From Where I Sit – A Good Decision

Life, or at least my life, has the habit of turning on a dime. Or maybe more accurately, the idea for change comes quickly, but the actual deed takes much longer.

Case in point: in February, I read a special Edmonton Journal pullout section on the funeral industry. The article that captured my interest and changed the trajectory of my life was the one about funeral celebrants. Until that day, I didn’t know they existed or what a valuable service they provided.

Funeral celebrants (and I can now count myself among them) are people who are trained and certified to lead funeral or memorial services. And while we can perform secular or religious ceremonies, we are most requested by families who are spiritual but not religious, by baby boomers who want the options of hands-on involvement, or by people who want more than their church allows.

What sets celebrants apart is the time we spend with families. The one- or two-hour meeting with immediate family members serves two purposes. First, it allows family members to begin the first step in the healing journey by talking about their loved one. Secondly, the stories, memories, and anecdotes provide the raw material for the service the celebrant will write.

The funeral or memorial service is as unique as the person it is memorializing. It may include a theme, poetry, readings, significant music, prayers, photos, rituals, mementoes, and take-away keepsakes. The funeral celebrant comes without prejudices or preconceived ideas about how things should be. The direction by and involvement of the family ensures that the tribute is fitting and appropriate and captures the essence of the lost life.

When I decided this was something I wanted to do, I began researching. I learned the movement began in Australia/New Zealand in the 1960s, and celebrants now perform 60 per cent of the services in Australia. Doug Manning, a 70-something former Baptist minister, brought the concept to North America about 11 years ago. He and In-sight Institute have since trained the more than 1400 celebrants who are helping families in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Philippines, and beyond. I consider meeting and being trained by Doug Manning and his daughter Glenda Stansbury a pivotal point in my life. Their stories have given me a deeper understanding of all aspects of death and the grief process, including what helps and what hurts the healing of those who have suffered a loss.

While I may make decisions quickly, I act more slowly. I have spent the last several weeks clarifying my intent, preparing a business plan, designing business cards and brochures, and augmenting my training with reading about death, funerals, and grief. Only now have I begun meeting with funeral directors near where I live. The initial reaction has been warm and welcoming; funeral directors are happy to have one more option for meeting family needs.

I think I’ve got all the qualities one wants in a celebrant: a compassionate listener; a strong writer; a confident speaker; an organized, responsible, creative professional who brings attention to detail. I believe, at my core, that every life deserves to be honoured. I hope to do just that, one funeral at a time. A good decision, from where I sit.