My Greatest Challenge?

Aug 16, 2022
Civil celebrant officiating at a civil ceremony

As a celebrant, challenges come as part of the territory.

It may be that a vital change to a wedding ceremony is made last-minute, but nobody thinks to inform me. It may be that we can’t put together a funeral service because the family keeps bickering and sabotaging each other’s suggestions.

There is no shortage of challenges that I could mention, but I recently experienced what I am sure was my greatest!

It started with a call from a Funeral Director. Was I free in about ten days’ time to lead a cremation service? Well, that’s standard enough.

The service would be held some 30 miles away.

Then came the request: could I do much of it in Russian? OK – my degree is in Modern Languages (French and Russian, to be precise), but I’ve hardly used my Russian since graduating in 1977! So I made it clear that I could write and read something, but might need some help with the Russian translation.

This was all agreed and I set to work. No problem.

The next day (a Thursday)  I received a call from the Funeral Director. Apparently, the coming Saturday was an “auspicious day”, so the family had requested we hold the ceremony then!

You may not be familiar with the preparation that goes into a bespoke service, but you can probably appreciate that it takes time. Especially to get it “just right”. To add to the pressure, a double slot had been booked, so this was not going to be a short service!

In this case, I spoke to the family by phone to have some idea what they had in mind. I had to relegate all my other work so that I could write the service at full speed, but, as agreed with the family, I  sent them the draft the next morning (Friday). They had agreed to pass on their findings to me first thing that afternoon, as well as sending the eulogy.

Well, that didn’t happen, did it?!

I kept my part of the bargain, but only mid Friday afternoon did I get the corrections back. The promised eulogy was missing. (Moreover, one of the people I was dealing with got delayed due to a car breakdown.)

I don’t know about “office hours”, but I only got the eulogy – part of it! – at 9.30 p.m! The rest came the following morning (when I was already driving to the crematorium!).

Despite the fact that it was being live-streamed, the service began almost half an hour late. This was partly because the family had brought a special CD with the music. Unfortunately, the chapel system couldn’t accommodate it, so a CD player had been brought in. As we discovered, though, the recordings had been made in the wrong order!

Through all this, I did my impersonation of the swan on the river – outwardly calm, but legs flapping ten to the dozen beneath the surface!

Despite everything, we got through it all successfully. In fact, the family dropped a short thank you immediately afterwards, saying (and I quote) “it went so well, and we are endlessly grateful”.

That’s what it’s all about! Job done.

A few days on, I am still recovering from all the stress!