I always had a hunch that I would be a funeral celebrant. But as I finished my funeral celebrant course and promoted my funeral celebrancy services, I still wondered: is funeral celebrancy for me? Three weeks ago, after I finished my first funeral ceremony, I knew the answer. Funeral celebrancy is for me.
Getting The Call
The call for my first funeral came as a bolt from the blue. That’s the nature of the job. People can pass away at any time, and funerals in Ireland happen within days of the person passing. So, I always knew I would have to act quickly when the call came. It came from Falconer’s Funeral Directors, right around the corner from my home in Tramore.
‘Can you do a reposal ceremony tomorrow and a committal ceremony the next day?’ the funeral director asked. Straight away, I said yes.
There was no time to lose, so after taking several deep breaths, I called the widow of the man who had passed away. I’ll be discreet about the details, but the man had passed away relatively young after a long illness, leaving a wife and daughter. He was a big wheel in the world of sport, so despite COVID restrictions, there would be a lot of mourners.
I sympathised with the man’s wife and asked her what kind of a person he was. Irish families tend to be big, so I asked her about his family. Then I outlined the kind of ceremony I could deliver for them. The most important parts of the ceremony are the readings and music. I asked the family to think about what music they’d like and also told them I ‘d send them some readings to choose from for the ceremony.
And then I got going. I drafted a script for the reposal ceremony and then also for the committal ceremony. I’ll share with you the three lessons I learned from writing these ceremonies.
Your Ceremony Draft Will Be Torn Asunder
The wording of the two ceremonies changed constantly, as more and more people said they wanted to speak about this man and do readings. The people doing the readings wanted to choose their own, so only one of my original choices made the cut.
I was also freed from the responsibility of delivering the eulogies, saying the thank yous and saying the very final words before the deceased man left for the graveyard. I went with the flow and was happy to make any changes the family wanted. Being adaptable is a vital part of the job.
Make No Assumptions
I assumed that the family would know that the ceremony music was intended to open and close the ceremony. But they weren’t sure when to play the music or how long to play it for. As celebrants, we usually make it clear that the family and the ceremony venue are responsible for playing the music at the ceremony. But when I realised the family didn’t know about opening and closing music, I explained more clearly when to play it, and to let it play in full.
Being the funeral celebrant means I’m in charge. For once in my life, I have the power to tell other people what to do. It’s important that I give clear instructions to the family and to the undertakers, so the ceremony can run smoothly. Also, you sometimes get well-meaning family and friends wanting to add their input. I need to be clear with them that I’m acting on the chief mourner’s wishes. Then I can make sure those wishes are honoured.
The Funeral Ceremonies
As I mentioned, this was a two-part funeral, and both parts took place in the funeral home. I delivered a reposal ceremony in the evening time, after people had come to pay respects.
The next day, I delivered a committal ceremony, which is the ceremony you do before a person goes to their final resting place. Both of these were in the funeral home. The reposal ceremony lasted twenty minutes and the committal ceremony, which was the main funeral ceremony, lasted forty-five minutes.
For both of those ceremonies, I took on an MC role, introducing readers and speakers and making sure the ceremony flowed. But I did add some words of my own, about the ways in which people can live on, even if we don’t have a belief in an afterlife. I have no way of knowing whether my words offered comfort. I can only hope that they did.
Naturally, there were a few challenges along the way, especially at the committal ceremony. Because I was speaking to a web cam, I had to be positioned behind the audience, which made it a bit difficult to build a rapport. I also had a few last-minute changes to deal with, which led to a few pauses here and there.
And at the very end, the music failed to play. As I said, I wasn’t responsible for the music, but I did have the family’s choices on a playlist. Just as I reached for my phone, the Bluetooth cooperated, and the final, very fitting choice of music played.
The COVID Question
As I said, a lot of people wanted to pay their respects to this man, but the funeral directors did an excellent job of crowd control, making sure there were no more than 25 people in the main viewing room at any one time, as the COVID guidelines suggest.
Still, I was exposed to more people than I had been since March. I acted according to guidelines laid down by the Irish Ethical Celebrants Society, sanitised my hands, kept a two-metre distance and wore a mask at all times until it was time to speak. When I was speaking, I was at least two metres away from the audience. So, despite the crowd, I felt safe.
I’m always keen to draw a distinction between sad and depressing. For me, a depressing experience is without hope and leaves you feeling depleted. But with a sad experience, there is still hope, and it is still possible to feel uplifted. That’s how this funeral was for me. Though there was great sadness in the room at the loss these people were experiencing, there was also love, and great kindness.
This funeral ceremony was arranged through a funeral director, and I do work closely with funeral directors. But you’re also more than welcome to approach me yourself to arrange a funeral. You can call me on 087 6959799 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Or have a look at my funerals page to find out more about my ceremonies.