So, What’s a Celebrant?

Last year I had never heard of a Celebrant. A what? What do they do? Sounds weird.

Last week I walked into a room with 20 strangers, all there to learn about how to make a funeral personal & each life meaningful. When I was told that on the last day of training I would have to present a eulogy I had written for a fictitious person I felt overwhelmed, “How in the world will I do that?” I wondered. After 2 days of full training we were split into groups and given a situation to create a service around.

Suicide. Baby. Alzheimers. Senior. Child.

“Molly, you’re team has the teenager.” deep breath, ok, a teenager. Ugh.

I got together with my teammates, now friends after these few days of deep and incredible learning & discussion. We created Jimmy Green, a young man, a soccer player who died of leukemia leaving behind parents, a brother and sister.

I was up until 2am writing Jimmy’s eulogy and presented it with my teammates the next morning in the string of the 8 funerals enacted. As I spoke about Jimmy’s life an odd thing happened, my voice choked and caught with emotion and I had to pause in grief over a boy who never lived. I looked up to see others in the audience also with tears in their eyes and I knew that what I was doing was powerful.

Today I am a Certified Funeral Celebrant and passionate about informing the world about the beautiful service a Celebrant can give to a family.

THE PURPOSE OF A CELEBRANT

To quote our trainers, the amazing Doug Manning (author of The Funeral & Don’t Take My Grief Away From Me – read these!) and brilliant Glenda Stansbury, “A Celebrant provides a funeral service that is personalized to reflect the personality and life-style of the deceased.

The original idea of a Celebrant came about as a solution for families who didn’t have a home church or religious affiliation. Australia was the first place to create this unique role, built around telling the story of the life as it was lived. There are many families where a religious funeral doesn’t fit and the need for someone who can tell their story even so is needed.

Therefore, Celebrants specialize in more “secular” services, often writing eulogies for lives that no pastors knew.

Please don’t mistake me for saying that pastors do not give meaningful services, many of them do. The issue lies in creating a service that stays true to the life being honored. If they weren’t religious, then the family may feel a religious service isn’t appropriate. While that’s up to the family, isn’t it wonderful to have an option that can speak straight and truly to the life being remembered? I think it’s pretty wonderful and VERY important.

WHAT A CELEBRANT DOES

A certified Funeral Celebrant will meet with the deceased’s family the week of the service for several hours. This meeting serves to acquaint the Celebrant with the myriads of stories that the family has to tell, the good, the bad & the ugly.

After listening, note taking & asking questions, the Celebrant leaves to write the personal story with the tools of their training.

Furthermore, Glenda encouraged us all to take our tribute a step further by finding a giveaway token that represents an aspect of the life we honor. Whether it’s a favorite candy, signature recipe, a game piece or custom bookmark, giving your audience a token of remembrance validates their relationship lost and gives them an object of comfort. Beautiful? Yes, beautiful.

WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER A CELEBRANT

Concept image with What is Your Story printed on an old typewriter

The Celebrant’s goal and purpose is to tell the life story with an honesty and graciousness that presents a real and full picture of the person we have gathered to remember.

One of the services that we heard in the training was for a young man who had struggled with drugs and addiction for nearly all of his 30 years. The eulogy touched on his AA experiences, incorporated some of the inspiriting quotations that AA focuses on, and still left each of us with the knowledge that he had led a life that had mattered, that had mattered to others, and that was going to be missed. Celebrant services are quite often given to people who some might deem unworthy of a service – to them I say, every life has a meaning and a story that should be heard.

I attended a funeral where the deceased was hardly mentioned. The way he died (which was tragic) was never spoken of, and the pastor’s attempt to be personal amounted to him telling us the different nicknames his family had for him. I didn’t hear about my friend, I couldn’t find him in the service and I had come to find him and to say goodbye.

I left that service with a deeply unsettled heart. My friend wasn’t spoken of, the tragedy of his death was the elephant in the room that the pastor couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge. This felt so wrong and like such a disservice to the joyful life and friend I had known. The pastor knew almost nothing about him, it was obvious. He had hardly even bothered to learn about the life we were there to remember, he was unworthy of telling the story.

Doug said in our training,

“Even the worst commercial is scripted, planned & rehearsed. But not funerals.”

In a similar way, we extensively plan weddings, birthday & retirement parties that are usually uniquely customized to the preferences of the person being celebrated. So why does this happen so little at a funeral? Families make wonderful gestures by bringing in photos, trinkets and beloved possessions of their loved one but shouldn’t the eulogy reflect who we are there remembering as well?

A personalized funeral does not just tell the story, it also provides a fitting tribute that families crave and need as they begin their journey through grief. A story left untold or told poorly lay troubled and burdened paths out before the grieving.

We feel charged as leaders in our profession and guides for our families to bring them the very best.

If you would like to learn more about Celebrants, we have an opportunity for you. On April 3rd we are hosting an “A Celebration of Art: Two Paths One Journey” at the mortuary featuring the art of one of our favorite Funeral Celebrants, Ty Rose. Ty will share briefly about his experience as a Celebrant and how the impact of his work has shaped and given purpose to so much of his art.

You can RSVP here.

The evening is open to all and I sincerely hope you’ll come to enjoy some fine art, taste good food, sip some wine and mingle with our Celebrant friends.

Finally, my favorite line of Glenda’s: “The highest compliment I receive as a Celebrant is when someone comes up to me and asks, ‘How long did you know Jimmy?’ to which I reply, ‘You know, I actually never knew him, but I wish I had.’”

|| what do you think?

– Would you want a Celebrant Service? Why or why not?
– Have you seen a personalized service? How did it impact you?

To learn more about Celebrants and Doug & Glenda, click here.

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.

47 Comments

  1. Joanna Ramirez says:

    Molly,

    In the last year or so, Keith and Ty have done such an amazing job telling the story and honoring the families we are serving. I had never heard of a celebrant before we learned of them in the last year or so and it has been great for the families. As a gal who does not practice a specific religion with a family who does (here and there), it would be just right to have a Celebrant care for our family (not anytime me soon though). The time that they spend with the family and all the work they do definately show with their wonderful words. Keith and Ty are such great guys, I am excited to meet all the newly certified Celebrants.

    • Joanna,
      Doesn’t it feel nice to know that there will be someone that does fit you? I find that so comforting. That instead of hoping my story is told, I can be confident that it will be and that all those who contributed to it will be honored as well. It’s so wonderful and I love that you feel like this would be the right option for you.

      Thanks so much for reading & sharing!

      Molly

  2. Tom says:

    I felt as though I knew James, as one friend knows another, at his celebrant service today. Celebrant Keith Page officiated the service and presented James’ story in a profound way. My eyes actually started to tear.

    • Tom! I’m so glad you got to actually sit through a service and see first-hand the power a Celebrant brings to a story. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, I’m so glad it was profound & moving for you. It was for me, too.

      Molly

  3. Elsa says:

    Molly,
    I think celebrant services are so great. They have such an impact in creating a services so much more meaningful. Growing up catholic, it’s sort of the tradition and the Thing that we do as far as having a catholic Funeral Mass. Although I am not sure I would really change that too much, I would love to have a combination of both, that way I can still be honored in both the religious and personal aspect of telling my story. I am so excited to meet all the newly certified celebrants:)

    • Elsa,
      That is so well said. There are so many aspects of a story to tell and I think there’s a lot of wisdom in not limiting your story to one voice. There’s also just so much meaning and beauty in Catholic and other religious ceremonies, and if they played a profound role in your life, they should also be at your service.

      I love your thoughts on this, it’s creative & personal and the perfect example of how we should all be looking at these services.

      Molly

  4. Peter Wyllie says:

    I have been a celebrant for just over 5 years and it is the most wonderfully rewarding role – it takes a while sometimes to get going as a celebrant – but in 5 years I have conducted something like 850 funerals – over 65 for babies – and I know that what I do has made a difference to many families – so to those of you who have just qualified – enjoy!

    • Peter,

      Thank you so much! 850, that’s just incredible, you have touched literally thousands of people with your services. Also, the 65 sweet babies who you honored and memorialized for the families, they will endlessly be grateful to you and find your words along their road to healing.

      Thank you so much for sharing! If you ever want to guest blog about your experience I would love to have you!

      Thank you for reading!

      Molly

      • Peter Wyllie says:

        Well thank you – I am based in the UK – whereabouts are you?
        It is interesting to compare different approaches round the world

        • Peter,
          I’m out in Southern California. We just flew Doug Manning and Glenda Stansbury out here last week to do our training. Did you go through them as well or a different Celebrant organization?

  5. Chuck Ricciardi says:

    Molly,

    Thank you for sharing your powerful experience with Celebrant training with the rest of us. This concept has been new to most all of us at O’Connors but in a very short time we have seen the positive impact it has on family and friends during an extremely difficult time. The way a celebrant can paint the picture and tactfully not shy away from the bad and the ugly is a gift to our families they will use during their grief journey. As you mentioned I have attending services before where the deceased is barely mentioned let alone properly eulogized. When family and friends can leave a memorial feeling energized by the life lived then we are heading in the right direction.

    Chuck

    • Chuck,
      Yes, I like that you used the word “energized” – I think that’s a real feeling associated with healthy funerals. I’ve come to realize too that we need to “recognize” the deceased in their eulogy, if there’s nothing in it of the person we knew and loved then it can feel like the service was for someone else. The words and recognition we give to the life can become markers that, as you said, help light the way to healing for families.

      Thanks so much for reading Chuck, I love your insights!

      Molly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.