most delicate words I can, so I won’t cause any more upset. That’s why I’ll say that the family’s loved one has passed away, not died.

‘Passed away’ has become a very popular way to say that someone has gone out of existence. Some people find it comforting, a phrase that softens the blow. Some people see it as a way of diluting the truth of the situation. Why not just say they died? That’s what happened. I’d be more in the second camp. But it doesn’t matter what I think. I’d there to give service and comfort to the families. So, I’ll use the words that soften the blow.  

Besides, I’ve discovered that the phrase ‘passed away’ didn’t start off as a way of avoiding the truth. And it’s also not an American phrase as many people think. It’s a phrase that originates in 15th century England, and it meant that a person’s soul has passed over to the other side. I think that’s rather lovely, and gives the phrase more power than I knew it had.

Using the Family’s Language

In general, I let the family guide my choice of language. If the family want me to say their loved one died, I’ll say they died. I’ll listen to the words the family use to describe what happened to their loved one and I’ll use those words. This is particularly important when the death is traumatic, the result of a killing or a suicide. I could write a whole post on that alone.

At the other end of the scale, the person who has passed away may have been a real colourful character, someone who was a bit cheeky and naughty in their humour. In circumstances like that, it’s perfectly appropriate to use humorous language.

This picture illustrates the blog post's point about how the right words can make a difference at funerals.
A quote from Raymond Carver, who knew how to distil big concepts into a few words.

You can say, ‘he was a bit of a rogue,’ ‘she’d call a spade a shovel.’ You’re reflecting who the person was and it’ll give people at the funeral a laugh, and a chance to remember their loved one fondly.

Sometimes the family didn’t get on with their loved one who has passed away. That’s the reality. And sometimes the language they want to use can be pretty brutal. When that happens, it’s my job as a celebrant to encourage them to soften that language.

I’d remind them that there will be people there who did get on their loved one and who’ll be upset by language that’s too harsh. Saying, ‘He was not an easy man’ usually covers all bases. It’s honest, but it’s also kind.

Overall, that’s the balance I’m aiming to strike as a funeral celebrant when I’m choosing my words – honest but kind. I am to offer comfort, but I also aim to be authentic, to truly reflect who the person was. Ultimately, it’s the family who’ll dictate the choice of words. I have to take myself out of the picture. I will choose the words that give them solace, and if I achieve that, then I know my work is done.

Has your loved one passed away? Are you looking to find the right words to say your goodbyes? I’d be happy to help. Have a look at my funerals page to find out how my funeral ceremonies work.

What Type of Celebrant Am I?

When you pick a celebrant for a ceremony, you’re probably not thinking too much about what type of celebrant they are. For most people, a celebrant is a celebrant. And generally, all celebrants have the same aim – to deliver a ceremony that’s personal and that shows respect for your beliefs and life choices.

But there are subtle differences between the types of celebrants that offer their services to couples and families. You might want to bear these in mind when you’re choosing a celebrant for your ceremony. I’m going to lay out the different types of celebrants you can choose from, so you can make an informed choice about who you want for your ceremony.

Humanist Celebrants

Humanist Celebrants are people who have been members of the Humanist Association of Ireland for more than two years. Humanists believe in being ‘good without God,’ the idea that you can live a moral and ethical life without the influence of a supernatural power. Humanist celebrants offer ceremonies that are completely secular – there are no hymns, payers or spiritual readings. So, they’re a good fit for people who have no religious or spiritual beliefs.

Spiritual Celebrants

Spiritualist Celebrants are at the opposite end of the spectrum – they’re all about the spirit. Spiritualist celebrants perform ceremonies according to the rites of the Spiritualist Union of Ireland. Spiritualism is a recognised religion that is centred on the belief that it is possible to communicate with the spirit of a person once they have passed away.

That doesn’t mean this will happen at a spiritualist ceremony, but space can be created in a ceremony for the spirits of loved one who have passed away. A spiritualist celebrant is a good option if you are not religious, but have strong spiritual belief.

Intefaith Ministers

Interfaith Celebrants: Interfaith celebrants or ministers are trained and ordained by the One Spirit Interfaith Foundation and they take a blended approach to ceremonies. They receive training in a variety of faith systems so they can deliver ceremonies that incorporate lots of faith traditions. Interfaith celebrants are a good option if there are two or more faith backgrounds in your family. Their ceremonies allow everyone’s faith to be represented.

I’m not any of these types of celebrants. So, what type of celebrant am I?

Well, I’ve said on my About Us page that I’m a creative celebrant, an authentic celebrant, a celebrant full of passion. But officially, I’m an independent celebrant. That means I’m not associated with any organisation, religious, legal, spiritual or civil.

This picture illustrates the colour and creativity an independent celebrant can bring to a ceremony.

I am performing a handfasting ceremony for a couple. I stand between them, and their hands are clasped, with ribbons around their fingers. (Photo Credit: Dermot Byrne Photography)

The thing that distinguishes an independent celebrant like me from any other type of celebrant is you.

The ceremonies I create put you at the centre, not a belief system or a set of laws. It’ll have your personality stamped all over it.

I am completely free to design the ceremony that you want, without restrictions. If you want lots of prayers and hymns, you can have them. If you want no prayers or hymns, you can have that. Or you can have a mixture of both. Your ceremony will be all about you.

If you think I’m the kind of celebrant you want, I’d be very flattered. But before I get carried away with delight, I’d better tell you how to get in touch with me. You can all me on 087 6959799 or email me (Derbhile) on info@celebrantderv.ie.

My Life As A Visually Impaired Celebrant

Anyone who reads my blogs and social media posts may have noticed that I always add a photo description to each post. The photo description tells search engines what’s in your photograph, but it also tells anyone who’s visually impaired or blind what’s in your photo. I felt it was only right to set a good example and add these photo descriptions, because I myself am a visually impaired celebrant.

I can see enough. That’s the best way I can describe it. Thanks to my trusty magnifier, I can see print and images on my laptop easily enough. But move print any more than six inches away from my face and it disappears. I have a turbulent relationship with steps, which turns some ceremony venues into an adventure for me. And it takes me a little more time to get to grips with the finer details of some ceremony rituals.

Challenges in Celebrancy Training

When I was doing my celebrant training, my sight proved more of a challenge than I expected. I’ve had the same sight all my life, so it doesn’t knock a feather out of me at this stage. Usually once I have the handouts in front of me and can listen to the presenter, I fly through course material. But our course manual was printed in the smallest, faintest font known to man. And I couldn’t really tell what the tutors were doing when they were showing us the rituals, particularly the handfasting.

I had explained my situation before I began my celebrancy training with the IIOC and asked the tutors to spend a bit of extra time with me on the rituals. They let me actually do the ritual, so I could feel the ribbon in my hands and see up close where it was meant to go. I was grateful for the extra time they spent and managed to do a perfect handfasting at the mock ceremony I did on the day of my celebrant exam.

I also let the course organisers know that the manual wasn’t accessible and I’ve been told they were planning to update it since. COVID may well have made that situation easier, as the IIOC is currently delivering its courses via Zoom. That means that any visually impaired attendees of the course can use their magnifiers or their screen readers (software that reads all the information on a screen for blind people) to access the course material.

So, how do I then deliver a ceremony?

Well, mostly I use my superpower – my ability to memorise large amounts of information. After I write my ceremony, I learn it off word for word. I find this the best way to manage. If I were to read it in the normal way, my face would be buried behind the book. If I memorise it, I can look out at the crowd and let them see my face. I still have my ceremony book, with the script in giant writing in case I get lost. But mostly I never use my celebrant book.

This pic illustrates how I manage my ceremony text as a visually impaired celebrant.
Pic Caption: This is me in my pink celebrant suit with yellow bushes in the background. I’m holding my celebrant book and if you look closely, you can see the giant writing. (Photo Credit: Dermot Byrne Photography)

I’ll also spend time practising the rituals. All celebrants do this anyway, but I know I need to spend a little extra time on them so I can feel comfortable lighting candles and tying ribbons under pressure. Taking this time literally gives me a feel for the ritual, so I’m not just relying on my sight to pull the ritual off during the ceremony.

Then on the day, I spend extra time scoping out the venue. Celebrants are advised to turn up well in advance of a ceremony anyway, so I’ll turn up about two hours before the ceremony and walk around the venue to see if there are any steps that may trip me up. Funny enough, flights of steps are okay, but one step can be a landmine, so it’s good to know that step is there.

My Ceremony Helpers

It’s good to have an ally on the day, someone who knows the score and can step in if needed. If it’s a wedding, I’d probably inform the best man about my eye condition, and if it’s a funeral, I’d let the funeral director know. But my biggest ally of all is my husband.

As many ceremony venues are away from public transport links, and there can be a lot of materials to carry, he drives to the venue with me and helps me to set up. He’s a good logistics man with a sharp eye for detail, so he’s the secret weapon to my success as a celebrant.

Because of my own background, I’d love to work with couples and families who have disabilities of all kinds. I’ll do all I can to make sure the ceremony experience I create is accessible for everyone. If you want to get in touch with me about my ceremonies, please contact me on info@celebrantderv.ie.

Funeral Reading: Untied by Erin Hansen

This week, I bring you the last blog in my video blog series of ceremony readings – a funeral reading. Time flies so fast! So, it’s appropriate that for this final week, I turn my attention to the final ceremony that comes to many of us – the funeral.

All loss is tragic, but some is expected – it’s part of the cycle of life. But sometimes funeral celebrants have to deliver funeral ceremonies at times of unimaginable loss, loss that’s incredibly traumatic. At times like these, it can be a real struggle to find the right words.

That’s why I was incredibly grateful when I came across a beautiful poem on the Facebook feed of a lady I know who lost her father to suicide. Untied by Erin Hansen is essentially an act of forgiveness by the author to the person that has gone.

The author is telling their loved one that they understand why that person felt they had to go. I believe that makes this poem a powerful choice of funeral reading at funerals of loved ones lost through suicide.

Here’s me reading an extract from Untied by Erin Hansen. I hope that this poem will give you the words of comfort you need if you have lost a loved one through suicide.

Funeral Reading – Untied by Erin Hansen.

I would be honoured if you chose me to bring you words of comfort at your loved one’s funeral. If you would like me to do this, send me a message on info@celebrantderv.ie.

Vow Renewal Reading: I Rely On You

I can’t believe I’m already on the third video in my video blog series of ceremony readings. This week, it’s the turn of the vow renewal, a ceremony which gives couples a chance to renew their commitment to each other. The vow renewal reading I’ve chosen is called I Rely On You by Hovis Presley.

By the time you’ve reached the point where you’re considering a vow renewal, you’ve learnt more about the true meaning of love. You know that love isn’t just about the grand romantic gestures. It’s about the everyday things you do for each other to keep the flame of love alive.

This week’s reading, I Rely On You, celebrates the power of that everyday love. This poem will be sure to raise a smile at your vow renewal ceremony. It’s an ideal choice for unsentimental couples with an offbeat sense of humour.

Here I am reading a verse from I Rely On You. Hope you enjoy it.

Vow Renewal Reading – I Rely On You

If you want a vow renewal that’s free from sentiment and full of laughter, send me a message on info@celebrantderv.ie.

Baby Naming Reading: On Children

Last week, I started my video blog series of ceremony readings with a powerful wedding reading. Today, it’s the turn of baby naming readings, and I’m sharing another profound reading from the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran.

You may have heard The Prophet (Let there be spaces in our togetherness) at weddings. On Children is also hugely popular, and it’s a favourite at baby naming ceremonies. Gibran’s big theme is freedom, the idea that if we love someone, we’ll set them free.

That’s a powerful message, especially today, when we’re bombarded on all sides with voices telling us to wrap our children in cotton wool. By choosing this reading for your baby naming, you’re giving your child a gift, the freedom to be who they are.

Here I am reading the first verse of On Children. Have a listen and let yourself be enriched by the words of Kahlil Gibran.

A hugely popular baby naming reading.

I’ve got lots of ideas to make your baby naming creative, authentic and unique. Take a look at my baby namings page to find out what you can expect.

A Powerful Wedding Reading

For the next four weeks, I’m going to be doing a video blog series where I’ll be sharing some beautiful readings you can choose for your ceremonies. There’s such a range of readings available, it can send your head into a spin when you’re trying to choose. I’m hoping these video blogs will make it easier for you to choose a reading that fits your ceremony.

I’m going to feature one reading for each of the four main ceremonies I offer. This week, it’s wedding reading, from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. This reading is a favourite at weddings and includes the well-known line, ‘Love is patient and kind.’

But there’s another section of that reading which I think goes even deeper in expressing love. It’s unapologetic in declaring that without love, we are nothing. ‘If I give away all my possessions and hand over my body, but do not have love, I gain nothing,’ it states. If you’re going to be declaring your undying love on your wedding day, you may as well go hard or go home.  

I’ve also chosen this biblical reading because I want you to know that even though your wedding isn’t happening in a church, your ceremony can still be spiritual in tone. As an independent celebrant, I have the flexibility to deliver a ceremony that fits your beliefs. You can choose entirely spiritual readings or a mix of spiritual and secular readings – it’s up to you.

If you want to find out what else I can offer you at your wedding ceremony, check out my Weddings page.

So, here’s me reading the extract from St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. Hope you find it as moving as I do.

This video shows me reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians.

And if you’d like me to help you choose beautiful readings for your special day, give me a call on 087 6959799.

Should Celebrants Cry At Ceremonies?

When I was training as a funeral celebrant, we frequently talked about what we would do if we were overcome by emotion. At a funeral, you’re exposed to people when they’re in a raw state of grief, and you’re bound to feel that grief, and to remember griefs in your own life. So, we asked ourselves this question.

Is it okay for us celebrants to give in to their emotion and cry during a ceremony?

Many people in our group came to the conclusion that it was okay to shed tears, as long as you kept control of your delivery and carried on with the ceremony. Crying would allow you to show your human face, to show that you empathise with the people you’re delivering the ceremony to.

But I feel myself that I’d prefer not to cry, at funerals or at any other ceremony.

I have huge respect for my fellow funeral celebrants. They are full of compassion, and they’re comfortable showing that compassion through tears. I’m just concerned that if I cry, it’ll lessen the impact of the story I’m trying to tell. People will hear the tears, not the words.

All ceremonies are emotional, whether it’s a wedding, funeral or baby naming. But the emotion belongs to the people at the centre of the ceremony and their family and friends, not to me. It is their grief, their love, their joy. I’m there to be a channel for that emotion, to help them process it through the words I write and deliver.

If I’m doing a ceremony for you, I want that ceremony to be about you, not me. After the ceremony is over, I don’t want people to be talking about the poor celebrant who was in floods of tears and wondering if I’m all right. I want them to be talking about the moment the couple said I do, or about what a beautiful reading the family chose for their loved one’s funeral.

There are a few techniques I will use to channel my emotions and stop myself from becoming overwhelmed.

Breathe!

Seems obvious, but when you’re emotional, your breath is the first thing to go. Your chest gets tight and your breath becomes shallow. It becomes really hard to think straight. We were taught breathing techniques on our celebrant training course that help you control your voice and your stress.

When I see a bride walk up the aisle or a family filing in behind a coffin, I’ll breathe in for a count of and out for a count of eight. This brings welcome oxygen into my body and gives me something to concentrate on while I wait to deliver my ceremony.

Identify Flashpoints

When I’m preparing for a ceremony, I can spot which parts of the ceremony are likely to set off a wave of emotion in your ceremony guests – and in me. It could be the lighting of a memorial candle.


This shows me lighting a memorial candle at a ceremony. The candle is on a table in front of two pictures, and I’m crouched in front of it. I was concentrating so much on lighting the candle that I had no time for tears. (Photo Credit: Lopez Photography)

Or it could be words I say that will show you the true significance of this ceremony. You are welcoming a child into the world. You are committing to each other for life. When I come to these delicate parts of the ceremony, I can let the wave of emotion pass without letting it spill over.

Find A Spot On The Wall

At times of high emotion, distraction can be useful. It takes you away from that emotion for a moment and gives you something else to focus on. When I reach those heart moments, I’ll pick a spot in front of me to look at.

Since ceremony venues are often beautiful places, it’s easy to find something to direct my gaze at – flowers, trees, even a guest’s beautiful dress. I let my brain fill with that image and that gets me past the emotional danger zone.

Of course I know there are going to be times when emotion will get the better of me, when the circumstances surrounding a ceremony are particularly poignant.

Or sometimes I’ll just bond with a family and tap more easily into the emotion they’re feeling. If that happens, I will take a deep breath and carry on. And I’ll let my tears be absorbed into the emotion of the day.

What would you think of a celebrant that sheds tears during a ceremony? I’d love to hear your perspectives. You can email me on info@celebrantderv.ie.

What Is A Civil Funeral?

Many names are used for us celebrants and the ceremonies we give, and I get that it’s hard for you to distinguish between us all. I’ve described myself on my website as an independent celebrant, but I could also say that I’m a civil celebrant.

What does the term civil celebrant mean? And what does that mean when I’m delivering a civil funeral?

Officially, a civil funeral is a funeral that upholds the values of civil society and a person’s human rights, rather than religious or cultural belief. That’s what The Celebrants Network in Australia says anyway.

I’d put it more simply. A civil funeral respects who the person was. You are the person who decides what that ceremony will be. You may be arranging a funeral for a loved one or even planning it for yourself. Either way, if you’re planning a civil funeral, you’re in charge.

Here are the different parts of a ceremony that you can decide on.

The Eulogy

The eulogy is the centrepiece of a ceremony, where you tell the story of a person’s life. It’s what makes a funeral ceremony personal. You can share colourful stories about the mischief the person got up to and tell jokes to show what sort of person they were.

In your eulogy, you can paint an honest picture of the person, sharing challenges that they overcame and endearing quirks in their personality. Your eulogy will show the world who this person really was and what they meant to you.

The Right Words

There are lots of words in a funeral ceremony. You have the opening words, the readings, and the words that introduce each part of a ceremony. Then you have those all-important closing words. Each set of words gives you a chance to celebrate the uniqueness of your loved one.

This is a decorative picture, illustrating the values of a civil funeral.

This is a picture of a yellow rose growing against a wall, showing that a civil funeral can bring hope and comfort even at the darkest times.

You can open your ceremony with a quote that inspired your loved one, choose their favourite poems and readings and close with a piece of wisdom that they shared with you. And even though a civil funeral isn’t religious, you can include prayers or spiritual readings if they were important to the person. After all, the goal of a civil funeral is to reflect the person’s values.

Funeral Music

Like with words, you can choose whatever music you wish for a civil funeral ceremony. You can be guided by what music the person liked. You don’t have to worry about whether the music is too spiritual or not spiritual enough. As long as it fits with who the person was, that’s what matters. You can choose any type of music, played whatever way you wish.

Funeral Rituals

Civil funerals tend to centre more on music and words, but a funeral celebrant will be happy to make room for rituals if you wish. The most popular ones are lighting of candles and offering of gifts, which are familiar from traditional funerals.

Lighting candles can be a symbol of hope, while offering gifts is a touching way of showing people what was important to your loved one – a football jersey, a newspaper, a trophy. You don’t have to stick to those rituals either – within reason, anything goes.

A civil funeral gives you the chance to say goodbye to your loved one the way you want, and the way they would want. If the idea of a civil funeral appeals to you, contact me on info@celebrantderv.ie

Five Places to Host Your Memorial Ceremony

As we come out of COVID restrictions, funeral sizes are increasing and more venues are opening up. And people who were forced to say goodbye to their loved ones during the height of restrictions will begin to look at ways of remembering them the way they deserve to be remembered.

Memorial ceremonies will offer people the opportunity to say the goodbye they wish they could have said at the time of their loved one’s passing. If you’re looking to plan a memorial ceremony, you’ll be interested to know that you’re free to hold your memorial ceremony anywhere. All you need to do is check that it’s okay to bring your loved one’s ashes in an earn, if that’s something you want to do.

There are lots of beautiful places you can consider for your memorial ceremony, and I’m going to share a few ideas with you in this post.

Converted Church

As the church-going population declines, more and more churches are being turned over to the community, or to enterprising people who see their potential as a space to welcome people. If your loved one was a spiritual person, a converted church sill be an atmospheric choice of venue for a memorial celebration.

This photo gives an example of a venue that people can use for memorial ceremonies, in this case a converted church.
This is a picture of a grey and white building that looks like a church, with a blue sky above. The building is Copper Coast Geopark in Bonmahon, Co. Waterford, which you can use for all kinds of ceremonies. Photo Credit: Copper Coast Geopark

Clubhouse or Community Centre

Was your loved one a sports fanatic? Did they spend all their spare hours at the golf club? Did they coach teams at the GAA or soccer club? What a lovely idea it would be to pay tribute to them at the club where they devoted so much of their time and energy. It doesn’t have to be a sports club.

It could be a community centre or Scout hall, and the ceremony could celebrate the contribution that person made to their community. As an added touch, the club members could do a guard of honour for the person, which they mightn’t have had a chance to do at the time.

Arts Venue

Maybe your loved one was more of an arty type, a musician, an actor or an artist. If so, then you can organise a colourful celebration of life at their favourite arts venue. It could be a gallery, an arts centre, a theatre or concert venue, or even a pub!

You can celebrate the person’s life through their art, with their pictures on the walls or music playing. Better yet, you could have live performances of their music, poetry or plays. Including their art in the ceremony will show that their loved one lives on through their creativity and their stories.

Hotel/Restaurant Venue

If there was a favourite place your loved one liked to go to for a meal or for entertainment, you can pay tribute to them in a place that’s full of happy memories. Along the way, you can enjoy some delicious food and drink and raise a toast to your loved one.

If a hotel or a restaurant has a small room where you can gather, it’ll help you create an intimate ceremony for the ones who were closest to your loved one. You can share a meal together to give thanks for your loved one’s life.

Outdoor Venue

If you decide to hold your memorial service outside, it will give you great freedom. The whole of nature is available to you as a backdrop for your ceremony. If your loved one was a hiker, a biker or a walker, you can hold your ceremony in a place where they found peace and wellbeing.

The place you choose will create its own atmosphere, and you can breathe in fresh air and enjoy beautiful scenery, which will give you comfort at this difficult time.

Use of any venues is subject to permission from the venue owners, but I’m happy to do a ceremony in any venue you wish. You can give me a call on 087 6959799.

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