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.

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.

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.

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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