Serving the community
Just as a faith minister has their ‘flock’ or parish, I very much regard where I live and work as the community I serve. Being a celebrant has presented many opportunities to get involved and contribute to community benefit beyond planning and conducting funeral ceremonies from memorial rose planting events at private nursing homes for former residents to presenting talks to local groups.
What is key is that these extra curricula voluntary activities help to promote choice in funeral planning and foster links which are mutually beneficial. It puts the services you offer on the radar of people who might not have attended a funeral you have conducted and it is invaluable when demonstrating compassion for each other.
Be a force for good
You get a privileged perspective on the social and economic issues and challenges for a local community through your work as a celebrant. Plymouth I am sure is no different to other cities where sudden adult death, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide are not uncommon.
I am increasingly conducting funerals for people with mental health illness who took their own lives. I personally feel, having witnessed the devastating impact of suicide on families and friends, that I can play a greater part in changing public attitude to mental health matters. We really need to do everything we can to dispel the taboo and stigma associated with mental health.
The honesty and courage of families never fails to inspire me when they choose not to tip toe around the circumstances which brings people together for a funeral following a suicide. Heartfelt tribute words eloquently speak of the experience of living with someone who battled with depression or other diagnosed mental health conditions.
This is an extract from a eulogy presented by a widow:
“We are grieving for you. Grief I have been told is a cycle with the stages of shock, denial, anger, depression and detachment and finally acceptance. So for many of us here, given it is a matter of two weeks, we probably haven’t even begun to feel the level of despair you did on a daily basis for months on end. How brave you were to battle daily, with your lack of energy, the helplessness and deep sadness in your heart.
“I have always been blessed with a sunny disposition but now have had a small taste and its overwhelming, exhausting, how you functioned I do not know. Only now do I fully understand your favourite Columbo quote, “Sometimes kindness is wiser than the truth.”
A legacy beyond the funeral
Sometimes those working in the funeral service profession feel like they are parachuted in to support the bereaved for only a small part of their journey. Choosing to fundraise for good causes related to issues which lie behind the funerals I conduct feels like a more lasting legacy beyond the funeral taking place.
For example if I present talks to community groups it is in lieu of a donation to the fantastic charity Silverline which supports lonely isolated older people.
On 2 September I am signed up for a sponsored skydive to benefit a local MIND support group. I am doing it in memory of those with mental health illness whose funerals I have had the privilege of conducting. I have raised half of my sponsorship target of £400 so far – visit: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/wendycoulton1
It’s all small scale activity but is better than doing none I guess.
Building emotional resilience
Working as a celebrant, who is independent of funeral firms or companies, can be a lonely experience with hours sat alone researching and writing scripts for ceremonies. There isn’t the spontaneous workplace banter between colleagues to break up the day or boost your morale.
I value time spent with funeral directors, arrangers and crematorium staff. I consider myself part of the team with a shared aim to serve the bereaved well.
But having the extra connections with the wider community – outside the realm of funerals – is immensely important for my own emotional resilience and maintaining a healthy perspective on life and death.