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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
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 Celebrancy
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 remember your loved ones in the way they deserve to be remembered.
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.
Planning Your Own Funeral
I can help you plan your own funeral ceremony. Believe it or not, this is becoming more and more popular as an option. 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, 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.