A celebrant is someone who celebrates something, often a significant life event such as a marriage, a death, a birth, a baby naming, and other major milestones. No two weddings or funerals (the most common life events celebrants are called for) are the same, making celebrancy a satisfying and endlessly interesting profession.
Wedding celebrants go through a rigorous legal process to be registered with the Department of Births Deaths and Marriages (BDM) and must re-register each year. Funeral celebrants don’t require legal registration. Anyone can be a funeral celebrant, but good celebrancy requires practised skills common to both weddings and funerals – sensitive interview skills, good writing skills, good public speaking skills, empathy, event management, and more.
For many, death doesn’t touch us until later in life, but inevitably it comes into each of our lives as parents, friends, siblings, relatives, employers, workmates, and in some cases, children, die. We can be left very exposed by the death of someone we know well, and often surprised. In this state of surprised vulnerability many people find themselves suddenly having to also deal with funeral arrangements. The logistics of even a very ordinary funeral can be so challenging, that in a state of distress, many people accept whatever arrangements are offered because at least it is taken care of.
Yet the funeral is the last opportunity we have to be in the same room with the person who has died. At the funeral people want to hear out loud about the person who has passed and hear it in a way they can agree with. They don’t want to hear a brother’s name mispronounced, or a sibling’s name left out, or facts of the person’s life and achievements muddled up. Most want to nod in agreement with the eulogy, the funny stuff, the quirky things, the weird thing they had on their sandwich every day for eleven years straight, the good they did, the kindness they delivered when they thought no-one was looking, the arguments they had constantly with the neighbour’s cat, who their children were, and their spouse, what achievements they managed, what their hobbies were, and so on. These things are not earth-shattering in most cases, but they are always very human and it is this human-ness which you’ll find at the heart of any good funeral.
Celebrants write this human story from interviews with close people, and check it with them to make sure it’s accurate, and just as importantly, that it strikes a tone that allows people who knew the deceased to feel that they are somehow present in the ceremony. They also keep the service on track and provide a focal point so that those mourning can do so without interruption – leaving their thoughts free to travel with the story.
It’s the same at a wedding. The celebrant makes sure the ceremony stays on track so that the bride and groom are free of concerns and able to be fully present in the act of becoming married.
Celebrants need to be flexible and willing to accommodate a wide variety of ideas for a ceremony, from the traditional to the wildly out there. A large group of people always requires logistical management and an experienced celebrant contributes their planning expertise.
Outside of legal or practical concerns, there is no right or wrong way to acknowledge the passing of a life. Today a funeral can cost an average $15,000, or it can cost a lot less. Eco or natural burials are fast gaining popularity, but the traditional service will always have a place. You can hire an independent civil celebrant, use one supplied by the funeral home, or do it yourself. Almost everything is possible. It’s really important that you feel comfortable with whoever you choose for this role.
Mostly death is a surprise, even when it is expected. It might help you to know beforehand that your choices in organising a fitting send-off are wide open. Do it the way you think best honours your loved one.
Theresa Sjoquist, Independent Civil Celebrant, Member CANZ
Copyright Theresa Sjoquist
First Published Helensville Community News – August 2018