Funeral Celebrants

Whatever the age a person is when he/she dies, those who loved him/her will experience grief. That grief will come in many forms-anger, sadness, loneliness, relief, guilt and many other emotions or combinations of all of the above.

There are different names we can put to the ceremony where we pay tribute to that person: funeral, memorial, celebration of life. But whatever we name it and however it is done, grief will be a part of it.

Traditionally, funerals were held in a church and were attended by entire communities and large extended families. The church minister, priest, rabbi or pastor would lead the service. Today, there are still many funerals that follow this more traditional way of saying goodbye.

Mobility, loss of the traditional large family unit and other factors has contributed to a change in how we perceive and do things. Many communities today have substantial populations who do not attend or are a part of a church. It has been estimated that in some communities, the percentages of unchurched people is as high as 50%. So who do we turn to at the time of a death if we have no church affiliation? Many families have used the services of clergy even though they did not know one or have any connection to a church. Sometimes that left them with unsettled and unsatisfactory feelings after the funeral service.

It is my belief that any tribute, whatever form it takes, needs to be representative of the person who died and the life that they lived if it is to be respectful, meaningful and healing for those who are left to walk grief’s journey. If a professed atheist, for example, dies and his funeral service is conducted in a church or a salvation message is part of the service, then it becomes an insult to the family and those friends who knew and loved that person. I attended just such a service about five years ago and it left me questioning the purpose of the funeral service itself, what it all meant and how was I going to reconcile what I knew about this person with the type of service that was provided.

Since that time I have searched for ways that people can pay tribute to their deceased loved ones and friends in respectful, meaningful and healing ways that embody the person as well as their beliefs. That search has led me to the services performed by Funeral Celebrants.

Doug Manning, a renowned author on grief for over 30 years, experienced that same search. It took him to New Zealand and Australia where funeral celebrants are common. A few years ago he brought the idea to North America in the form of training Certified Funeral Celebrants. To date he has trained and certified more than 1000 celebrants.

Celebrants provide personalized alternative funeral services for families who do not want to have a traditional religious service performed by a clergy. The role of the celebrant is to allow mourners to connect with their loved one in a very personal way by providing a funeral service that reflects the personality and life-style of the deceased. Many people have shared with me that they are “spiritual” but not “religious”. No family should have to have their final act of love for their deceased loved one be a religious service if that is not who that person was just because that is all that is available to the family.

As a Certified Funeral Celebrant I am honored to be a part of the family’s grief journey, to walk with them, hold their hands and understand with my heart.

Tonia Catcher is a Funeral PreArrangement Counsellor and Certified Funeral Celebrant. Her website celebrating life offers a wealth of information as well as e-books about funeral preplanning and aging.

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