Quite often, funeral directors and celebrants can be among the first people a family speak to after the death of their loved one. It’s a time when families are at their most raw, their most vulnerable and sometimes their most confused. So often I’m greeted with the phrase ”But I don’t know what we want yet” as though that’s some sort of failure. I’d never expect a family to have all the answers in that first conversation. If I do my job well, the service will naturally evolve over the coming days as a family start to talk about what they need. If you’re facing the tough job of organising a loved one’s funeral service, here are a few suggestions I usually share with families I work with that might help you too.
THE SET-UP & THE STORY
I always think of a funeral service as having these two distinct features, running in parallel. The Set-Up being the logistics – things like music choices, donations, committal (such as curtain closure), details of the wake, family that may wish to speak – some call it the choreography. It’s the nuts and bolts of how a congregation will physically move through the service. The Story is much more crucial for me, this is how we make the congregation feel, with moments of light and shade, humour and nostalgia, it’s celebrating a life that every single person in that room recognises and feels. Sometimes families will talk about these as two separate elements, sometimes it’ll all roll into one – there is no right or wrong. But think about how you want the physical service to play-out and we’ll come back to The Story shortly.
PITCHING THE TONE
Tone is such a crucial element in ensuring that a funeral acknowledges grief, but also inspires those left behind to move forward with their own lives. I often hear the phrase ”It’s what he/she would have wanted” and whilst I’ll always have respect for that, it’s also about hitting the right tone for loved ones to get out of the ceremony, what they need to be able to face tomorrow. So think about whether it should be formal & more traditional, contemporary or even alternative. Was your loved one a hell-raiser , a rule breaker, a comedian or straight down the line and what style does that mean you’d like for a service? A celebrant should be able to pick up on tone from what you’re saying and the stories you’re telling but it’s always worth checking you’re on the same page.
Ever been to one of those funerals where someone just reads out the CV of the deceased’s life …’He was born in 1952 in Leeds and moved to Bradford in 1972 where he married Sandra. Then he worked in insurance for 12 years, with 2 weeks off every year to go to Benidorm” So what? That doesn’t make you feel anything. But actually if you heard that Brian, our ordinary looking insurance sales-man had a burning passion for Elvis and cut loose for 14 nights in a row in Benidorm in his white jumpsuit as an Elvis impersonator – you’re either shocked that you never knew that side to him, or you’re smiling at the memories of the sheer joy on his face when you witnessed it for yourself! Stories make people feel… and I’m often told that talking about the funny, the sad, the outrageous, the bizarre stories of someone’s life also makes families feel better through their grief. A celebrant will identify the most powerful stories you have to tell, the ones that illustrate how you’ve described your loved one, the ones that bring tears of joy and sadness – and they will do it with empathy, compassion and sensitivity. So don’t be afraid to share those moments and those memories of all that you loved – they will give you an anchor through the rough weeks and months ahead.
IT’S NOT OVER ‘TIL IT’S OVER
As celebrants we have absolute empathy for how challenging a time it is for families. You barely know whether you want a cup of tea or not, never mind whether you want the Lord’s Prayer or a shot of rum as the final goodbye to your loved one. So don’t worry if you change your mind, if you wake up in a cold sweat thinking Highway To Hell might not be the most appropriate entry music after all. Celebrants are used to change and quick to adapt – the only time we really know what’s definitely going to be said at a funeral service is when it’s over. For me personally, all that matters is that you get the service you want and need to say goodbye and move forward – if that means I’m re-writing a script at 4am the morning of a service, well, that’s what strong coffee is for!
ALWAYS TRUST YOUR REBEL HEART!
And never be afraid to represent you and your loved one for who you truly are. If you’ve read other blogs I’ve written you’ll know Rebel Heart isn’t about being alternative for the sake of it. I mean let’s not have a Hell’s Angels Guard of Honour and a congregation dressed in leather if Uncle Wesley was terrified of motorbikes. But if he was a secret Dolly Parton fan, let’s play it, if he knew every word of the Jurassic Park scripts, let’s include them, and if he had a phobia that meant he could only wear yellow socks, let’s celebrate it & do likewise. There are no rules, no traditions, no laws that we have to stick to for a funeral. Your loved one’s funeral should feel as though it couldn’t possibly be delivered for anyone else, every word should be dripping in who they were, what they loved and the inspiration they’re leaving behind. So Trust Your Rebel Heart and let your celebrant help you create the ceremony your loved one would be proud of, and that you can move forward from.
If I can help you in any way planning for a loved one’s ceremony, or even with ideas your want recorded somewhere for your own I’d love to hear from you – just give me a call on 07891 122542