As we fast approach the month of August, I look back on what has been a very colourful July in terms of the kind of people I have served and some of the businesses I’ve rubbed shoulders with. The hot weather has noticeably impacted on people’s level of tolerance and patience, understandably. As professional Celebrants, who deal with people at particularly stressful times, it is important that we keep our cool.
An FD has recently likened me to a gliding swan on a pond. I was a little perplexed by the comment initially, but he explained that on the surface of the pond a swan quietly and gracefully glides along, whilst beneath the surface the swan paddles frantically. Consequently, I took his analogy as a compliment.
I suppose he has a point. I do take a lot of the systematic elements of my work for granted – I’ve been doing this for so long. I focus my attention on serving the needs of my client. Alongside this, I also value my formation and development as a Celebrant and Therapist too.
It has been a good exercise for me to give some time to looking at what I systematically do in more detail and to look at what people do around me to get to their end-point.
There is a great deal more involved in organising a ceremony than we are more often given credit for.
And remember, this can happen many times over during the week.
Yet, people within and around our work sometimes seem to value only what they see - the end-product. This is a shame. Valuing each other and our roles, helps to make our industry more attractive. People will notice it. We will value each other more, if we take the time and the trouble to understand what we all do. I recommend some time out, just to look at what people around us do. I have to say for me, it proved to be a very prevalent and rewarding exercise.
I now see the world ever so slightly differently.
I know I've already said it to you several times, but I felt I had to drop you a line to say thank you again. You put us all at ease at an extremely difficult time and delivered exactly what we asked for. I have never looked forward to attending a funeral before, but you have helped Cathy and I look forward to what could have been a dreadful experience for us both. We both felt like we were being carried through it. Losing both our parents at the same time has been nearly impossible for us to bear. With your support, you have helped us to embrace it. The service was perfect - what more can I say? Thank you so much (there I go again, but I don't think I could ever thank you enough).
Joanne and Cathy xx
Wow! Thank you. You have a real gift.
Thanks for coming back afterwards and for bringing the flowers.
I wanted to tell you that you are an excellent speaker. You really know how to tell a story. My Father's story was told and celebrated in such a unique way. You could literally hear a pin drop. Everyone thought you knew dad. I'm speechless. Thank you for helping us to choose the music. Every note and every lyric captured who Father was. I just wished I could have managed to read my eulogy, but you read it for me with such compassion.
Please keep in touch.
I have recently been involved in helping a family with their very difficult loss - a gentleman in his early 30's, married with four children, who was found dead by his sister. The coroner had taken several weeks to reach the point where he was happy to allow the arrangements for his funeral to go ahead; this compounded the awful situation they were facing. To date, the causes of his death are uncertain. His family, and particularly his children, have been in a place of limbo and utter confusion, displaying shock symptoms, disbelief, and the inability to talk about his death, or to eat, drink or sleep. They have been physically and emotionally drained by the whole situation.
I'm very conscious of the role Celebrants play in helping families who are grieving during the very early and critical stages of grief and bereavement. It can be a make or break scenario. It is important not to compartmentalize our roles and sadly, I hear of many cases where this is precisely what happens and what’s more, this position is often justified by the said culprits. We matter, and we do play a pivotal role in helping the families to cope with their grief, whether we like it or not. Now, I am not suggesting that we should all become qualified therapists, but I do believe there has to be a level of pastoral competency when we are being hired to take care of these kind of arrangements. Even if this means taking on some additional training, to ensure that we are equipped and competent enough to do so.
In my capacity as a therapist, I sometimes must pick up the pieces of a badly managed funeral arrangement - and often the Celebrants involved are completely oblivious to the harm that has been done. On the other hand, I have heard of many examples of some very good practice too, where the Celebrant has clearly listened and empathised well with the family they have served and so have exercised their other skills competently and delivered an excellent ceremony. Fortunately, I don’t get to hear many of these examples within a therapeutic context and I don’t believe this is a coincidence.
The key to helping those who are grieving is to listen to them and to listen intently. It is very important not to enter into these arrangements with our own agendas in the forefront of our minds. We must be completely open to the family and allow them to steer us, not vice versa. Listening skills do not come naturally to many of us. We may have excellent presentation skills. We may be very articulate. We may have better than average writing ability and think we have good listening skills too. But a proficient listener will have allowed those skills to be developed and fine-tuned. It is not enough to think that we are a good listener. Our work is far too important to the people we are serving to leave this to chance. It is our duty to ensure that we continue to develop our skills.
There are some very good key listening skills courses and workshops available run by BPP and the-Centre, that I would recommend as a suitable place to start.
Thank you very much for a truely memorable and authentic celebration of John's life. Friends were incredulous that you had never met John, they thought you must be a longstanding friend and wondered why John had never mentioned your name. You have aspecial gift and we were fortunate to have found you.
With our best wishes to you.
Liz, Richard and Andrew and family
Firstly, we wanted to thank you for all your help and support over the past few weeks, during what has been a very difficult time for us all.
Your guidance before, during and after the service helped to calm and reassure us.
The service was all we could have wished for our mum and dad. It was a true celebraion of their lives and roles as parents and grandparents.
Greta, Susan, Tracey, Julie
I just want thank you for a beautiful service. I have lots of praises for you from my friends. They have all commented on how beautiful the service was. One of my friends really connected with what you said about my son and loved the poetry you recommended to us and would like a copy of it.
Thank you very much indeed.
There are those who always seem to have the ‘right’ answers and say the ‘right’ things — and yet we get the sense that they are not being their ‘real’ selves. It feels like they’re telling us what they think we want to hear. I’m often curious to find out what they really think and even more curious to discover the person behind the mask they’re wearing.
As specialists in rites of passage, celebrants and ministers are being entrusted with something that is pivotal to a person’s life and emotional wellbeing; whether that be by helping a couple to celebrate their wedding day; or planning a ceremony that celebrates the introduction of a new child to the family; or indeed, by helping a family during the critical stages of their grief and bereavement, by planning a funeral ceremony.
A celebrant or minister’s authenticity and congruence within this process is crucially important and has far-reaching implications.
The Psychologist, Karissa Thacker states that, “People follow authenticity. They are searching for it.” I think Karissa makes a very interesting point. We see it on reality TV and amongst the rise and fall of politicians; mediocre talent rising to the dizzy heights of fame and fortune because the public value their authenticity and the popularity of a politician rests largely on their perceived genuineness. People in leadership are among the most scrutinised. Letting go of the perfect public image can be difficult for them. However, authenticity matters far more because it is closely related with trust. Needless-to-say that establishing trust is paramount in the work that we do.
Being authentic is about embracing our weaknesses and allowing people to see our vulnerability. It is also about allowing our own little quirks to be very much a part of who we are and the service we provide. People will be happy to work alongside us and our own imperfections, so long as they feel safe. People feel safe when trust is established. Remember, no one is perfect. It is a pointless exercise trying to convince others that we are. The world will value our authenticity a great deal more.
The ‘Wounded Healer’ is a term created by psychologist Carl Jung . The idea suggests that a counsellor is more able to treat a patient because the analyst himself is "wounded.” Empathy paves the way for a more in-depth journey of knowing and relatedness. Our incompleteness becomes common ground on which we can successfully work together. I think this concept is easily translated in the work that we do as celebrants and ministers.
Authenticity will always be seen for what it is. It will always be honoured and celebrated. I am convinced that it is the difference between doing what we do well or doing what we do poorly.
Offering an authentic service encapsulates everything about who we are as human beings in our own right. My Celebrancy is my Celebrancy. I offer me. I have not lived a faultless life. I do have my own anxieties, beliefs and faults, just like everyone else. But I offer them with a listening and discerning ear and a sensitive and compassionate heart. I have no desire to be like anyone else. Celebrants and ministers might follow similar practices and guidelines, but when all is said and done, it is down to who we are.
I describe my service as being authentic. By this I mean that I genuinely just want what is best for you and I want to help you achieve that by being just me. In my humble opinion, what better credential is there?