As we approach a new school year, I thought it was time to look back over the last. I started work as a Celebrant over a year ago and I’m relieved to note that I no longer have that first funeral feeling – like a new pupil turning up wearing the wrong uniform, wondering if they are in the right place. Over the months, I have gradually adjusted to the demands of my job. I now feel that I am wearing the right clothes and that I am definitely in the right place at the right time.
I will never forget my first service: my voice shook, my mouth was dry and I spoke too fast. However, I went home on a high after the positive feedback from the Funeral Director. I’d done it! Back at home I waited for the phone to ring with another booking. It was nail-biting. Fellow FOIC (Fellowship of Independent Celebrants) members know just how hard it is starting out and what a rollercoaster of emotions goes through your mind as a newbie. You have to market yourself, introduce yourself to Funeral Directors, put yourself out there.
With nearly 50 ceremonies under my belt, all crafted and written by me, I have come a long way. Some ceremonies have more input from the families than others and all have my words at committal (the saying goodbye bit). I have learned where to look for suitable readings; on occasions I have written my own poetry or matched a perfect phrase to fit the deceased person’s life and personality. My music repertoire is improving and Spotify is my new best friend.
Aside from parenting, I have never felt so much responsibility as I do now, doing this work. I am thrown together with a bereaved family for a short time before a funeral service, sometimes for a week or ten days, in one instance with only two days’ notice. In that intimate time together, I feel as though I wrap the family up in a sort of ‘blanket of care’. I am conscious that I need to be efficient, supportive and have good boundaries, so they can be confident that I will perform well on the day. I have come up with a series of steps that I have to perform to create the ceremony. I no longer panic and get down to the business of writing more easily.
I send the family a draft running order, which outlines what will be in the service. The music will have been chosen and once this is approved, it goes to the Funeral Director and then to print. I go away and commence on the script. Sometimes I have to get very involved in music choices, specific recordings or even recordings made by family members. It is my intention to make everything as perfect as possible for the bereaved family. This is a major event for them and the small touches can make all the difference.
Each step of the way includes the bereaved family. It is their loved one that I am writing about and their ceremony; their way of celebrating the life of the person they loved and knew so well. It is of utmost importance that I remain the conduit, the interpreter of all their wishes. Each family is different. I will go out of my way to make the service as personal as possible. I can suggest things, but ultimately, it is only what the family wants that goes in the funeral service. I have officiated at some very difficult funerals. The sorts of situations that leave me feeling incredibly humble and overwhelmed with love and compassion.
Now I no longer get that leg wobble, or feel angst that my dry mouth will mean I can’t talk. I have stepped into my officiant shoes as if they are a pair of comfortable, well worn slippers. But don’t get me wrong, I’m never that comfortable. I still have a frisson of nerves and nag of doubt before sending out the first draft of my script. What if they don’t like it? What if I’ve interpreted it all wrong? Receiving positive comments or a hand-written thank you note after a service give me the most wonderful, reassuring feeling.
This year has mainly been about funerals. My first wedding was last September and another one booked for this spring has been postponed to next. This has given me time to think carefully about what kind of Celebrant I want to be. Do I like being a Celebrant? Oh yes. But I do want more. I am searching for another level of my personal best. The Celebrant role means I can do this. There is no end. I will never stop learning and take for granted the incredible honour bestowed on me when I officiate. I feel confident that I can be there, present for everyone who needs me. I really do love my work and feel so blessed to have found my niche.