Having to plan my father’s funeral was one of the saddest and most daunting times of my life. Now I’m a Celebrant, I work with people all the time who are going through this terrible experience. Therefore, I thought I’d share with you my story and offer some guidance if you’re facing this difficult time yourself.
I believe it’s very important to carry out your loved ones wishes and ‘do the right thing’ by them. It was an honour and a privilege to organise my father’s funeral but I knew getting it right was vital.
It was very tough, but the best thing I did was speak to him about it when he was still alive. There are organisations that have documents and aids which can be used as prompts in these discussions. My father completed a Help The Aged booklet where he wrote down all his wishes, along with financial information etc.
The Service Details
My father wrote: “Definitely no hymns, nothing religious” and stated that he was an atheist. That immediately made me choose a Celebrant to hold the service. But even if you don’t have such specific instructions, think about how your loved one lived their life. Were they religious, or an atheist like my father? We found our Celebrant from the FPC website.
There are obvious venues to hold the service, such as a church, chapel or crematorium, but you can also hold the service or ceremony in an entirely different venue of your choice and then book a private cremation to separate the two rituals. It’s worth thinking about all your options.
At the service itself, which normally lasts for 30 minutes, there is usually a tribute or eulogy that reflects on your loved one’s life. It might include their loves, achievements, what you will remember them for, humorous anecdotes, music, a hymn, reading or a poem.
I love tracing the early days of someone’s life when I attend the family meeting. I believe it’s important to remember and hold on to the social history forever, which is why I also present everyone with a copy of the service script after the ceremony.
I also make sure I send the draft whole script to the family beforehand and ask them to check, add or edit as they see fit. The Celebrant at my father’s funeral omitted the final part of the service when he sent the script to be checked, and the words on the day were quite a shock and maybe slightly religious, which I knew my father wouldn’t have wanted. Therefore I always ensure I check this detail with families. It’s your day and must reflect your loved one, so it’s vital it’s correct.
Delivering the Service
We chose a Celebrant as it’s such a difficult and emotional day, and public speaking any time can be daunting in itself. A Celebrant can be all inclusive, represent the family, guide you through the service, be impartial and, most importantly, deliver from the heart your words and your choice of readings.
Order of Service
Most families choose to have an order of service as a remembrance token, and it’s also a guide for attendees and can save referring to hymn books etc. on the day. At my father’s funeral we chose to have another memento for the congregation: a bookmark (as pictured). We’re all avid readers, and so was my father, therefore it meant we kept him close for a while longer. Personal touches like that make such a difference.
If you’re feeling lost then the best place to start is by making notes. Speak to your family and friends if you can and ask them to contribute, or call a Celebrant and get some help. There is a lot of support out there, so never feel alone.