The Good Funeral Awards

The Life of a Funeral Celebrant

24 May, 2011

At the grand old age 52 I discovered what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Everyone knows that these days you can have a civil wedding…but civil funerals? A colleague asked me to help with a funeral, and I discovered just how special it was. A few months after that I was asked to give a tribute at a funeral. Then, I met a funeral celebrant. I was sure that all of these events were leading me to a new career.

I was able to find a professional body who train people to be Civil Funeral Celebrants and I signed up. It was five-day residential course. I met people with a common goal of wanting to help the bereaved at the most difficult time in their lives. The course culminated with each of us having to present a ceremony at a crematorium. We were videoed and given feedback.

We had to visit a crematorium; I assume that anyone squeamish enough not to do this, would be unable to do the job. There must be more ‘urban myths’ about cremation than anything else. I am able to set my families’ minds at ease. A civil funeral ceremony is ideal for anyone who wants an alternative to a fully religious service with a member of the clergy. It can be completely non-religious or include a hymn or a prayer. The focus of the ceremony is on the life of the deceased and to that end I spend hours with the family, finding out all about their loved one. I may call relatives who live out of the area or work colleagues, to enable me to have a fully rounded picture of the deceased.

I help families choose relevant pieces of music or readings and poems to make the ceremony more personal. The choice of music varies. I’ve had The Goons, Robbie Williams and Pink Floyd, as well as moving pieces of music like Pie Jesu and Time To Say Goodbye. The music is often the most emotional part of a ceremony. At one local funeral, the Christchurch group Light and Sound sang in memory of their Sound Director. The funeral director said to me afterwards, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place, including mine!

I love my new career, I feel as if I have found my vocation in life. Each family I work with, becomes my family and I do my very best to ensure that they say goodbye to their loved in the way that is right for them. I meet people from all walks of life, all coping with their loss in their own way.

Janice Smith will be speaking about her work at the Six Feet Under convention. She has a website