Category Archives: Funerals

Not having a funeral

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My Nan passed away recently and decided that she didn’t want to have a funeral. I can understand this to a point. I assume she didn’t want people spending money and she didn’t want a fuss.

We still had a family gathering, we still shared our memories and we still looked at photos of her throughout the years. We spoke about things we remembered and my Pa asked my cousin to sing ‘I Will Always Love You’ (Whitney Houston/Dolly Parton). I had prepared a little something to say. I wasn’t sure if there was going to be anything said and the celebrant part of me would have been really upset if others spoke and I hadn’t written something for the occasion.

It got me thinking and, I think more than I did before, that the funeral isn’t so much for the person that has died. Yes it is ABOUT them, but it isn’t FOR them. It is for the people left behind, heart broken, lost and grieving. It is about having a time and place to come together and to talk about this wonderful person that was a big or little part of our lives.

For me it is a time to reflect on the life that they had and the wonderful things that they did. The last few family members that passed away I have conducted the ceremony, so for me it’s very different than attending a funeral. I think that it is a really valuable time to even learn something about the person that you didn’t already know, even people that you have known all of your life. Other people can share stories and their memories and that way you can always learn something about people.

I’ve also blogged about planning your own funeral in the past and raised some questions about the details of your funeral and is that something that you would think about. Would you choose songs? Poems to be read?

Do you think it is part of the grieving process and seeing what they meant to other people helps with realising that they will not be forgotten? Every time I go to a funeral people always say how lovely it is to see people that they haven’t seen for years and that they wish it was under happier circumstances. I got to see cousins that I haven’t seen for around 20 years and cousins that I see every couple of years. I loved that part of it. It’s not the happiest of occasions but these are the people that see you at your worst. There was a lady who was there and I recognised her the instant that she walked in the door although I hadn’t seen her since I was a small child. It was one of my aunties oldest friends.  I think a funeral teaches us a lot about family, and friendships and love.

What do you think? Do you think it is important to have a funeral? Or don’t think that it matters if you have one or not?

 

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Would you plan your own funeral?

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After I went to the funeral of my friend recently (you can see the blog about it here). My friend, who attended the service, and I were discussing the funeral; she mentioned that she wasn’t sure if she wanted a funeral when she passed away.  We didn’t go into too much detail, I’m not one hundred percent sure why she isn’t fussed on having a funeral – it did get me thinking.

Do you want a funeral? What kind of ceremony would you like? Would you plan your own funeral in advance? Would you change your mind if you knew you were going to pass away in the near future?

I personally think that a funeral can be an important part of the healing process when a loved one has passed. I have been to quite a few funerals over the last couple of years for a number of different people in my life, all with different relationships to me, I feel all the ceremonies were healing in some way. It is a very different experience conducting a funeral, especially a ceremony of a loved one, however I still find it contributes to the healing process. You can read about the funerals I have conducted for two people very close to my heart here.

Lots of people choose to prepay their funeral or have a funeral insurance plan in place. However not a lot of people I have spoken to have planned anything to do with the ceremony itself. Is there music that is special to you that you would like played? There are so many options and sometimes these decisions can be hard for the family in their time of need. There can be a lot of pressure on the family to plan a funeral the deceased would like, however often people think it morbid to consider what the deceased would have liked/disliked at their funeral. For example when planning my stepfather’s funeral there were certain songs we knew he would have wanted, however there was other, more appropriate music to consider as well. As a result a selection of music was played over the PA system and in addition my sister sang a few songs.

I tend to think that favourite songs can be something that is often too personal. Unless you have previously told people what songs you would choose.  Many people talk about songs they want to have played at their wedding, often compiling a huge list, however when it comes to a funeral the subject can be somewhat cringe-worthy. Some people decide they want a funny song or a song that reflects their personality at their funeral.  My sister in law has said for many years that she wants ‘My Humps’ by the Black Eyed Peas played at her ceremony – even her kids are aware of her song choice. My husband and I have on occasion talked about songs that we would like played at each other’s funeral. My list changes often, one that is on my husbands list is ‘Knocking on Heavens Door’ the Guns ‘N’ Roses version.  My mother in law had a list of songs she wanted played at her ceremony; we played them all and were happy we were able to fulfil her request. A number of her choices were not songs most would choose for a funeral. On occasion if one of the songs come on the radio, it brings a tear to my eye, bringing back fond memories of her and her funeral.

I spent a lot of time on a photo slideshow for my stepfather’s funeral; I tried to include the majority of the family, hopefully to bring back fond memories of him. The funeral directors mentioned that the photos were beautiful but the slideshow may have gone on for too long. When I explained our intention for the photos to run for the entire service they wondered if we had run this by the celebrant prior to the service. The funeral director was quite shocked when I told her that I was the celebrant conducting the service – it was what my family wanted. I felt surely the wishes of the family should outweigh what any celebrant prefers; she tried to tell me that people might be too distracted and not listen to what I was saying. I felt however, if everyone wanted to look at the slideshow rather than listen to me, it was entirely up to them. The guests could decide on what was best for them, helping deal with the death of a loved one and begin the healing process.

Would you ever plan your funeral?

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Funeral of a friend

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Some time ago I received a text from my friend explaining he only had weeks to live. It took me by surprise; I was both shocked and upset. He had let me know previously that he was accepted into a drug trial and when I discussed it with him he seemed apprehensive but excited. The trial had some encouraging results in America, so when I received the message telling me that he was now ineligible for the trial, I felt sad and worried about his ongoing struggle.  He had been diagnosed with cancer about two and a half years before that. We had numerous discussions about cancer and treatment; my struggle with cancer was different and luckily mine was something that could be treated with an eventual positive outcome. However we could still connect with each other’s experiences and talk about treatments, concerns, fears, and positivity.

About three weeks later I got the email from his partner explaining that he had passed away. Throughout this period I tried to get in touch with him however the phone was never answered and I was too late. When I texted him asking if he was up for visitors, his partner replied telling me that he was gravely ill. I didn’t want to impose further, through my own experience with cancer I could sympathise with how hard and often tiring it can be repeating the same news.

His funeral service was lovely and I learned more about my friend on this day. I find with the majority of funerals I have been to I always tend to learn something new about my loved one – whether this is the celebrant’s doing or a family members. When I have been conducting a funeral myself, I always learn something new about the deceased. I also love being reminded of the joy that the deceased has brought in the past and will continue to in the future to their loved ones. Recently at my friends funeral I witnessed the love that people felt for him and to me that says a lot about a person.

After the service his partner apologised to me, for a moment I was shocked and not sure what she meant. She explained he had wanted me to conduct his service, and this had slipped her mind until she had seen one of my business cards around the house. I understood that it must be a horrendous and terrible time for her and told her that the service was lovely regardless. However, I was quite sad. I felt that I could have honoured my friend’s wishes by conducting the service. It was good of her to let me know and I felt privileged that he had trusted me to conduct his service. When I discussed this with my husband afterwards, he suggested that maybe she mentioned it to me as a way of apologising to him for it slipping her mind. Although I did not get to conduct his funeral, I will continue to honour and remember all things he taught me in life.

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Life Lessons

Now that a little time has passed since the death of my step father, I have been tempted to watch the dvd of the funeral. I have mentioned the funeral in a previous post. The chapel where his funeral was conducted recorded it and provided it. When we first received the copy I really wanted to watch it.  In a way I felt like I didn’t have a funeral, I didn’t get to sit and watch the slide-show, listen to my sister sing and cry. But then I realised that I would have to sit there and listen to my own voice and watch myself stumble on parts of the service that no one else but I know, that I delivered wrong.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve really been focusing on the things that he did in his life that I want to do. The things that he stood for that I want to stand for. The question is really how to translate those things into my life in order to be a better person, because he was such a significant part of my life. Most importantly, how to make myself more of the person that I would want to meet.

I’ve spent time reminiscing about funny things that he would do and say. Lately, he has come up a lot in conversation, in places that I might not expect. But he taught me so much about life. At the time I didn’t realise it and couldn’t appreciate properly the life lessons that he was teaching me without even realising that he was imparting these important lessons. Some of these lessons I adopted by watching him, and the way that he approached the things that happened in his life.

One thing that stands out to me is that we have no control over the way people respond to us, and as much as we want to, we have no control if they love or forgive us. No matter how much this breaks our heart we cannot change that. I saw this with my step father and some of his sons. I admit I don’t know, or want to know the pain that he may have caused them in their lives before he came into my life, but I certainly saw the tears that he shed over not having a relationship with them, and after reaching out and trying to make amends. I saw the relationship that he shares with 2 of his sons, and wish that the others could have given him a chance to show them some of the wonderful man that he was.

Another thing that he taught me is the real meaning of family. Your family are those that you love and those that love you in return. It doesn’t matter how much blood you share, it is what is in your heart.  His side of the family is complex. My husband took about 10 years to get his head around who was a half sister to who. There were a lot of questions like, “so that is your step-half cousin?” but in our family, family is just what we are, no half step cousins or step siblings for me, they are my cousin and brothers, that is it. It took me quite a long time to accept that they saw me as their family too, but there have been a number of moments that I felt true joy, when I realised that they looked upon me with the same love that I have for them.

He was an amazing man, who lived by example, he gave his love freely, to his family, his friends and to people that no- one else would love, or even speak to. He didn’t have a lot, but if someone needed something he would give it to them, or go without so that they wouldn’t.  If you would have asked him he would have told you that he wasn’t a book educated man, he was a man that learnt from the experience of life, lessons which he learned from and used to improve his life and himself. If there was only one life lesson that I could take from him, I think I would choose to learn from the things life deals you and make yourself better from it.

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The Life of someone you love

This year has been especially tough for me, I have had to conduct two funerals. Not just two funerals, but funerals of two people who had an amazing impact on my life. The first was my step-father. My step-father was actually the ‘celebrant’ at my wedding. When I finished my celebrant training, he proceeded to ask me to conduct his funeral, me thinking that it would be years away agreed. When he passed away a large group of our family were all gathered together at the hospital and talk turned to the funeral. I remember thinking, ‘Oh no, I’m really going to have to do this’.

The more I thought about it the more I got used to the idea, and the thought of having someone else do it seemed wrong. One of my relatives asked if I thought that I should do it, because “you’re clearly very upset”, it made me more determined that I would do it and I would make him proud.

It was a healing time, to sit down and write about the life of someone you love, and it made me really look at what he stood for and the things that he was passionate about. I got to see what he meant to so many people and it made me see what he meant to me. Writing his funeral me see him in ways I hadn’t before and reminded me of all the things that I truly loved him for. It made me look at the qualities that I want to see in my own life and look at the lessons that he taught me over the years. It made me feel lucky to have had him in my life.

It was a really hard day, but I felt that it was the one last thing that I could do for him, and I was determined to do it well and make him proud of me.


More recently, my mother in law passed away and in her will she had requested that I be the celebrant at her funeral. This too was one of the toughest things that I have had to do. We had a private funeral with only family, this made things a little easier as I didn’t have to go into the story of her life and tell a lot of stories as everyone that was there knew these things about her. It was at the cemetery at the grave side, I had never been to a funeral like that before let alone performed one that way, but I think that she would have been happy with it. I think it would have been odd if someone else was talking about her, being the only person there who was not part of her family. It was a day that was filled with love and support, it made me more aware of the friends and family that surround us and that are there for us more than we can imagine.

For me she was always a problem solver and the person that I would call if there was a situation that I had where I needed advice, she would stop me doubting decisions that I had made. Just knowing that she was only a phone call away was always comforting and something that I greatly miss, I miss her smile and the sparkle in her eyes.

One thing that the day showed me was that not only was she a shining light to me, but to so many people around her.

For two funerals that were for people that were so close to me, they were both so different. I believe that the funeral should reflect the person, and should be written to reflect their life. The service is about telling the story of who they were and  showing  people the best of them. After all a funeral is about celebrating the life that they had, and really making sure that the people that are hurting and missing them can smile when they realise just how special the person was.

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