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.