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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.