A funeral is more than just the funeral. When we talk about a funeral we are often talking about the 30-60 minutes spent together in the ceremony or service–the formal part of the day. But a funeral is a process. It is has many parts, all of which can play a role in healthy grieving. In this series of posts I want to look at the many elements of a funeral beginning with the meeting with your funeral celebrant.
When I meet with you to talk about the funeral, I do not follow a particular format. The meeting is an unstructured conversation, but it is a conversation with a purpose. It is an opportunity to reflect not only on individual memories and anecdotes about a person, but to understand how those anecdotes interact.
Meeting with the funeral celebrant is an enriching time, and often one of peace and healing. I think this is because for many people, this meeting is the first time they’ve had to simply sit and talk about the person. If the person has been sick, for example, conversation has often been centred on the progress of their illness or on managing their pain. If the final years have been shaped by dementia, thoughts might have been focussed on trying to make sense of the impact of the disease. The meeting with the celebrant is an opportunity to talk and to think about the person you loved in a much more wholistic way.
During the meeting, I take a LOT of notes. (I take them in a notebook, because I really don’t want to lose those notes to the cloud). I ask many straightforward questions (what was her first job?), but I try to understand not only what they did, but also how and why. I try to understand the person’s personality and character through their actions (what did they like about travelling?).
“It is an enriching time, and often one of peace and healing”
The meeting with the funeral celebrant can, of course, be a time of tension, but most families find a way to minimise the conflict–most commonly, by appointing one person to act as a point of contact.
There are nearly always tears during this meeting, and I’ll admit I often tear up too. I’ll quickly reassure you that I won’t be a sobbing mess, and I don’t cry at the funeral. But there are often moments of profound realisation–an appreciation of a loving relationship or the reality of loss–and it is moving to be sharing that moment with someone. I try to read what you need from that moment, whether that’s a moment of silence to think, or moving the conversation along.
Before meeting the funeral celebrant, you might like to prepare a little in advance, jotting down notes about their life or getting in touch with people who might like to speak. If you have no idea where to start, don’t worry, we will talk it all through at the meeting.
At the end of the meeting, you should have a clear idea about the next steps and the format we will be following on the day. But much more than that, you should feel that you have spent an hour or two focused on the person you love, sharing their strengths, their quirks, their flaws–one step towards making sense of the world without their physical presence.