Posted by Gloria Mundi
Another opinionated passage from a sometimes-frustrated celebrant. Please remember – it’s only my opinion! So with apologies to some wonderful funeral directors I know, here goes.
I am not anti-funeral directors. I think their job is frequently stressful and demanding in ways the rest of us may hardly understand. Also, some of them (a small minority?) are open to change, and to new ideas.
But here are a few practical suggestions and thoughts I’d like to offer to the others, because for as long as we continue to have separate funeral directors and celebrants/ministers, we really do need to get our act together.
1. You are in a controlling situation. You phone me to tell me there is a family who might want me to work with them. That’s how it is, mostly. OK. But I want to work with you. I am not just an “additional disbursement.” In effect, I personify what the family wants for the ceremony, at this stage.
2. If I work well, it reflects well on you. So if you care about the quality of a funeral service, you should very much care about how I do things and why. Don’t call on me because I’m convenient; work with me because I’m the right one for that family. If I’m not, then call on someone else. Please use your discretion and your judgement. You’re not just a handler of bodies and supplier of limousines. As we move towards the right, unique ceremony for these people, you’re my co-worker. Aren’t you?
3. I know it’s a bit nerve-wracking getting the right “slot” at the crem, but will you do two things please? One – just check with me first, rather than saying “I’ve got one for you next Tuesday at 11:00.” My time may also be under pressure. Two – please get an idea about how many people might attend, and if they have any ideas about the nature of the funeral, so you can, at once, book a double time allocation if it’s needed. We can’t get 130 people in and out and have a satisfactory funeral with contributions from several people, plenty of music, a hymn and some poems in twenty rushed, anxiety-filled minutes.
4. In fact (this should be number one) please talk to them as soon as possible about how they might approach the funeral, i.e. put the ceremony at the centre of your meeting. You see, and I’m sorry if this sounds patronising, but some of you don’t seem to get this – the sort of coffin, the announcement in the newspaper, how many cars (if any) are wanted, the flowers, the crem itself– ALL this is not the priority. It should come out of the kind of funeral they want, the sort of people they are, the sort of life that has just ended. And here’s a thought – even if there is a cremation to be carried out at some point, you can have a funeral somewhere other than a crem! Do you discuss that with them? No, I didn’t think so. Well, I can. Of course, if you’ve already booked the crem and they’ve told everyone the day and time before I can get near them, then we’re on rails again.
5. Please don’t take a faith position as default mode for the family and the funeral. I know some of you do. “Would you like me to phone the vicar? No? Oh, well, I know this woman who can…” People without a lot of cultural confidence may well think they should fall back on the vicar, because it is somehow “proper.” Actually, that’s a bit tough on the vicar, I’d have thought. We all want to be wanted! I’m not default mode, nor is the vicar, wonderful though she may be. See number 4 above. Surely the question should be “And how much help would you like with the funeral? I’m in touch with secular celebrants, vicars, priests…” etc. And BTW, please be wary of the term “humanist.” It means little to most people, and can be confusing. If someone is or was really a Humanist, you’ll probably be told so.
6. If, at the funeral, you sit there looking out of the window, or you are outside chatting too loudly about the football until it’s time to walk forward from the back, you won’t even know what anyone’s ceremonies are like, will you?
7. This doesn’t often happen, but it has just happened to me, so: please don’t tell them what will happen in the ceremony, and then tell me what will happen in the ceremony, before I’ve even had a chance to meet the family and see what is emerging for them. God dammit, this thing is theirs, not ours! And I am responsible from the moment we start walking forwards at the beginning of the ceremony to the moment I leave. That bit belongs to the family, with me acting for them. I do ritual and ceremony. If you want to, fine, but let’s be clear about who does what, please!
8. We’re getting to the crux, aren’t we? Please stop selling them a product. Find out about a ceremony, the one that is just beginning to form in their minds. Encourage that formation. Ask them to consider how much help they would like, if any, and from whom. Then phone me, or the minister, or the shaman or whoever you think fits. Then this funeral won’t be one product, with a few adjustable trimmings. We’ll have something unique that may help them for the rest of their lives.
9. You think I’m exaggerating? Just try asking a family who has had a crap funeral ceremony. “It still haunts me.” And that’s a quote. About ten years after the event. “It was nothing. Meant nothing” Now, is that what you want to deliver?
No, because you are a compassionate human being, so let’s get working. Together. Please?