Thursday, 8th September I will be attending the biggest party in the funeral world. At a glamorous lunch in London, a diverse bunch of people will be celebrating outstanding and innovative initiatives in the world of death and dying.
One of the most exciting parts of the event is the announcement of the winners of the Good Funeral Awards or, as they are called more informally, the ‘Death Oscars’.
Anyone can nominate a person, or a group, for the award. I nominated my favourite crematorium staff team for the amazing work they do behind the scenes. I even wrote an ode to them!
This year, nominees were invited in 24 categories. Some examples are: best Funeral Director, best Gravedigger, best Florist, best Funeral Caterer, Most Innovative Death Public Engagement Event and Most Significant Contribution to the Understanding of Death.
In the world of funerals, a lot of passions are being lived.
To my great surprise and delight I have been nominated for a Death Oscar in the category ‘Celebrant of the Year’.
After some loud cheers I asked myself two questions. First: ‘what to wear?’ And second: ‘Why would I have been nominated?’
The first question is still a secret (even for me) so let’s move on to the second question. I don’t know who has nominated me, so it’s hard to tell why this person thinks I deserve an award. So this question is kind of a secret too!
What I DO know though, is why I am doing this work.
It’s reflected in this quote from Maya Angelou:
‘To be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud’
When I meet families, they go through a difficult time of grief and loss. I sit down with them, listen to their stories, ask questions and guide them in finding elements for the funeral ceremony. Very often, it helps them experience their grief from various angles. There’s sadness. There are tears. But very often, there are also smiles and sparkling eyes when family members and friends share memories about their loved one.
Death, just like life, has many colours.
As a celebrant, I bring together the different colours of someone’s life. Creating a ceremony is like drawing a picture. It’s like crafting a work of art.
My father is another source of inspiration. He taught me the following:
‘Poetry and meaning can be found everywhere if you watch closely and listen carefully’
This is what I practice when I meet families and it often leads to precious outcomes. It helps me find the right language, symbols and rituals for each particular situation.
When my father died, he taught me something important about life.
Although he did not know he would be dying he had written a script for his funeral. Everything was in there: the texts, the music, who had to do what – even the refreshments to be served afterwards. He had asked me to conduct the ceremony and although it was one of the hardest things I had ever done, it was also a life defining experience. I realised that we can be in charge of our own funeral. We can create it ourselves and include everything that is meaningful to us.
The funeral service was a crucial moment in my healing process. We knew we had done my dad justice and feeling him present at that moment comforted and strengthened us in our way forward.
A ceremony cannot bring back the dead to the living. But what a ceremony can do is to provide a space, a time and a structure for people to mourn, to release emotions and to bring the spirit of their loved one to life through stories, memories and creative expressions.
As a celebrant, it’s a privilege to give form and content to this ‘rite de passage,’ and help each family find their unique way of saying goodbye to the person who has played an important part in their lives.
Being a nominee is an honour and I feel extremely chuffed by the appreciation that comes with it. It’s also a reminder.
A reminder to keep appreciating the uniqueness of each funeral and the people involved.
A reminder to continue to look for honest, warm, creative and meaningful ways to honour the dead and give room for the living to find their ways to move on.
I would like to say a big ‘thank you’ to the Funeral Directors and families I have worked with so far. Thank you very much for your trust, openness, your inspiration, and for the wonderful testimonials that you have written to support my nomination. Death has brought us together. May life keep us connected.