- the term is one that many people are still unfamiliar with.
When asked what I do, and I chirpily say ‘I’m a funeral celebrant’, I’ve been met with puzzled looks, and responses including: ‘What does that mean?’, ‘Is that like a eulogy reader?’, ‘I’d never heard of celebrants before – I thought it had to be a priest’, ‘Celebrating funerals – isn’t that a bit weird?’, and even amusing replies such as ‘Are you the padre?’ and ‘Are you a humourist!?’ (sic).
What then is it that funeral celebrants do? Quite simply, we create and lead funeral services for people when people decide they either don’t wish for a traditional religious ceremony led by a faith leader, or where they specifically request a civil or Humanist service, where the focus is on the celebration of life. There’s more to what we do than this though. Our role may also include leading memorial celebrations of life or ashes ceremonies a time after a funeral, creating funerals for pets, script writing for people who’d like to lead the service themselves, advance ceremony planning and writing ‘living eulogies’, and some celebrants are trained in allied areas too, such as pastoral support, grief counselling, or end-of-life care (such as doulas or ‘soul midwives’).
Here’s an insight then into what I do, although it may be quite different from the way other celebrants work. My passion is for creating bespoke and unique ceremonies, so in a fully booked week, that would be three services I might take. The first priority is to block out service days/times/locations in the diary as the bookings come in - either direct from families, or via a funeral home. Each time a new service booking call comes through, the plan for the whole week changes! I do try to keep one day free, but it doesn’t always happen.
Next comes scheduling meetings with the next of kin at a time they and the close family can get together, whether this is office hours, or sometimes in the evening or at the weekend. (Usually, this would be face-to-face, but COVID-19 has changed the way many of us work, so where possible, under these circumstances the meeting will be virtual – by telephone or videocall). We’ll spend an hour or two talking through the type of service that is required – in tone, tradition/theme, and content. I take along a selection of poems and prose, sample wordings for committals, and a hand scanner for photographs or documents. We’ll chat about music/hymns, poetry and readings, contributors/speakers, ritual, content for the order of service booklets, and most importantly, the stories for the tribute or eulogy, while I take notes. I’ll ask about the deceased’s family, relationships, friends, work, hobbies and interests, likes and dislikes, worldview, and their personality. I often ask people to show me pictures or objects as having something to hold can help them to relax and open up, and give the real insights that help me paint a truer portrait for the tribute that will usually be the heart of the service.
The greater part of my role is actually writing the services – I try to block out full days if I can, so I can focus fully on the script, and any research I need to do for it. The eulogy is more than a potted biography or obituary; rather it’s about storytelling and capturing the essence of the person and life that was conveyed in the meeting. I try to find a ‘story arc’ or theme that connects all the aspects – such as love for family or football. Once I’ve written the draft tribute and all the other service sections, I’ll email it through to the next of kin, or pop round with it, so they can check it over and give feedback on it.
In the gaps between these three tasks is… everything else! There’s phone calls and emails to the families and funeral directors, amending and finalising the scripts and printing them out, creating a service keepsake pack for each family and hand-making personalised mementos for it (I enjoy a little bit of ‘craft’ time as a breather), updating the resource bank for poetry and prose, dealing with enquiries for advice or about bookings or future service planning, updating the website and social media, and keeping on top of admin. If there’s any time left over, I use it for professional development – doing further study and reading, although realistically this often only happens when I’m sitting in the car before meetings and services! You can’t risk being late for a funeral, so if I’m travelling out of town, there’s a lot of time spent waiting. There’s always books in the car to dip into, and a notepad for jotting down ideas for services. Some days it has to be my mobile office! There’s a great deal of juggling and no day is the same. It is such a rewarding profession to be working with families from that first introductory call, the moment you chat with them on the flower terrace, and know you’ve helped them celebrate to their loved one’s life and legacy as they wished.
If you’d like more information, visit the website: www.dawnkempcelebrant.com
For more information on similar subjects, please try the following blogs:
What different types of funerals are there?