When a loved one dies, as well as the emotional sucker punch, there’s also the considerable blow of having to organise so many things, including their funeral. It’s a double whammy of horrible.
If you’re in this situation, my condolences.
This blog post’s aim is to make a least one part of the situation a bit easier for you: meeting with your funeral celebrant and organising the funeral ceremony.
You may have already appointed a Funeral Director, who might have done the first part of arranging the funeral with you and suggested a celebrant who would fit your needs. Or you might have come to the celebrant first, before approaching a Funeral Director. Either way is fine. And either way, a meeting with your chosen celebrant (and if you’re reading this, it’s likely to be me) is on the cards.
Who will be at the funeral meeting?
You can meet with me on your own, or you can have other family members or friends with you if you prefer. There are no limits on numbers but do be aware that lots of people together can make the meeting quite long, especially if they are a chatty bunch!
Where will the funeral meeting take place?
During the pandemic, funeral meetings often took place over Zoom or similar online video call providers. Although this is not quite the same as being in the room with someone, it can help if you have, say, family members who live quite a while away. It enables us to be able to see each other, but with no travel or tidying up involved.
Talking of tidying up – there is no need! A face to face funeral meeting will probably happen at your house or the place your loved one lived. I know that you’re going through it and the last thing I will do is to judge you on the fact you haven’t hoovered.
If you’d prefer to meet in person but not at your house, sometimes your Funeral Director will have a meeting room that we could talk in. Failing that, a quiet corner in a café will work. Whatever fits your needs best.
How long will it take?
Allow two hours for our meeting. It might not take that long, but you don’t want to feel rushed. Also, if you can, it’s good to allow a bit of ‘buffer’ time before you have to go out and do anything else.
Do I need to prepare for a funeral meeting?
Many people worry that they need to know all there is to know about their loved one in preparation for the funeral meeting. They gather paperwork and family trees, ready to answer questions like it’s going to be their specialist subject on Mastermind.
Please don’t feel the need to do this! We are going to be creating a ceremony that reflects your loved one – their personality, their interests and the effect they had on the people around them – we are not writing an in-depth biography or their CV. You don’t need their inside leg measurement or the exact date they got married.
What you do need are your memories, your shared experiences, the things that made you laugh about them, the things that drove you nuts, or how it felt to be hugged by them. It’s tough opening up about these sorts of thoughts, especially when you probably feel so raw, but I want to get to know your loved one through your eyes so will ask you lots of gentle questions. You should never feel you have to share more than you’re comfortable with though, and it’s ok not to know the answers to some questions (or not to want to go there).
Thinking about the ceremony itself
As well as getting to know your loved one, I will need to get to know what you want from the ceremony. After all, it’s about your loved one but it’s for you and the other people who are attending.
It’s worth thinking about a few things before the funeral meeting. You don’t need to have all the answers or have made all the decisions, but it might help to know that I will ask you about some or all of these things:
The feel of the ceremony
It might sound like an odd question, but how do you want the funeral to feel? Not all funerals have to be, well, funereal. You may decide that you want it to be an upbeat celebration of your loved one’s life. You may want a simple, reflective ceremony with few words and lots of music. It might be at the local crematorium chapel. Or it could be in a forest or even in your garden. There is no template that you have to follow. We can discuss this in the meeting.
Religion and spirituality
Was your loved one religious? If so, we can include a suitable prayer or blessing, reading, hymn or chant. Maybe they were more spiritual, in which case we can nod towards their love of the ethereal, or talk about their beliefs about what happens after death. Maybe you take comfort in the idea of them being reunited with those they have loved and lost over the years, and we can mention that. Or perhaps they didn’t believe in any of that, and we won’t include it at all. There is no agenda other than reflecting on your loved one and your relationship with them.
Usually, you will have three pieces of music in a funeral ceremony: one to come in to; one to reflect to, and one to close and walk out to. However, this is by no means a requirement. If you don’t want any reflection music, that’s fine. If you’d like to include more music, bring it on!
As a rule of thumb, the piece you walk out to is often the most upbeat of all the music in the service. Of course, we’re not expecting you to be dancing (although don’t let me stop you!) but it helps emotionally to leave on a less mournful note.
The reflection music can be whatever you’d like it to be, but is often slower and more reflective, as its name suggests.
You can have any music you like for the funeral ceremony. It does not have to be classical, churchy or on the Funeral Director’s approved list. You can include a hymn if you want, but you don’t have to. You might even decide to ring the changes and sing a favourite song together instead. I’ve had friends or family members play instruments or perform, and once a whole gospel choir brought everyone up in goosebumps with their singing. It’s all possible.
You might want to stand up and say something at the funeral, and you might have several other people who all want to share their memories as well. Or it could be that you don’t want to stand and say anything, but you’d like to write something for me to read out on your behalf. Or maybe you would prefer that I write and deliver all the words, based on everything I’ve learned about your loved one from our meeting? The most important thing is that you feel as comfortable as possible, so if you hate public speaking at the best of times, you’re not going to love it at the worst.
If you are going to have several people sharing their memories, a good tip is that they focus on their own shared experiences with your loved one, or they each talk about a different aspect of them. You don’t want several people all trying to outline your person’s life!
I will ask for the tributes to be sent over to me as soon as possible, and there are several reasons for this:
- To make sure that I don’t share stories you were going to share (after all, 1 word from you or anyone close to your loved one is worth 1000 from me).
- To ensure that your stories don’t overlap if there’s more than one tribute.
- So that I can take over if it feels too overwhelming for you on the day or a speaker is ill/stuck on the motorway etc.
- So that I can make sure that the timings work (especially if we are in a crematorium chapel).
- So that I can weave the tributes seamlessly into the ceremony as a whole.
- So that I can present you with a copy of the whole ceremony afterwards.
If you’d like some help writing a funeral tribute, see this blog post here.
Readings and speakers
You might have a reading or a poem that brings you comfort, or perhaps someone has written it in a sympathy card. Again, there is no real need to include a reading if you don’t want to, but sometimes they can help us say the thing that is on our hearts.
After our meeting, I might send you some reading suggestions once I have a feel for your loved one and your tastes. Of course, there are plenty of websites and poetry books out there full of them too. A well-chosen and read poem can enhance a funeral ceremony, but one that is just there because it felt like you should include one will rarely add anything.
I am of course very happy to read any poem or passage that you like, or you could ask a friend or family member to read instead, if appropriate.
Many of the funeral venues near to me (private Funeral Directors’ chapels as well as Worthing Crematorium, Chichester Crematorium, The Downs Crematorium and Woodvale Crematorium) have screens available to play a slideshow of photos on – or ‘visual tributes’, as they’re sometimes known. These can be a really lovely addition to a ceremony, combining a piece of music with typically 20-30 pictures of your loved one. If you have some pictures you’d like to show as part of the funeral service, we can definitely work that in.
You might want to come up to the coffin and place some flowers, or perhaps ask people to write a memory on a post-it note, come to the front and stick it on. Perhaps you’d like to light some candles during the reflection music, or include some other sort of ritual that you feel would fit your loved one.
You don’t have to have decided this before the funeral meeting, but just knowing that you can include these sorts of elements might open up a creative conversation when you’re talking with me.
You don’t have to set a dress code as such, but if you are expecting people to wear black, or Hawaiian shirts, or football kit, or your loved one’s favourite colour, do let me know so that I can join in!
If the funeral ceremony is taking place at a crematorium, you will have the option of whether or not the curtains will close around the coffin at the end of the service. There is no right or wrong here, but the choice often brings up quite strong feelings either way. I’m often asked what ‘most people do’. It shouldn’t make a difference to your decision but, for the record, most families I work with tend to leave them open. My advice is to go with your gut feeling as to what feels right.
After the funeral meeting
Many people, at the end of a meeting, have told me that they were dreading me coming around but that they actually really enjoyed the process. When you have been living with shock and deep grief for a few days, or you have been nursing a loved one through a tough illness, turning your focus to happier times can be a real tonic.
Of course, sharing your stories can feel emotional too, which is why I advise you not to have anything too onerous booked in straight afterwards. Do something kind for yourself instead.
If you have any further thoughts, stories, ideas or questions that bubble up after the meeting, just get in touch – that’s what I’m here for. I will send you a draft of the ceremony script for you to read in plenty of time to make any changes you’d like before the big day.
I am sorry to be meeting you under sad circumstances, but I look forward to working with you on giving your loved one the send-off that’s perfect for them.