Dealing with death as part of working life

Posted on by Fay Curtis.

On 5 February we’ll be holding an event at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery – Death Professionals in Conversation – where a funeral celebrant, a palliative care doctor, a registrar of burials and a mortuary manager will be discussing life and death as part of their working lives. Here one of the panelists, Su Chard, an Independent Funeral Celebrant from Gloucestershire takes us through what she does:

If you type the word celebrancy it acquires a red line very quickly as the word doesn’t really exist. This illustrates how hard it is to sum up my job. I am an independent celebrant and this means I offer person-centred funerals embracing all the ways the person that has died and their friends and family make sense of life and death.

I meet those who are charged with organising a funeral and we discuss music, life narratives, rituals and all the ingredients that go to offer a funeral that truly speaks of the person who has died. My work then is to “hold” the funeral and those attending. I am there to make people feel safe and to have listened well enough so that what the ritual entails, helps those present say a fitting farewell.

The people who attend a funeral have to accommodate the loss of a dear one into their lives. A lot of my work is to make sure that the transition from physical presence to treasured memory or even a peaceful forgetting is accomplished in a way that everyone feels comfortable.

I feel I need a new dictionary of adjectives for this work. I have used words like safe, comfortable and person centred, which maybe odd words to be used but these are the hopes of my working days. Sometimes attendees say, “I didn’t expect to but, I really enjoyed that.” This always feels good in that they have received something positive from the ritual.

I can’t make the experience of death and funerals any better for people but I do work hard not to make it any worse.

What would I say I have learnt in my work? We don’t share our wishes about our funerals enough. We need to tell those we love what fills us with joy, whether we want to be buried or cremated, what our hopes for our funerals are. Let’s not set our families up with impossible requests but let’s give them a clue what shape we would like our funeral rite to take.

Su Chard, Independent Funeral Celebrant.

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