What needs to be done

Charles Cowling
Here’s a guest post by Jonathan Taylor. He’s posted before, here and here. He’s a loyal and regular commenter and contributor to debate. Indeed, he puts the fizz into much that we discuss.

In his post; Doing what needs to be done, saying what needs to be said Charles raises the point that the recently bereaved aren’t given the opportunity to grieve practically and effectively through active funeral ritual and rite during liminal mourning, and celebrants need to encourage them into more hands-on involvement. Of course this means, among other things, gently opening up the idea of a useful, rather than a merely dutiful, funeral, which may be a foreign concept to many. It all takes time. And, as X-Piry rightly points out in her comment, time is the one thing we’re mostly short of. But why?

Let’s not demonize the poor funeral director. He’s only doing his job (with a handful of notable exceptions, they know who they are). But that’s just the trouble, isn’t it? What, or rather who, is the common denominator in all such unnecessarily hurried funerals?

Remember my post about my son’s girlfriend’s sister who was killed by a bus? We had her funeral on Tuesday, over three weeks after she died. To cut a long story short it worked perfectly, for all the literally hundreds of people there, including me, and total strangers hugged me afterwards in floods of tears to tell me so. One comment summed up them all: “It hurt like hell, but it did my heart good.”

All I did was arrange as well as conduct it – I acted as funeral director as well as celebrant – according to the family’s evolving needs over the weeks. It was a long, painful journey for us all but every step, every twist and turn, was essential. It was as if the funeral went on for the whole three weeks, communicated partly through Facebook between her hundreds of young friends, with everyone actively involved and connected from the start right through to the end of the ceremony and beyond. It has changed my own concept of the funeral out of all recognition, and mostly thanks to the young ones because they were so open.

What I did was something any celebrant could do. The only thing you need a funeral director for is a fridge big enough for a body (and even then, only when you can’t keep it in a hospital mortuary), and probably to sell you a coffin. It’s possible to find an obliging one if you explain yourself nicely – you don’t even have to be one of the family.

Just maybe, then, the answer is that the celebrants’ movement has to promote itself not to funeral directors but to the public, and to provide the full service ourselves? I trained in funeral advice and arranging with Green Fuse (one of the bracketed F.Ds above, see their website), and that’s how I managed it – it’s easier than you’d think. So how about it, fellow celebrants?

It may alienate some funeral directors, but they’re not the boss. The purpose of the likes of Charles’s blog, as I see it, is to help us enlighten and empower the grieving public, at or long before the funeral. Celebrants are so much better at ceremony than most funeral directors, and it doesn’t make sense to hand the vital function of making the arrangements to someone who doesn’t truly understand the chaotic evolution of grieving in the early days, and isn’t committed to putting a family’s changing needs before his own. Funeral directors could do it, obviously, but do they? Mostly not. And we can’t wait for them. This is one area where time really is short.

We are in the early days of a funerary revolution, begun perhaps by the Natural Death Centre, the Humanists and others, and now largely in the hands of liberal independents (us). There’s no-one in charge except ourselves and the families we work for. It’s only our own habit that limits us to others’ habits, and we can envisage and accomplish anything we want, however apparently outlandish or arduous, with enough imagination and commitment. There are plenty of us if we want to begin it. This is more than just a job to most of us.

Wouldn’t you throw yourself down in the path of Destiny to pave the way for Death? Of course you would. We can come together and promote the reality of the Celebrant/Funeral Director. I’ve started already, with the help, support and training of Green Fuse, and it’s so, so much more rewarding than the ‘damage limitation’ job I see myself doing over and over again, trying to make the ceremony good enough to compensate for the (poor family’s lack of involvement in the) same old superficial ritual. I’m up for it if you are.

Jonathan Taylor

jmtaylor55@yahoo.co.uk