Finding The Right Language As A Funeral Celebrant

As a funeral celebrant, I’m in the delicate position of meeting people when they’re in a time of deepest grief. Pre-COVID, I would have visited their houses, but now I’ll have the conversation to plan the funeral ceremony over Zoom or WhatsApp. And because of this delicate situation, I’ll use the most delicate words I can, so I won’t cause any more upset. That’s why I’ll say that the family’s loved one has passed away, not died.

‘Passed away’ has become a very popular way to say that someone has gone out of existence. Some people find it comforting, a phrase that softens the blow. Some people see it as a way of diluting the truth of the situation. Why not just say they died? That’s what happened. I’d be more in the second camp. But it doesn’t matter what I think. I’d there to give service and comfort to the families. So, I’ll use the words that soften the blow.  

Besides, I’ve discovered that the phrase ‘passed away’ didn’t start off as a way of avoiding the truth. And it’s also not an American phrase as many people think. It’s a phrase that originates in 15th century England, and it meant that a person’s soul has passed over to the other side. I think that’s rather lovely, and gives the phrase more power than I knew it had.

Using the Family’s Language

In general, I let the family guide my choice of language. If the family want me to say their loved one died, I’ll say they died. I’ll listen to the words the family use to describe what happened to their loved one and I’ll use those words. This is particularly important when the death is traumatic, the result of a killing or a suicide. I could write a whole post on that alone.

At the other end of the scale, the person who has passed away may have been a real colourful character, someone who was a bit cheeky and naughty in their humour. In circumstances like that, it’s perfectly appropriate to use humorous language.

This picture illustrates the blog post's point about how the right words can make a difference at funerals.
A quote from Raymond Carver, who knew how to distil big concepts into a few words.

You can say, ‘he was a bit of a rogue,’ ‘she’d call a spade a shovel.’ You’re reflecting who the person was and it’ll give people at the funeral a laugh, and a chance to remember their loved one fondly.

Sometimes the family didn’t get on with their loved one who has passed away. That’s the reality. And sometimes the language they want to use can be pretty brutal. When that happens, it’s my job as a celebrant to encourage them to soften that language.

I’d remind them that there will be people there who did get on their loved one and who’ll be upset by language that’s too harsh. Saying, ‘He was not an easy man’ usually covers all bases. It’s honest, but it’s also kind.

Overall, that’s the balance I’m aiming to strike as a funeral celebrant when I’m choosing my words – honest but kind. I am to offer comfort, but I also aim to be authentic, to truly reflect who the person was. Ultimately, it’s the family who’ll dictate the choice of words. I have to take myself out of the picture. I will choose the words that give them solace, and if I achieve that, then I know my work is done.

Has your loved one passed away? Are you looking to find the right words to say your goodbyes? I’d be happy to help. Have a look at my funerals page to find out how my funeral ceremonies work.

How to Fill Your Secular Ceremony With Meaning

Last week, I talked about how to add spirituality to your ceremony. But spirituality isn’t for everyone. So, this week, I’ve decided to concentrate on secular ceremonies, which I’m also delighted to offer as an independent celebrant.

I believe a secular ceremony is just as meaningful. It gives you the freedom to be true to who you are and to share the values are important to you, whether that’s friends and family, nature or creativity. And above all, you get to show people how much you love each other.

In this week’s blog post, I’m going to share some rituals, readings and music that I hope will inspire you to plan the perfect secular ceremony.

Ideas for Readings

There’s a wealth of beautiful literature that you can dip into for ceremony readings, poems that eloquently express your deepest feelings. You can go for a classic poem from Shakespeare, Dickinson or Yeats, or try a fresh, modern voice like Raymond Carver or ee cummings.

This is a quote from a poem by ee cummings, which is popular at weddings and vow renewals.
A quirky poem by ee cummings, which expresses love in an offbeat way. Suitable for any ceremony, but particularly weddings.

Plenty of people write poems specifically for ceremonies, like ‘A Message to My Child by Jessica Weslock’, which is popular for baby namings. I’m also dying to show people poems written by writer friends of mine. If they choose those poems, that can be sure that those poems will be completely new to the people who attend your ceremony.

Meaningful Rituals

We all need rituals in our lives, no matter what your beliefs are. Rituals are as old as time, and they’re powerful symbols of love, unity and family. You can choose a ritual for your ceremony that fits with who you are. Wedding rituals like sand ceremonies and unity candle ceremonies are a powerful reminder that you are now united.

Rituals for baby namings like creating a memory box or planting a tree help you make memories. You can then share those memories with your child as they grow up. And at a funeral, you can find comfort in rituals like offering gifts and lighting candles, which show that your loved one’s light will never go out.

If you want to find out what rituals you can avail of, hop onto my ceremonies page. Then pick the ceremony you’re most interested in finding out about.

Musical Moments

Music adds joy to a wedding or baby naming ceremony and can bring great comfort to mourners at a funeral. For a secular ceremony, your choice is wide open. You can be guided by your own musical tastes, whether you like a heartfelt guitar ballad, a dramatic song from the musicals or even some heavy metal!

For traditionalists, the sweet strains of classical music can add a touch of class to your ceremony. At the end of a baby naming I officiated, we all sang ‘The Bare Necessities.’ What a glorious way to end the ceremony!

I would be only too happy to chat to you about your secular ceremony. Being an independent celebrant gives me a brilliant excuse to chat about poetry, music and candles.

Drop me an email on info@celebrantderv.ie

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