I am currently writing life celebration services for 3 beautiful people whose full lives sadly met with the junction of death this month. At this fragile time, it is the most unique honour to be able to meet with a diverse range of families and friends, listen to their life stories and see the special relationships that people have with each other. Each of these 3 people, like all the people I pay tribute to, are absolutely one of a kind, I do not and will not, ever, make a one size fits all service.
So, to return to my comment above about special human relationships, I wonder, how anyone can create a generic funeral service and think this is acceptable for families, this happen's a lot and it's plain sad, I feel strongly that this production line approach, borders on the exploitation of vulnerability.
To clarify, a good service (IMO) relies on listening to and being able to encourage a dialogue with the family/friends of the deceased, being interested in the person, empathy, kindness, humour, respect, awareness, time, involvement, great writing and storytelling skills - regardless of the type of service- what is not good (IMO) is copying and pasting into a script and throwing into the pot, a few sympathetic words.
We do as humans, regardless of culture, tend to meet life events with significant fuss, pomp, gravity and / or preparation, do we not? And those events or ceremony are generally personalised to the person or people's taste, lifestyle, identity, character, culture and belief system, in other words fitting and appropriate, yes?
We can spend weeks, months years planning a wedding, coming of age, baby, milestone birthday and yet a funeral is often prepared 'on the hoof', can be very generic and leave people thinking 'what just happened there'. And yes, this is largely due to our very Eurocentric attitude towards death, what we don’t talk about can't catch us, kind of thing, but frankly, it’s a bit silly, who do you know that is going to live forever?
So, back to those funerals, and believe me I will be bloody furious if anyone plays rubbish music at my funeral, talks about sin or quotes from the bible, dares to sing a hymn, or forgets to talk about how utterly hilarious, super brainy and wonderful I am (OKAY!)
If I were to make a parallel to encourage people to think about funerals for a minute, (seriously just a minute and then pop it back into that section of your brain that won't be unlocked for a long time hopefully,) imagine this.... your funeral, your time to show off how great you were, could end up being the devastating equivalent of:
Attending what you believe to be an underground rave, in a super cool location, only to find Dollie Parton offering line dancing lessons (or vice versa).
or, if that imagery doesn't work for you, imagine:
You order a Harley Davidson, you saved for years, your partner has their helmet ready to jump on the back, you envisage riding into the sunset, with your best leathers, but instead:
you get a cheap unbranded pink moped, and matching lycra and your partner gets a taxi home in disgust (or vice versa).
ok, one more... (I am kind of enjoying these parallels)
Imagine going to a hair stylist and asking for your cool ombre' coloured long hair to be blunt cut and instead they give you a wet look perm or mullet. Do you hear me now?
In life and certainly when we pay for something (especially something unlikely to be less than 2k) we expect our taste, desires and needs to be reflected, we expect exact specifications, quality and value for money.
I have said it before and will say it again, we often feel obliged to go with what we believe to be the only choice of funeral and service. Many do not realise they do not have to have a service that involves reference to a God, (unless this is your desire), a couple of old hymns, a prayer and hand shake, you don’t have to have this with a celebrant, and hey I’m not trying to poach work here, you don't even need a celebrant, but most people want someone to write and deliver the service, be that a:
a) Religious Leader (Associated with a Church / Mosque / Temple / synagogue etc) Where religious belief / faith is a key factor
b) Independent celebrant (will include diversity & any belief systems or none, regardless of our own as we represent you, your family and cultural integrity.
c) Humanist (strictly no reference to anything spiritual/Gods, deities, heaven, fantasy, ambiguity or beliefs other than death as a natural process that represents the end).
(Remember - there are fabulous and not so fabulous people in ALL the above roles, please look at their websites or info to see how they write etc. and get a feeling from talking to them on the phone.)
So, even if you are not planning on leaving this dimension for the next 50 years, at least spread the word that we can have a modicum of choice, even when we don't want to think about the dreaded 'D' word.
PS, if you don't want flowers, don’t get them, if you don’t want an expensive coffin, limos etc. don’t feel obliged, really!
Any good funeral director will totally respect your choices, my mum, for example was very practical in considering her final resting place, she just said; 'ooh, just throw me in the sea', she hated money being wasted, and although we didn't resort to a deep-sea event, we didn’t know our full choices then. Oh, but I wish we had.
So, I do keep deviating from my point, but no, none of us and no human relationships in my experience could be defined as 'typical', I mean, what is that? We are all different and special.
We are a combination of every possible type, from the imaginary measuring stick marked ‘very, very good to very, very bad', and that is relative. Indeed, my 'good' might be your 'bad' and then when two or more people are thrown into the equation, families et al, relativity and measuring sticks all get to be a bit confusing, but certainly do not equal 'typical'.
So, in simple terms, let us just assume (as is right) that we are all unique. Some of us profoundly loving, generous, benevolent, helpful, caring 'good' citizens and some of us selfish hooligans etc. Such is the nature of humans, diverse - different seasons, characters, cocktails of personalities, expectations, life demands and environmental influences. Not typical.
Life is complex, beautiful, ugly, exhilarating, shocking, hilarious, brutal, joyous, fascinating, oh yes so very fascinating.
So, let’s hear about the true person with all their texture and colour.
This role, celebrant, it is not a job for everyone, but those who gravitate towards such a role, realise its a calling from some deep place within. I am not personally religious, but respect others beliefs, so my thanks go to mother earth, the opportunities, learning & experiences I have been fortunate to have.
I thank my own mother hugely, my children, sister, brothers, family, pets, friends and those many, many wonderful people I have worked alongside over the years from all parts of this rich world. I believe we are a product of all the above experiences and interactions and that everything we touch has impact, this relationship with our world makes me, me, you, you and them, them.
When asked to write a service for a funeral, my priority is to meet the family and listen, I spend around 2 hours in the home of the family and thereafter hours drawing together the anecdotes, sad, funny stories, the hilarious, the embarrassing, the romantic, the sad, the uplifting, the good, the bad, the ugly.
Together, we celebrate an important life, be that a life that never moved beyond the womb, or a life of many years. Each life is valuable, incremental time does not equate to more, or less worth... When choosing a celebrant to bring the life of your loved one to the service, whilst acknowledging loss- ensure they love what they do and want to do things your way <3
To all the lives I have said thank you to on behalf of many beautiful people... you remain vivid and important in the hearts & minds, of those you loved, you will play a role in their thoughts, decisions, actions and life philosophy and you have made a difference to this world.
May you forever be the kind whisper of a gentle breeze, the fresh rain on cheek in spring showers, a gentle harmony against the hum of the honey bee, the kiss of autumnal crisp air and the warm scarf on a winters eve.