I wanted to write to you to thank you for your support and compassion during this very difficult time for me and my family. I particularly want to thank you for your efforts to get to know John and how you included many of his family and friends in the whole process. They all greatly appreciate that opportunity.
Collectively, we would like to also thank you for the eloquent manner in which you conducted the service. It was a truly beautiful and fitting tribute to John. As you know, we all loved him so much and you have helped us to mark the end of his life very appropriately.
We are grateful to you for your professionalism and indeed for your calm and reassuring demeanor throughout. We would not hesitate to recommend you.
I have sent this via your website so that you may include it in your reviews if you wish.
With our best wishes,
Sylvia, Dan, Ruth and Gary
I recently received a telephone call from a gentleman who lives quite some distance from me, who reminded me that I had helped his family say farewell to one of his two daughters a little over a year ago.
He called with the deeply sad news that his surviving daughter had also died. Consequently, he made the funeral arrangements with his local funeral home, asking them whether it would be possible to invite me to conduct the ceremony. To which they replied, “We have a perfectly capable celebrant that we know will look after you just as well.” At the time, the client rather disappointingly felt under pressure to comply and had convinced himself and his wife that the funeral arranger was probably right and that I lived too far away from them anyway.
The following day, he and his wife grew increasingly aware that this arrangement did not sit comfortably with them and to check their feelings, they contacted me.
After a long discussion about what had happened, the client popped the question. “Is it too far Steve?”
Under normal circumstances, when someone is merely enquiring, I would encourage them to use a local celebrant and I have very often put enquirers in touch with a celebrant from their area. But this was not a normal circumstance. I was familiar with the family and had a very appropriate pastoral connection with them.
Consequently, after juggling a few things around in my dairy, I called them back to let them know that I would be free to conduct the ceremony for them if that is what they wished. I encouraged them to contact their Arranger and instruct him or her to confirm the arrangements with me.
A few hours passed by. I then received another call from the client, stating that he had done as I had suggested, and that they were adamant that they had already appointed the celebrant they normally use to take the service.
Not wishing to add to their trauma and disappointment, I attempted to reassure them that the celebrant was sure to look after them just as well as I would have done and so, the conversation ended there.
There are two issues here:
1. Was the Funeral Arranger right to point the family towards using a celebrant in whom they clearly had a great deal of confidence?
2. Was the needs and requirements of the client being put first in this situation by the arranger? Or was it more a question of being loyal to their celebrant?
The answer to these two questions came a week or so later, when I received another call from the client but this time from his wife – utterly beside herself with grief. She had called to inform me that the funeral ceremony was, for them, a complete disaster. The celebrant had done a reasonably respectable job but had not fully understood the dynamics and the rawness of grief that already pre-existed within the family.
We must be careful when we are dealing with the fragility of grief. Careful that we do not allow our professional arrogance to get in the way of doing what is right for the family, and we must not make the mistake of undermining the value of pastoral care and the degree of kinship that exists between the client and the officiant. They are seen very often by the mourners as being representative their loved-one’s at the funeral.
Whether we are religious or not, we should perhaps be reminded of the Christian model for service and its significance here.
On the night of his betrayal, scripture tells us that Jesus girded himself with a towel and proceeded to wash his friend’s feet.
This is a powerful reminder to us of the nature of service. There is nothing at all arrogant about it. There is not a glimmer of professional pride or loyalty to anyone other than the person who is being served. It illustrates everything about putting the needs of others first, and this is precisely the model of service that resonates with me and is undeniably relevant to the work of those who deal with the bereft.
My biggest regret is that I didn’t insist, in the interests of the client, that I should take the service.
I wish I had.
Think of the word 'celebrate' and what comes to mind? Dancing cartwheels? Singing 'a wop baba lumop and wop bam boo?' Or do you think of something with a little more sobriety? Perhaps sobriety and celebration don't go hand in hand?
Celebration – celebratium; meaning ‘much-frequented.’ It is a past participle of celebrare, meaning ‘assemble to honour,’ or ‘to publish; sing praises of; practice often.’ It is sometimes used to refer to an action to perform a sacrament or solemn ceremony publicly and with appropriate rites. In this sense, as a communal action, we are celebrating only with and alongside others.
'Solemn ceremonies’ is a term that we frequently read or hear about. Although solemn may not be the first word that springs to mind when we think of the word ‘celebration.’ When we think of celebration we sometimes think of something that is fun and of good cheer and so it takes on a more joyful complexion in our imaginations. For example, at a birthday party the tradition of celebration is more easily imagined. But essentially, what is happening here is that a group of people are gathering around a person to honour that person’s birthday. Likewise, at the celebration of a person’s life or achievement, a group of people meet to honour that life or to pay homage to a specific accomplishment. In whatever context, honour seems to be the common denominator. And so, to constitute a celebration there should be first the subject, and then a collective desire to honour the subject, whether that be in a joyful manner or by way of condolence. Either way, to celebrate is to collectively commemorate, to observe, honour, recognise and remember. It can also mean that we do something special or important and a way of formalising a collective desire.
It seems that celebration is an innate human trait; it's something we have done together for as far back in history as we have historical records. It is how we mark our transitional moments; honour successes and acknowledge our personal growth.
How we celebrate is of course, a matter for personal choice and appropriateness, but celebrate we surely must!