Written by Brittany Carrington, our newly certified Funeral Celebrant.
Many have asked me, “What is a Funeral Celebrant?”
A celebrant is a person – male or female, clergy or layperson – who seeks to meet the needs of families during their time of loss by providing a funeral service that is personalized to reflect the personality and life-style of the deceased.
Having been in the funeral industry since 2008, I have seen my fair share of cookie-cutter funerals. You all know the type! The officiant, having had no contact with the family, comes to the funeral with a pre-formatted order of service, chats with the family for 10 minutes on what songs they will be playing, and walks up to the podium. After introducing himself, he says, “I didn’t know Mrs. Smith, but…” and then continues with an opening prayer, a few songs, reading of the obituary, message, and closing prayer.
I state this example – not out of disrespect for those who officiate services, as in some case the minister was called at the last minute and had no choice – but to emphasize the importance of the role of a Certified Funeral Celebrant.
I recently attended Funeral Celebrant Training in Las Vegas, Nevada. During the training, I sat in a room full of clergy members, funeral directors, chaplains, and other attendees from various professions. We were subjected to the good, the bad and the ugly in funeral service. We discussed some instances where funeral services caused more harm than good and other instances where they were a healing balm to a hurting soul. Obviously, it was our goal to learn how to provide the latter. By the end of the training, we had been educated on the necessary elements of a meaningful funeral service, equipped with tools from other skilled and experienced celebrants and, finally, given the opportunity to practice our newly acquired skills.
This was the frightening part.
We were split into groups of two and assigned a death scenario, such as natural causes, SIDS, cancer, accident, homicide, suicide and overdose, etc. We were to fabricate the name of the decedent, their history, family and other details. Next, we were to create a personalized and meaningful funeral and present it to the class. My partner and I were assigned one of the most difficult death scenarios…suicide.
As we began to fabricate a story about our suicide victim, my partner burst into tears and said his close cousin had committed suicide some years back and it would mean so much if we could create our celebrant service in his honor. At that moment, it became very real for both of us. We were no longer fabricating a funeral, we were honoring a life.
As the details began to unfold, we were planning a service for a 45-year-old Vietnam veteran who had experienced a life-changing event when, one day after he was transferred to a new platoon, his old platoon was wiped out. For the remainder of his life, he struggled with PTSD, guilt, depression and an obsession with danger that landed him in the hospital on several occasions and, once, an extended coma. His injuries led to an opioid addiction that controlled his life and resulted in him losing his family.
It was an extremely difficult task, but my partner and I created a service that honored a life without hiding or brushing over the truth. Instead, we created a safe place for people to feel…to express emotions when words weren’t sufficient…a place to heal. We acknowledged the pain of those left behind with poems and words of comfort and established the significance of the beloved decedent with a video tribute (all pretend, of course).
According to Doug Manning, the founder of our celebrant training program, “When words fail, ceremony takes over.” Our hypothetical funeral included elements of ceremony with meaningful songs and military honors. All the hypothetical attendees took home a little American Flag in tribute of the deceased that they could either keep in his memory or place on his grave at a later date to show evidence of their visit.
The core message of our service was that…he mattered.
In planning this hypothetical service, my partner and I took the core elements we learned in training and applied them in a way that highlighted the significance of a life and encouraged a healing and safe atmosphere in which the family could cherish memories, express emotions and share in their grief.
My passion is to serve families on a more personal level and offer a service that will lay a solid foundation for their grief journey. It is a common misconception that a viewing and funeral bring “closure.” However, as wisely stated by Doug Manning, the grief process will consist of many “closings,” events that promote healing. There is no magical moment when closure comes and grief is gone. Grief is a process that must be walked through. Many who have been through the grief process can testify to the waves of grief. One minute you are fine and the next minute, you are crying your eyes out. This is normal and contributes to healing.
As a licensed Funeral Director and Certified Funeral Celebrant, I not only orchestrate the business side of the funeral planning process, but I also help the family create a meaningful funeral service that provides a safe atmosphere where people feel permission to grieve and express emotion through song, ceremony and participation. One that ultimately celebrates the significance of a life and honors the reality of a death.
Just like a small droplet in a large body of water will result in far-reaching ripples, each life is significant and deserves to be celebrated for its uniqueness and lasting impact.
©2018 Putnam Funeral Home and Crematory, LLC