As an Independent Celebrant, I conduct ceremonies for people at all stages of their life. From the first ‘hello’, of a baby Naming to the final ‘farewell’ at a funeral. Of course, in between, I also help people celebrate a marriage, Civil Partnership, or any other significant life event that they wish to mark.
I love what I do. It is the best job that I have ever had. Every ceremony that I am asked to create, and conduct, is unique; just like the person, or relationship, that is being celebrated. It is a massive privilege to be a part of someone’s special day, whatever the occasion. It is also a big responsibility – and not one that I take lightly.
When I am asked to deliver a funeral service, it is usually through a Funeral Director. I have developed a close working relationship with a number of local undertakers and I have a lot of respect for them and the work that they do. Occasionally, I am asked to conduct a funeral by someone who has been to another ceremony, that I have led, and that is always an added honour.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of being part of a ceremony celebrating the life of, Nan, a lady who was almost 98 years old, when she died. I very rarely write, publicly, about the funerals that I deliver. Today, with the permission of Nan’s family, I am making an exception.
Just over a week ago, I received a telephone call from a lady who was arranging a funeral for her grandmother. She asked if I was available on the day that they wanted and I was pleased to let her know that I was. As the call had come direct, I asked her which Funeral Director was organising the funeral. “Oh, we’re not having one; we are doing it all ourselves", she said. And they did. And it was great!
I went to meet the family a couple of days later and by then they had sourced an English willow coffin, made in Somerset and chosen a plot, under a Scots pine, in a natural burial woodland. Nan was fiercely proud of being English and loved all things English – hence the English willow. Her first husband, and father to her only child, was Scottish - hence the Scots pine.
They didn’t use a traditional hearse. The family car was black and fairly large, with a hatchback. Nan’s grandson folded down the rear seats and kitted out the back of the car with a black cloth covered platform. It looked beautiful. It looked dignified. Of course, he also needed to ensure that Nan would be transported, to her final resting place, not only respectfully but also securely.
So off they went to B&Q. Nan’s grandson knew what he needed, and the dimensions. He chose the pieces and he asked for the wood to be cut to size. Nan’s young great-grandchildren were with their mum and dad and chirpily told the man cutting the wood, “This is for our granny”. “Oh really?” he said, “What is it for?” “It’s for her funeral” they said. He was amazed and enthralled. He said that he felt privileged to be part of Nan’s day. I know how he felt. Me too!
There was a similar conversation with all of the usual suppliers of goods and services. The florist had been 'in the job' for over thirty years and never heard anything like it! She too, was delighted to be part of Nan’s day.
Yesterday, the sun was shining and the bluebells were in full bloom. It was a lovely day. It was a lovely farewell. Nan’s great-grandchildren read a poem and her grandson and granddaughter paid tribute to a phenomenal and inspirational woman. There was laughter and plenty of smiles; there were a few tears but no heavy hearts. The family said that it was perfect for them and for her.
Not everyone would be able to take on everything that this family did. Everyone is different and deals with things differently. For this family, it worked. It worked because they worked together, were in agreement with what they wanted and asked for help and advice when they needed it.
I believe that here will always be a place for Funeral Directors because a lot of people would not be able, or would not want, to take on such a complex set of tasks at what, for many, is a very difficult time.
The Funeral Directors that I work with are professional, caring and extremely good at what they do. Their services, and support, are valued by, and a comfort to, the bereaved families that they work with and I hope to continue working alongside them. However, for those families who want to take on the arrangements themselves, Nan’s funeral is proof that there is another way.
You don't have to do everything and you don't have to do it alone. There are a growing number of support groups, and resources, available to assist people wanting to organise a funeral. A good place to start is the Natural Death Centre: http://www.naturaldeath.org.uk
I have supported the work of the Natural Death Centre, since I became a Celebrant, because of what they do and how they do it. The charity firmly believes that knowledge is power, and that by knowing what is possible, you will be able to make informed choices about what is right for you, your family and for the person who has died.
To finish off, here is the poem that Nan’s great-grandchildren read. Nan wasn’t a churchgoer, but she had faith and so her ceremony had some elements of religion. Her final resting place was amongst the bluebells. Today, her great-grandchildren returned to the Scots pine, with their family dog, for a picnic…
Come walk with me through bluebell woods,
And see the proof of God’s sweet love.
Long rays of sunlight trickling down,
Among the trees in search of ground.
A piece of heaven here below,
Creation at its best on show.
With perfume drifting on the breeze,
To guide us through this deep blue sea.
Bright sapphires dance in flickering light,
While silent butterflies take flight.
And echoes of a distant thrush,
We know that He is here with us.
Written by Elizabeth Mason
I am most usually asked to conduct ceremonies in North-West England and North Wales but I am happy to travel anywhere within the U.K. or abroad.
At the risk of shouting (and sounding extremely cheesy) "I LOVE MY JOB!".
I really love getting to know the couples and families that ask me to be part of their special celebration, whether that is for a Wedding/Civil Partnership, Renewal/Reaffirmation of Vows, Naming/Welcoming, or Celebration of Life/Funeral
I love hearing, writing and telling love and life stories (and also finding out about hopes and dreams - which are the stories of the future!)
I love to create and conduct unique, meaningful, non-religious ceremonies that are perfect for each couple, individual, and/or family.
I love helping to create and celebrate happy and poignant moments, which form memories that will last a lifetime (that also includes the memories that I get to keep too - what's not to love?)
I believe that ALL people (and animals) should all be treated kindly, fairly and with respect.
We are all unique and we all matter. I think for myself and act for others. I advocate anti-racism, the appreciation and celebration of diversity, justice, equity and equality for ALL through everything that I say and do: Love is Love, Family is Family, Life is Life.
You may also like to know that I am accredited by Humanists UK and a recommended LGBTQ+ Equality Weddings supplier. I hold Public Liability and Professional Indemnity insurance, I adhere to a strict code of conduct and I am committed to developing and sharing best practice with my Independent and Humanist Celebrant colleagues, so that we can all be the best Celebrants that we can possibly be.
To contact me please email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 0744 932 3988