How Celebrants Deliver Safe COVID Ceremonies

This is a strange time to be delivering ceremonies. None of us could have anticipated when we were training as celebrants that we would have to wear gloves at a ceremony. Or that we wouldn’t be able to shake people’s hands. Still, we’ve resolved to keep delivering the best ceremonies we can during this COVID time. We’ll keep on joining couples in their love, comforting the grieving and celebrating in whatever way we can.

On the left-hand side of this pic, you see the words 'Guidelines for Celebrant-Led Civil Ceremonies during the COVID-19 Pandemic. To the right, you see the green logo of the IECS, in the shape of a tree with a circle around it. Behind those, you see a celebrant holding a folder that's open on a page, and a couple standing at a safe distance from them.


This pic is from the IECS, who provided celebrants with guidelines for delivering safe wedding and other family ceremonies.  

And we’re determined to deliver our ceremonies in a way that’s safe, for the families we work with and for ourselves. We’re not going to treat people like lepers for something that isn’t their fault. I’m greatly reassured that I can follow the guidelines laid down by two celebrant organisations I belong to.

The Irish Ethical Celebrant Society has drawn up guidelines for weddings and other family occasions. Meanwhile, The Association of Funeral Celebrants Ireland has created guidelines for the safe delivery of funerals. I am massively grateful to the committees of both these organisations for the time they took to prepare these guidelines for all of us celebrants.

Numbers Allowed At COVID Ceremonies

As celebrants, we’re very anxious to stick to the government guidelines on numbers allowed at wedding and funeral ceremonies. To make sure we comply with those guidelines, we’ll ask the couple how many guests they are inviting to the wedding and to make sure they have contact details for them all. We’ll do the same with funeral directors.

For funerals, there can be the extra consideration that people will gather outside the funeral home or graveyard to pay their respects. If this happens, we’ll ask the funeral director to indicate a safe way that we can exit the building or graveyard. It’s not our responsibility to keep the numbers at the government limits. But it is our responsibility to make sure we don’t walk into a situation that’s unsafe for us or for anyone else.

Have a look at my Funerals page to see how I deliver funeral ceremonies.

Social Distancing At COVID Ceremonies

Sadly, we will not be able to shake hands with families we’re delivering ceremonies for, or to stand close to couples while they carry out wedding rituals like handfastings. We will maintain a two-metre distance at all times, which means that for example, a family member will tie the ribbon for the couple at a handfasting.

People who are doing readings would read from where they’re sitting rather than going up to the lectern. That’s because sharing microphones is not a good idea – it also means sharing germs. We’ll still wear masks at all times, even when we’re delivering the ceremony. We just want to make sure we’re protected and can protect others if social distance can’t be guaranteed.

Handling Ceremony Materials

Celebrants now need to manage our ceremony materials more carefully than ever. First of all, we’ll need to rely more on families to bring their own materials, especially for weddings. Usually celebrants bring materials for the rituals like ribbons and candles, just to make sure they’re there on the day. Now we’ll be asking the couples to do it. We’ll ask them to put the vows, ribbons, sand or anything else they’re using in a box and we’ll pick it up on the day.

We’ll be handling the materials with gloves when we do pick them up, so gloves are now a must in our celebrant checklist. Overall, the checklist for what we celebrants bring to ceremonies is now way bigger. As well as surgical grade gloves, masks are a must – more than one if possible. We’ll also bring wipes and hand sanitiser so we can wipe down every surface and every item we touch.

Ultimately, it’s up to each and every celebrant to weigh up the risks for ourselves and the people we’re delivering ceremonies for. But I feel confident that if I follow these excellent guidelines, I can deliver a safe ceremony for you. All of our lives are precious, and I’m committed to keeping you safe. One thing I can guarantee – the ceremony will be as memorable and meaningful as I can make it, restrictions are not.

Even in these strange times, milestones deserved to be marked. You can get in touch with me on 0876959799 if you want to arrange a safe ceremony.

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.

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.

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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