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  • Writer's pictureElaine Cormack

What to expect when you meet your funeral celebrant

Updated: May 26

Navigating the Initial Steps: A Guide to Your First Meeting with Your Funeral Celebrant

Elaine Cormack Funeral Celebrant

When a loved one dies, the daunting task of planning a funeral ceremony adds an additional layer to the already overwhelming emotional burden. If you find yourself grappling with these challenges, please accept my heartfelt condolences.


This blog aims to ease at least one aspect of this difficult situation: the meeting with your funeral celebrant and the organising of the funeral ceremony, memorial service, or any end-of-life service. Whether you've already enlisted the support of a Funeral Director, who may have begun the initial funeral arrangements and suggested a suitable celebrant, or if you've reached out to the celebrant directly, both approaches are entirely valid.


Regardless of your path, a meeting with your chosen celebrant, (quite possibly me if you're reading these words), is on the horizon. This post is designed to provide insights and guidance on what to expect during this crucial phase of the funeral planning process and the help I will give you to create a personal, heartfelt ceremony to honour your loved one.

 


Gathering Together: Deciding Who is at Our Meeting


You can meet with me on your own, or you can have other family members or friends with you if you prefer. There are no limits on numbers but do be aware that lots of people together can make the meeting quite long, especially if they are a chatty bunch.

 


Where the Heart Meets: Choosing the Perfect Funeral Meeting Space


No Tidying Required: Why your house is the perfect place, clutter and all, for our important discussion.


Place to meet a funeral celebrant

A face-to-face funeral meeting with me will usually happen at your house or the place where your loved one lived. I know that you’re going through it and the last thing I will do is to judge you on the fact you haven’t hoovered.


Cup of tea with funeral celebrant

If you’d prefer to meet in person but not at your house, sometimes your Funeral Director will have a meeting room that we could talk in. Failing that, a quiet corner in a café will work. Whatever suits you best.


If you have family or friends who can't join you in person, but it is important they are part of our discussion from the beginning, a video call is absolutely possible. If not, I can catch up with them separately after our meeting.

 


Time Well Spent: What to Expect During Our Meeting


Crafting a ceremony without rushing, plus a time buffer for your peace of mind.


I would say to allow two hours for our meeting. It might not take that long, but you don’t want to feel rushed. Also, if you can, it’s good to allow a bit of ‘buffer’ time before you need to go out and do anything else.



Funeral Celebrant Notes

Preparation-Free Zone: It's About Memories, Not Paperwork


Memories Over Documents: Emphasising shared experiences, laughter, and personal stories.


Many people worry that they need to know all there is to know about their loved one in preparation for our meeting. Please don’t worry about this. We are going to be creating a ceremony that reflects your loved one – their personality, their interests, and the effect they had on the people around them – we are not writing an in-depth biography or their CV. You don’t need their inside leg measurement or the exact date they got married.


What you do need are your memories, your shared experiences, the things that made you laugh about them, the things that drove you crazy, or how it felt to be hugged by them. It’s tough opening up about these sorts of thoughts, especially when you probably feel so raw, but I want to get to know your loved one through your eyes so I will ask you lots of gentle questions. And, very importantly, I will listen.


You should never feel you have to share more than you’re comfortable with though, and it’s ok not to know the answers to some questions (or not to want to go there). I will help you through this process.

 


Setting the Tone: How Do You Want the Funeral to Feel?


Creating Atmosphere: Exploring options for a ceremony that truly resonates with your loved one's essence, their soul.


It might sound like an odd question, but how do you want the funeral to feel? Not all funerals have to be, well, funereal. You may decide that you want it to be an upbeat celebration of your loved one’s life. You may want a simple, reflective ceremony with few words and lots of music. It might be at the local crematorium chapel, or it could beat a local hotel or village hall, in a forest or even in your garden. There is no template that you have to follow. We can discuss this in the meeting.

 


Spirituality Matters: Navigating Religion and Beliefs in the Ceremony


Beyond Faith: Discussing your loved one's beliefs or lack thereof, ensuring a ceremony that reflects their essence.


Was your loved one religious? If so, we can include a suitable prayer or blessing, reading, hymn or chant. Maybe they were more spiritual, in which case we can nod towards their love of the ethereal or talk about their beliefs about what happens after death. Maybe you take comfort in the idea of them being reunited with those they have loved and lost over the years, and we can mention that. Or perhaps they didn’t believe in any of that, and we won’t include it at all. There is no agenda other than reflecting on your loved one and your relationship with them.


 

Harmony in Melody: The Musical Tapestry of the Funeral Ceremony


Funeral Music is More Than Notes: Crafting a unique soundtrack that celebrates life, love, and the cherished memories.


Man in kilt playing bagpipes at a funeral

Usually, you will have three main pieces of music in a funeral ceremony: one to come in to; one to reflect to, and one to close and walk out to. However, this is by no means a requirement. If you don’t want any reflection music, that’s fine. If you’d like to include more music, that’s fine too.


As a rule of thumb, the piece you walk out to is often the most upbeat of all the music in the service. Of course, we’re not expecting you to be dancing (although don’t let me stop you) but it helps emotionally to leave on a less mournful note.

The reflection music can be whatever you’d like it to be, but is often slower and more reflective, as its name suggests.


You can have any music you like for the funeral ceremony. It does not have to be classical, churchy, or on the Funeral Director’s approved list. You can include a hymn if you want, but you don’t have to. You might even decide to have everyone sing a favourite song together instead, or ask a friend or family member to play a musical instrument. It’s all possible.


 

In Their Words: Navigating Funeral Tributes and Memories


Voices of Love: Choosing how memories are shared, whether it's by you, friends, or through my words.


You might want to stand up and say something at the funeral, and you might have several other people who all want to share their memories as well. Or it could be that you don’t want to stand and say anything, but you’d like to write something for me to read out on your behalf. Or maybe you would prefer that I write and deliver all the words, based on everything I’ve learned about your loved one from our meeting. The most important thing is that you feel as comfortable as possible, so if you hate public speaking at the best of times, you’re not going to like it at the worst.


Notes taken by a funeral celebrant

If you are going to have several people sharing their memories, a good tip is that they focus on their own shared experiences with your loved one, or they each talk about a different aspect of them. You don’t want several people all trying to outline your person’s life.


I will ask for the tributes to be sent over to me as soon as possible, and there are a few reasons for this:

  • To make sure that I don’t share stories you were going to share (after all, one word from you or anyone close to your loved one is worth 1000 from me).

  • To ensure that your stories don’t overlap if there’s more than one tribute.

  • So that I can take over if it feels too overwhelming for you on the day or a speaker is ill or stuck in traffic etc.

  • So that I can make sure that the timings work (especially if we are in a crematorium).

  • So that I can weave the tributes seamlessly into the ceremony.

  • And so that I can present you with a copy of the whole ceremony afterwards.


If you’d like some help writing a funeral tribute, please let me know.


 

Readings from the Heart: Personal Touches to Enrich the Ceremony


Words That Resonate: Selecting readings and poems that genuinely speak to your emotions and memories.


You might have a reading or a poem that brings you comfort, or perhaps someone has written something on a sympathy card that you would like to share. Again, there is no real need to include a reading or a poem if you don’t want to, but sometimes they can help us say the thing that is in our hearts. 


After our meeting, I could, if you wanted, send you some reading or poem suggestions once I have a feel for your loved one and your tastes. Of course, there are plenty of websites and poetry books out there full of them too, there are many poems on my website too. A well-chosen and read poem can enhance a funeral ceremony, but one that is just there, because it felt like you should include one, will rarely add anything. 


I am of course very happy to read any poem or passage that you like, or you could ask a friend or family member to read instead, if appropriate. 


 

Visual Tributes: Bringing Photos to Life in a Slideshow


Picture Perfect: Enhancing the ceremony with a visual journey through cherished memories


Old family photos

Many of the funeral venues near me, particularly crematoriums and Funeral Directors’ chapels, have screens available to play a slideshow of photos on. These can be a really lovely addition to a ceremony, combining a piece of music with typically 20-30 pictures of your loved one. If you have some pictures you’d like to show as part of the funeral service, we can definitely work that in.


 


Rituals of Remembrance: Adding Symbolic Touches to the Ceremony



Creative Expressions: Exploring flower placements, candle lighting, and other rituals that reflect your loved one.


You might want to come up to the coffin and place some flowers, or perhaps ask people to write a memory on a post-it note, come to the front and stick it on the coffin. Perhaps you’d like to light some candles during the reflection music or include some other sort of ritual that you feel would fit your loved one. 


You don’t have to have decided this before our meeting, but just knowing that you can include these sorts of elements might open a creative conversation when you’re talking with me.



Dress Code or Not: Tailoring the Ceremony Atmosphere


Attire Alchemy: Deciding on dress codes or themes to honour your loved one's spirit.


Planning a funeral service

You don’t have to set a dress code as such, but if you are expecting people to wear black, or Hawaiian shirts, or football kit, or your loved one’s favourite colour, do let me know so that I can join in!


 


Curtains and Choices: A Personal Decision at the Crematorium


Final Moments: Navigating the emotional decision of closing or leaving curtains open.


If the funeral ceremony is taking place at a crematorium, you will have the option of whether or not the curtains will close around the coffin at the end of the service. There is no right or wrong here, but the choice often brings up quite strong feelings either way. I’m often asked what ‘most people do’. It shouldn’t make a difference to your decision but, for the record, most families I work with tend to leave them open. My advice is to go with your gut feeling as to what feels right.


 

Reflections After Our Meeting: Navigating Emotions and Next Steps


Embracing the emotional journey and taking time for self-care after our meeting.


Many people, at the end of a meeting, have told me that they were dreading me coming around but that they actually really enjoyed the process. When you have been living with shock and deep grief for a few days, or you have been nursing a loved one through a tough illness, turning your focus to happier times can be a real tonic.


Of course, sharing your stories can feel emotional too, which is why I advise you not to have anything too onerous booked in straight afterwards. Do something kind for yourself instead.



And finally......


If you have any further thoughts, stories, ideas, or questions that bubble up after our meeting, just contact me – that’s what I’m here for.


I will send you a draft of the ceremony script for you to read in plenty of time to make any changes you’d like before the big day. 


I am sorry to be meeting you under sad circumstances, but I look forward to working with you on giving your loved one the send-off that’s perfect for them.


Thank you for reading,

Elaine

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