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  • Pauline Marston

World Celebrant Week - a chance to take stock

This week is World Celebrant Week, of all things. It feels a little self-indulgent to me, but it has made me to stop for a while to ponder what it means to me to be a celebrant, and specifically for the purposes of this blog, a funeral celebrant.


I think there are probably as many approaches to being a celebrant as there are celebrants. We are all different and that is good because every family we work with is different. Funeral Directors often do the job of matching a family to a particular celebrant on their books, knowing who will make the best fit.


But what does it mean to me, and what is at the heart of what I do?


First and foremost, I am a listener. I listen to the stories and reflect back those words and phrases, those special meanings and moments of their special person. One of my favourite parts of the job is sitting with the family, listening to their loved one’s story. Watching as they laugh and cry simultaneously as they recall funny anecdotes and then smile when they realise those memories haven’t left them. Everyone’s life is amazing, no matter who they were or what they did. They are all full of colour, forks in the road, love stories and choices made.


I am there to stand by their side of my families, during what can be a confusing, busy, chaotic, surreal time between the death and the funeral. Reality or fear may start to set in. There may be a sense of relief, and then guilt at that relief. Sometimes they need my shoulder, sometimes they don’t. Whichever is fine.


I need to be available to my families - and that’s not ‘9 til 5’. Questions don’t always pop into their heads in traditional working hours. I tell them that I am here for them, and I mean it. I may not always have the answer, but if it’s possible to find out, I will.


I am there to hold their hand through one of the toughest days of their lives. There is only one chance to get this right. I will happily coach anyone who is reading a poem or a eulogy. Not so long ago I arranged to visit the empty crematorium with a 10yr old girl (and her mum), who had never attended a funeral before but was going to read a poem for her much-loved Grannie. We walked through it all step by step. She saw where she would stand, where everyone else would be seated, where her Grannie would be. And on the day she was magnificent. Grannie would have been proud.


I am there to keep a calm and steady helm throughout the ceremony, to allow those attending to be whatever they need to be on the day. They may need to fall apart or they may need to bite their lip and push on through. It doesn’t matter. Being there matters, and they are.


I do it knowing that the families have a lifetime of grief ahead of them and not having any magic words to fix them hurts.


Occasionally my partner in crime, Charlie, a flatcoat retriever, gets to play a role, too. He recently joined me to represent a beloved dog, a ‘fur-baby’, who had been left in the US when the dying chap and his lovely wife flew back to the UK so he could die peacefully with his family. The natural burial ground, which was to be his final resting place, warmly welcomed Charlie and he quickly became the BFF of a young relative who was finding it all hard going. He and Charlie led the procession to the graveside after the ceremony, and his mum thanked me for bringing him, saying it had made all the difference in the world to her son. I have never been so proud of Charlie.


If I can make a difference at a time of such deep sadness, then I have done my job. And it is one that I love.


Pic: Charlie taking in the amazing view at Higher Ground Meadow natural burial ground




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