I know I don’t blog on Thursdays. I know I don’t watch “Coronation Street”. But sometimes rules have to be broken. Even by me.
I saw the part of last night’s “Corrie” episode when Roy is visited by a (humanist) funeral celebrant. She didn’t know – and couldn’t – what emotions Roy was actually experiencing. As a result, his behaviour seemed incomprehensible, and she could make little progress with planning the service.
As you will know, I am an Independent Celebrant (not humanist, although I often create and perform non-religious ceremonies). When it comes to funerals, I too make home visits. I too have no idea of the state of mind of the people that I am visiting.
This is common to all types of celebrants. Even the parish priest, who may know the family already, can’t be certain of the reception he or she will encounter. As an independent celebrant, I will be meeting the family for the first time (with no preconceptions).
The type of death may dictate the emotions that are triggered, but there is simply no hard-and-fast certainty. The family that mourns the sudden death of a toddler will surely be in shock; they will not understand why or how it happened; they will probably be angry; they may blame themselves or God – the list goes on.
What about a teenage suicide? What about an elderly, cantankerous relative? A motor accident victim? Or a beloved life-partner? They will all evoke different emotions. Some people will master themselves better than others. Roy didn’t mean to be rude, but uncontrollable feelings were in play.
When I pay a home visit, I aim to be friendly and professional. I don’t pre-judge; I try to respond to each individual. It is important to listen. At some point, I may ask a question like “How can I help you?”, although, in certain cases like Roy’s, that may not have any real relevance.
What I do is to listen sympathetically and engage with the mourner. I understand that they may be confused and, very often, unfamiliar with funeral procedure. I give them plain information and allow them to make choices. The choices will be quite wide-ranging (the degree of religiosity, readings, music, entry, participants, ritual), so I explain these carefully. They usually want me to deliver a eulogy, so I need to ask appropriate questions about the deceased.
It all takes time, but this is a crucial stage.
When I go, I always leave my contact details. I try and work on the draft service within 24 hours and e-mail it to the family for them to amend, as necessary, and eventually approve. By the time I meet them again on the day, we will have a meaningful service for me to conduct, every word of which has been agreed by the family. I hope I will be no longer be a stranger to them, but somebody they like and feel they can depend on.
It’s a very rewarding task, but, as Hayley’s celebrant would realise, it can also be very challenging.
Michael Gordon can help prepare and conduct a tailor-made life-cycle civil ceremony in or around London or, indeed, in Europe.