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A beautiful farewell

I thought it might be helpful to introduce myself and explain a bit about why I trained as a funeral celebrant.

Sadly, I lost a very beloved sister in 2019. She was far too young and it was an awful shock for all of us, including her. Her cancer diagnosis was terminal. It meant she would not live to see her children become the wonderful adults they now are. But it did offer her enough time to do quite a lot of death ‘admin’.

Lindsay decided she wanted to be buried in a natural burial ground near Bristol, and took me to see it in her VW campervan, one weirdly sunny, spring day. We later sat with a friend who was managing her financial affairs and discussed what might happen at the funeral. Lindsay was a bit like Paddington bear, in that she knew everyone in her neighbourhood and supported so many people in lots of big and little ways. She decided on a typically thoughtful event that included and supported everyone, with lots of personal touches, such as flower cards that she’d made. Her coffin was wicker and her choice of flowers was natural and foraged. I was to write the eulogy, not something I’d done before, let alone for someone I was as close to as Lindsay.

It was an important task and I was proud to do it. I wanted to reflect the fantastic woman she was, as well as holding, including recognising the huge number of people who loved her. For various reasons, there was a six week gap between her death and the funeral, so I spent some time writing it. Then I showed it to her children. “Add some jokes auntie. It’s too serious”. And so I did. They were right. And then, every morning for a couple of weeks, I read that eulogy at dawn to the ducks in the pond at the end of my road so I could feel confident about getting through it.

The day of the funeral was hot and sunny. The facilities at the Woodlands Memorial Natural Burial Ground are tranquil and beautiful, the chapel cool, simple and elegant. I spent a few moments in there with my sister’s coffin, alone, before everyone else arrived, and I’m so glad I did that.

Lindsay had arranged a celebrant to help manage everything. She was great, and happy to allow me to deliver the eulogy. My brother added some lovely, funny anecdotes of his own and many others volunteered to speak too, including my daughter. My sister loved a fantastic cream tea, so that’s what we had afterwards. Her children’s friends had come from far and wide to support them. We were wearing the sorts of colours and clothes that suited us. She didn’t want black, unless we were goths and that was our normal garb.

The only jarring moment was when the funeral directors took her coffin to the burial plot, because they did this in a tearing rush. I think the celebrant had allowed the tributes to run on past the agreed time (unlike at a local crematorium, the venue had been booked all afternoon, everything took place on-site, so there wasn’t a hurry in one sense, but funeral directors would expect a celebrant to run things to time).

The whole event has made me thoughtful about my own funeral. I’d prefer to separate being buried or cremated and having a celebration (I learnt that you can have a ‘direct cremation’ with nobody present and no service at that time if you want to, and then hold a celebration separately, but obviously people need to do what’s right for them).

I have not stopped grieving Lindsay, but, having such a thoughtful, considered, celebration of her life, somewhere so beautiful, made a huge difference to all of us. It was a fitting tribute. And that’s why I decided I wanted to be a funeral celebrant. My background helps. I’m trained as a counsellor, I love researching and writing the stories of people’s lives, and I did a lot of that as a journalist. I want to do a good job, listening to and helping to support other families. Working together creatively to facilitate an event that honours their loved one in the way that helps them most.

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