My First Funeral Ceremony

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.

Take Control

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.

This picture shows people the funeral home where I delivered my funeral ceremony.

This is a picture of Falconer’s Funeral Home in Tramore, Co. Waterford, where I delivered the ceremony. It’s a grey building with a big black metal gate surrounding it. The pic was taken from the Falconers website.

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.

Overcoming Challenges

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.

The Verdict

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 info@celebrantderv.ie. Or have a look at my funerals page to find out more about my ceremonies.

Creating Beautiful Love Stories for Wedding Ceremonies

In my other life, I give creative writing classes. So, I’ve decided to bring my two worlds together by giving creative writing workshops to celebrants. These workshops will show celebrants how to create beautiful love stories for wedding ceremonies.

We celebrants create stories for all the ceremonies we do – eulogies for funeral and memorials, stories of renewed love for vow renewals and tales of great adventures to come for baby namings.

But in my celebrant creative writing workshops, I’ll be concentrating on the wedding love story for couples. The love story forms the centrepiece of the wedding ceremonies delivered by independent celebrants like me. It’s our gift to loving couples.

This picture illustrates the kind of mood you create when you create love stories for wedding ceremonies.

Photo Description: I’m in my pink celebrant suit, delivering a love story to a bride. I’m to the left of the picture, holding a microphone in my hand. The bride is on the right and she’s looking towards me. There’s lush greenery in the background (Photo Credit: Lopez Photography.)

I create my love stories in partnership with the couple. This is the biggest story of their lives, so it’s hugely important that they’re happy with how I tell it. I want to make sure they feel it truly reflects who they are and what their relationship means to them. This is usually the happiest part of the wedding consultation. The couple go all misty-eyed and exchange private looks and lots of giggles, as happy memories flood into their minds.

Structure of Love Story

There’s a natural structure to the love story and I’ll be going through that structure in the workshop, which I hope will take some of the heavy lifting out of the story. And it’s also a heap of fun tonight. You get a chance to hear about the most thrilling and special moments of a couple’s relationship, starting with when they met.

When you discuss that with the couple, they’ll go all misty-eyed. The meeting is always memorable, even if it’s memorable for being ordinary. Sometimes it’s hate at first sight, sometimes it’s a slow burn, and sometimes the couple just know. When you describe the meeting, you set the scene for the story, and people will look forward to hearing how the story will unfold.

You then go on to describe how the couple’s relationship evolves: the first date, the first kiss, the first holiday. You’ll share the highs, the things that cemented their relationship. These could be huge life events like the birth of a child or buying a house. But you can also share those everyday delights of a relationship, like the cup of tea left by your bed every morning.

Challenge and Triumph

In every story, there’s always an element of challenge. On your wedding day, you don’t want to dwell on the things that went wrong, but challenges are part of every relationship too. It’s really up to the couple. Some couples will want to share their challenges – they may feel their challenges brought them closer together. Other couples prefer to keep it light. If that’s the case, you can focus on the will they/won’t they tension in the run-up to the proposal.

Ah yes, the proposal. This is where your story will end, and it’s usually another hugely memorable moment – for the things that go wrong as well as the things that go right. Even the most low-key proposal is filled with tenderness and romance. If you do it right, it’ll be the biggest aw moment in your story, especially if you let a dramatic pause fall before the person being proposed to says yes.

Want to find out more about the ways I can bring meaning to your story? Have a look at my Weddings page.

Celebrants are naturally good storytellers, but I hope this class will help them gather their thoughts and tell a story that hits the right note. Above all, I hope I can help them tell a story that will make their audience laugh and cry, and that everyone will be talking about long after the ceremony is over.

If you’d like me to create an aw moment in your ceremony with your very own beautifully crafted love story, give me a call on 0876959799.

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.

Should Celebrants Cry At Funeral 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 funeral 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 ceremonies.

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.

If you’d like me to deliver a ceremony for you, whether I’m crying or not, have a look at my Ceremonies page.

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.

You can find out more about how I deliver funerals on my Funerals page, but for now, 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

Celebrant Training: Why It’s A Great Idea

Yesterday, I got a call from a wannabe celebrant who’s thinking of training to be a celebrant. I chatted to her about my own celebrant training and how I felt it had shaped me as a celebrant. It got me thinking about why training to be a celebrant is important.

Recognition for Celebrants

Celebrancy is a funny profession. It’s both very old and very new. There have been ceremonies since the beginning of time, and there have been people who were given the role of officiating them. In recent years, as organised religion declines in many countries, the role of ceremony officiant is being given recognition again.

But because celebrancy is only just being recognised again as a profession, there are lots of loopholes. Anyone can set themselves up as a celebrant without training. I did a baby naming ceremony in September 2018 before I even knew there was such a thing as a celebrant, and I could have started a celebrancy business the next day.

I can’t lie. I was really tempted to tell the world I was now a celebrant – I was so bursting with joy after the baby naming ceremony. But I felt it was important to be equipped with the proper skills, so I could deliver ceremonies that were professional as well as fun.

Beginning Celebrant Training

I did my research and decided the courses offered by the Irish Institute of Celebrants (IIOC) fit the bill. They would give me total freedom to deliver the ceremonies that people wanted. I could be as creative, as spiritual, as passionate and as outrageous as I wanted. That was important to me.

In September 2019, I qualified as a family celebrant with the IIOC. A family celebrant delivers weddings, baby naming ceremonies and vow renewals. Then in October, I began the IIOC funeral celebrant course and qualified as a funeral celebrant in March 2020. Because I completed the two courses, the IIOC awarded me a diploma in family and funeral celebrancy.

You’ll find out more about me and what kind of celebrant I am here.

Naturally there are differences between the two courses. The funeral celebrant course prepares you for dealing with people in a heightened state of grief, while the family ceremony shows you how to bring joy into people’s lives with your ceremonies. But there were skills I learned which were common to both.

Voice Techniques

There’s a strong element of performance in the course, and we had several sessions showing us how to use our voices to deliver a great performance. Trained actors showed us how to breathe correctly and how to control our voices so that nerves wouldn’t get in the way.

We did tongue twisters to stop us from tripping over tricky consonants. The tutor also showed us how to manage the pace of our delivery and gave us tricks to help us deliver our ceremonies with meaning and passion.

Carrying Out Rituals

Ritual is a hugely important part of ceremonies. They’re powerful symbols of life and of love. We learned about the meaning and origins of some of the most popular rituals, like the Celtic handfasting carried out at weddings. We also learned to carry out those rituals.

We tied ribbons around each other’s hands and we lit candles. We also learned about where to stand during a ritual and how to direct the people taking part. We kept practising until the rituals felt natural and we could carry them out seamlessly.

Telling Stories Of Love

The thing that makes the IIOC celebrant courses stand out is the emphasis on storytelling. We learned to create unique ceremonies for each family we work with. On both courses, there was a module on storytelling, to help us craft and deliver these unique stories.

On the wedding course, we learned to write love stories for couples that captured the special moments in their relationship, from first meeting to proposal. And on the funeral course, we learned how to write eulogies, love stories of a different kinds. Eulogies are stories that capture the essence of the person who has passed away and allow the families to express their love for that person, one last time.

Dealing With Clients

Though the IIOC celebrant courses aren’t business courses, we did learn how to develop a relationship with people we worked with and how to collaborate with them to create our ceremonies.

We did mock consultation sessions, where we played the part of a client and a celebrant. We asked each other questions to find out what ceremony the person would like. This was particularly challenging during the funeral course, when we learned how to consult with clients in fraught situations.

Delivering Ceremonies

After all these modules were finished, it was time for our final assessment, and that assessment took the form of a ceremony. For our wedding ceremony, we were given the name of a couple and told to write a ceremony for them.

We had some rehearsal sessions to practice our rituals, our stance and our ceremony scripts. Then we delivered our ceremonies in front of people from other celebrancy courses. We chose people to play the bride and groom and delivered our ceremonies.

The funeral ceremony process was interesting. To give us experience of how a funeral would happen in real time, we had to write and deliver a funeral ceremony within three days. We did a consultation session with an actor playing the part of a bereaved person.

From the information we gathered at the consultation, we wrote a draft ceremony within twenty-four hours. Then we rehearsed and delivered that ceremony, in an empty room with just the examiners at the other end. After that, delivering a ‘real’ funeral will be easy!

This photo illustrates the value of celebrant training, that your skills are certified.
This is a picture of me in my pink suit holding a certificate, on the day I qualified as a family celebrant last September.

Overall, I’m glad I completed my celebrant training. I feel I’m equipped to deal with my clients and to cope with whatever glitches arise. The fact that I’ve invested time and money to become a better celebrant builds trust. And I can show people that I have the skills to deliver the ceremony of their dreams.

Want to get the benefit of my excellent training? Give me a call on 00 353 87 6959799 to start the ball rolling for a brilliant ceremony.

Becoming A Funeral Celebrant

I hope you are all keeping well through this time of crisis, this unreal time when we are apart but together. I myself am planning to blog on through. This is partly because writing has always been my way to keep myself sane. But it’s also because there are people out there who are getting married later in 2020 or next year and they deserve their chance to dream about their big day.

And when this is all over, which it will be, people will be mad to plan the weddings, baby namings and vow renewals that they had to postpone. Boy am I looking forward to getting stuck into that feast of ceremonies, and I bet you are too. But first, I’ve a bit of good news to share with you.

Before the world went haywire, I qualified as a funeral celebrant. This was a really important step forward in my celebrant quest. It means I can now deliver ceremonies for every stage of life, from the cradle to the grave. The Irish Institute of Celebrants (IIOC), who I trained with, gave me not one but two fancy diplomas. One was a diploma in family and funeral celebrancy and the other was a certificate in funeral celebrancy.

I’m now offering funeral ceremonies, and you can check out my Funerals page to find out more about them.

This pic shows a certificate which says, 'Be It Known that Derbhile Graham has passed the Certificate in Funeral Celebrancy and is endorsed by the IIOC as a professional funeral celebrant.. My name is written with a pen in stylish writing, and the other words appear in various fonts, all black on a white background.
Here’s a copy of the certificate that says I’m a qualified funeral celebrant – a proud moment indeed.

The Funeral Celebrant Examination

The process of being examined was pretty interesting. On a Tuesday night, I found myself in a room in a central Dublin hotel, lit only by a lamp. I sat beside two of my classmates, and across from me was an actress very convincingly playing a bereaved person, a person who was in shock after the sudden death of her father. We had to gently draw out information from her that we would use for our ceremony.

Then we had to go home and write up a ceremony within twenty-four hours, based on the information she gave us. I made the deadline and got my approval email. The next two days were spent learning off the ceremony I’d written. On the following Saturday, 29 February, leap year, I stood in a room in front of the actress/client and an examiner to deliver the ceremony. It was surreal, delivering to rows of empty chairs, but I survived, and I passed.

But the two people who evaluated me decided that I could deliver the goods as a funeral celebrant, and I came out with two pieces of paper, some helpful suggestions and some glowing praise. When all this is over, I’ll be in touch with funeral directors to let them know I exist, and I hope I can help people who lost loved ones during this difficult time by creating beautiful memorial services for them.

In the meantime, stay safe and well all of you, and hope the blog posts I create for you over the next little while will keep you dreaming.

If you’d like to find out more about my funeral celetrant services, which you can arrange without needing to go through a funeral director, you can give me a call or WhatsApp on 0876959799.

Funerals

As a funeral celebrant, I aim to deliver ceremonies that celebrate life. I create funeral ceremonies that define how a person lived, not how they passed away. My ceremonies will help you give your loved ones the goodbye they deserve. In those difficult days after your loved one passes away, you can pick up the phone to me. I’ll be there to help you plan a funeral ceremony that’s true to who they were.

This photo aims to convey the idea that life is worth celebrating, even when we are grieving.
This is a picture of a yellow rose with rich green leaves around it, supported by a wall or fence with wooden slats (Photo Credit: Simon Coury.)

Memorial Ceremonies

I offer ceremonies for people who weren’t able to mourn their loved ones at the time of their passing. A memorial ceremony will give you a chance to come together and reflect on your loved one’s life and legacy. I also offer death anniversary ceremonies, scattering of ashes ceremonies and graveside ceremonies.





This is a pic I took of The Island Crematorium in Cork City, a historic building and offers a comforting backdrop for your final funeral ceremony.
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Planning Your Own Funeral

I can help you plan your own funeral ceremony. Believe it or not, it is becoming more and more popular for people to plan their funerals. You decide what happens to you while you’re alive, so why shouldn’t you decide what happens to you after you pass away? I’ll work with you to organise an end of life celebration that your loved ones will always remember.

I work closely with funeral directors. But if you want to arrange a funeral, for your loved one or yourself, you’re also welcome to contact me yourself. You can give me a call on 087 695 9799 and I’ll be happy to talk to you.

I’m also a member of the Association of Funeral Celebrants Ireland. Through the AFCI, I’m also a full member of the Irish Association of Funeral Directors.

This is a logo that’s the shape and colour of a gold coin, with purple writing that says Remember, Honour Celebrate around the edges and AFCI in the centre. (Logo Credit: Fiona Daly.)
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