Funeral planning and your options – who can run a funeral ceremony?
Organising a funeral for your mum or dad can be incredibly surreal. There is no time to wait, get your head around things, or to feel a bit better. Typically a funeral will be held within a week or so of a death, which means the organising needs to start basically within a day or two of them passing away.
Shell-shocked, upset, confused, and stressed, you are expected not just to be making all the phone calls and getting all their affairs in order (bills and bank accounts need doing very, very soon) but you also have to be planning the funeral and making all the decisions that go along with it, particularly if their wishes weren’t clear – who and how to tell, casket, cremation or burial, flowers, music, what you want said about them, poems/hymns, etc. It can be an incredibly hard time. And in most instances you’ll use a local funeral director – perhaps one you’ve used before. At most you might check 2 or 3 places before choosing but time is of the essence here and shopping around can be very stressful, so most people go with the first one they approach.
What I’ve been realising in the last few months though, especially here in the UK, is how unaware people are of their options. What tends to happen is that you accept what the funeral director suggests without realising how much choice you have and what things you can do differently.
I know this isn’t a time when you want to be making things very difficult by trying to take on lots of extra decisions….but it is well worth knowing what options you have that you will probably never hear about.
So let’s talk about celebrants. I’m betting you don’t know what that is. I was very used to them in NZ but here in the UK no-one seems to have any idea what I am on about when I use that word. Even a celebrant recently told me that she had spoken to a priest who said “wow, it‘s great what you do. I didn’t know there was someone like you out there!”. Well there are more than just her. Way more.
When we are talking about a funeral, a celebrant is someone who conducts the funeral ceremony. In fact, if you haven’t had a priest or similar religious leader conduct a funeral (and it wasn’t in a church or another religious setting) then you probably had a celebrant officiating. You’ve probably met them…you just didn’t know what they were called. And I’ll bet you didn’t know that you can choose one you like. The funeral director might have one they already use or that they recommend, but you don’t have to use the one they say, you can get online and search for someone you would prefer or ask around. They are there. I know. I’ve googled celebrants in London and I’ve met and talked to some of them. There are some really lovely ones who love the work they do and are really committed to giving a very personal funeral, rather than a cookie-cutter one where the name of your parent and a few facts about them get slotted into an existing script.
Actually…..anyone can legally conduct a funeral
What’s really interesting is that most people don’t know you don’t even have to have a celebrant. You don’t need someone trained to do the job to conduct a funeral. It doesn’t have to be a certain/standard length. You don’t have to have a certain number of poems and songs, if any at all. A funeral is not like a wedding where the person officiating must have ‘power vested in them’. Legally there are actually zero requirements for the form of a funeral ceremony. The person who runs the funeral equates more to the toastmaster at a wedding. In fact if you have a friend or family member who would do a particularly good job of it (perhaps they are a great speaker, or for other reasons would be wonderful at this) they could do it. Now obviously this would have to be a careful decision (and ideally not just based on convenience or finances) as you don’t want someone unexpectedly getting stage fright or falling apart and then not being able to complete the service, but my point is simply that you have a lot more choice here than you realise. The person you work with will often have a set way they run a service….but if you want it done completely differently then that is your choice no matter what they say. If they don’t like something you want to say, or read, or a piece of music you want to play, that’s tough. You may choose to do exactly as they advise but just remember you can have as much or as little input as you like here, because what you may think of as ‘just the way a funeral is done’ may be the way it’s traditionally done…but it isn’t the only way and it certainly doesn’t have to be done like that.
I’m spending a lot of time looking into funerals and your options (particularly the ones you don’t know about and are never told about that can save you money and make a service a lot more personal) at the moment, so expect to see more tips about this in the near future.
If you have some experiences or insights around using celebrants or someone different then I would love to hear about them.