Have you ever been to a funeral and come away afterwards wondering who the heck the vicar was talking about? Perhaps you’ve been to one where the minister forgot to turn off his mobile phone and then answered it during the ceremony? Maybe you’ve been to a funeral and were left cold by the words which were spoken? Perhaps they were all about an unfamiliar God rather than about your loved one?
During my father’s funeral ceremony, the person officiating said his name wrong. My teeth clamped down upon my tongue: shut up, Veronika. She also failed to get the words off the page. It was just a script. Just another job. Clearly she had several funerals a day to officiate at the crematorium, and didn’t have time to become familiar with the person whose life she was talking about. (A skilled celebrant delivers the words with the right intonation, and is familiar with what s/he is delivering ~ and s/he cares deeply about the family she is supporting). Having said that, the rest of the ceremony truly reflected my dad and his life, and I thank my sister for doing such a beautiful job in ensuring that happened. Not so many people are blessed with having a service that accurately reflects the deceased.
Saying goodbye is, at worst, excruciatingly painful, and at best, a beautiful, releasing and hopefully cathartic experience. Finding someone you can trust to hold the space at a funeral or memorial is important. As a celebrant with twenty years of experience in creating ceremonies, and a specialist in ritual, I don’t use templates. Every ceremony is unique and based around the needs, desires and feelings of those involved.
In a similar way to a wedding day, there is much that can be spent on things which might ‘look good’ to the untrained eye, but the heart knows better.
In our hour of greatest pain, we’re called on to make all sorts of decisions which generally bear a heavy burden. Please, make it a priority to look into the issues of death and funerals before you ever come face to face with them. Make informed decision well ahead of time. There is no rehearsal for a funeral day. There’s only one chance to say goodbye publicly. I can, hand on heart, say that the most beautiful, moving, and life-honouring funeral does not need to cost you thousands of pounds. You can choose a burial at a local natural woodland ceremony, or on your own land or in your garden. You can keep the body at home (in a cool room), and take care of your loved one yourself. Why not keep a vigil in their bedroom, and surround them with family photos?
There is absolutely NO NEED for a coffin, unless you desire one. If so, consider an eco-friendly one made from cardboard, bamboo, hemp, felt, etc. My choice would be a shroud: some simple eco-friendly cloth. Create a ceremony which is truly about who they were, what they did when they walked upon this earth, who they loved, and what gifts they leave behind. Choose a location that is meaningful to you or your loved one. This can be indoors or outdoors.
Invite mourners to bring a plate of food to share at the reception. It is MORE than okay to ask this, and I promise you most people will be more than willingly to support you in this way. After all, these are people in your community who care for you or your loved one. Let them be active participants. As with any ceremony, always come back to your heart: what does my love for this person mean? What symbols or rituals will best help to express that? What music did s/he love? What were her/his hobbies? What will we miss most about him/her? Bit by bit there’s a new wave of awareness spreading which allows people to create funerals & memorials which honour the deceased in a meaningful way. After centuries of the funeral industry being deeply controlling of people’s experiences, there’s a light shining into the cracks showing us that there’s another way. As a celebrant, I create ceremonies rich with symbolism that is meaningful to those I am working for. It is an honour to be a celebrant. I see my role as creating a sacred space which allows the bereaved permission to grieve in a way which is healthy and for which they will look back on with gratitude.
Veronika Robinson was trained as a celebrant in 1995 in New Zealand at Unity Church, and was registered with New Thought Ministries. She is a member of the Association of Independent Celebrants, and a supporter of the Natural Death Centre. Veronika is available to officiate funerals within 100 miles of Penrith, Cumbria. She has a particular affinity for home burials, woodland burials, and ceremonies from the heart. As an independent celebrant she is free to officiate any time of day or night, and in the venue of your choice. She does not charge for the funerals of children. https://www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant/funerals-memorials.shtml