Thursday, 28 October 2010

Funeral celebrants - why do we do it? part 3: search me...

I don't really know - I'm sure we have many very different conscious reasons and less self-aware motivations. If you did search any of us, I reckon you'd find a sometimes turbulent mix of motivations, some we probably only half-understand ourselves. So in no particular order, maybe we do it because:

for some strange reason we can do it, this odd thing, and because it needs doing, if people are to have more freedom and choice about how they move through an important bereavement event (i.e. so that they are aware of a genuine non-religious alternative.) That's the ideological motivation area, I guess - motivation defined by opposition to religious funerals for non-religious people.

we find it intensely interesting, the patterns of all these lives and their endings.

it flatters or completes our egos to be wanted, at a time of crisis (usually) in people's lives.

it helps us to explore our own mortality and to come to terms, to some degree at least, with the prospect of our own deaths.

following on from that: we are close to death at funerals, but afterwards we are still here, and after a successful funeral, we feel a sense of achievement, even a small victory. We've helped some people find meaning when death has taken away someone who meant a lot to them. Not a victory over death itself, of course, but over the desolationand emptiness it can cause.

we get a charge out of being close to some strangers for a short and intense period, and then we can - have to - move on; we're compassion tarts, sentiment junkies, it makes our own lives more intense.

we like the attention - it's a small-scale public event, and they sure as hell pay attention to you, even if many of them won't remember a word

we are chronic melancholics and we like hanging around graves and crems, wearing black and looking profound - sort of doing a Hamlet: "Alas, poor Yorick! I never knew him Horatio, but he sounds to me like a right geezer of infinite jest, why, his family well remember the time he..."

we're disgusted by what we see as the stifling conventions of the funeral business and we want to open it right out, because we can see a way it can be done better. That's a more developed and specific version of the first, ideological, motivation, and it derives from opposition to any type of funeral if it unthinkingly follow a "dead" tradition that denies authentic grief and mourning. (One might call this the Good Funeral Guide Clan position....?)

we're trying to work through fears of our own about death, by a kind of familiarisation therapy. (A less self-aware, less balanced, more compulsive version of the "small victory" motivation.)

Oh, and (let's be fair to ourselves): It's good to feel you've helped some people for a fee that is not extortionate, and done a good job for them. If, of course, you have done a good job...

I'm sure there are loads more clear and obvious reasons, and probably some more foggy and half-hidden motivations, too. If any celebrants of any sort other than a minister of an established religion (not being hostile, see "Why do we do it part 1") are out there, I'd be really interested, in a comment from them as to why we do this thing. So please chip in.


  1. I think this a brilliant list of motivators. I say that because I see myself in pretty much all of them.

    Love that Japanese poem.

    By charging so little, do we sell ourselves, and the event, short?

    Celebrancy in all its aspects spawns a higher proportion of questions to answers than anything else I can think of...

  2. Thanks Charles and welcome back from the limestone isle.

    H'm. Yes it does generate so many questions, and in a way I'm pleased about that. "Business as usual" would be, I feel, a disastrous basis for it.

    But one of the biggest questions may well be the one about fees. Sometimes I agree, yes we should charge a more realistic fee, and then maybe we'd benefit from a harder look from FDs and families at how well we do the job. Sometimes I think no,income must never become the main driver in this role. Sometimes I'm just immature, and seemingly unable to accept that the whole area is bound to be impure, as it were, and there's no point in trying to polarise it into a materialistic/non-materialistic opposition.

  3. Great post, thanks, Gloria.

    There are times when I think that the only reason that I do this job, is for the ego massage I get afterwards (yes, I do have self-esteem "issues"). There are times when I think that I only do it because black is slimming.

    But in terms of overall peace of mind; setting aside the paranoia of the self-employed (and there we get onto the money issue), I have never felt more valuable in all of my working life.

    This may be temporary and inflated - most mourners feel relief immediately after a ceremony, and so thank the person who got them through it, irrespective of qualit - but it gets me through the day.

  4. XP, I'm very pleased to hear you feel thus valued.If I may say so, I don't think you should feel it's only temporary and inflated. I'm sure that you get grateful and sincere comments well after the ceremony - sometimes several days later? Well, there you are then! A chap said to me before his wife's funeral - "well, you've found your vocation, haven't you?" I was well chuffed.

    Name me someone who doesn't have "self-esteem issues" and I think you'd probably be describing an odd and very possibly dangerous person. Self-doubt is part of the human condition, non?

    Do you think black is more slimming than dark navy? H'mmmm....

  5. Hey, if I could find a navy suit that I liked I'd buy three of them - since I've been a celebrant, navy has obviously been out of fashion.

    Girlie rant over.