Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A wedding and two funerals - and some tears...

On her blog "Don't Get Too Close to the Furnace,", Xpiry recently described a desperately sad train of events that had her doing a wedding and two funerals in rapid succession:


She refers to the fact that the work of us funeral ritualists (ministers, celebrants) sometimes take chunks out of us but that we also meet people who are inspirational even as they are leaving their lives, and it is an honour to be asked to help. She talks of her tears at one moment in one of the funerals as a "wobble." One might see it as a simple mark of her humanity. I asked a colleague of mine with years and years of experience how she managed a child's funeral (I'm dreading it.) She said "with the tears running down my face, of course."

I do hope I don't need to add that there is nothing sentimental about this. We are not talking about (with all due respect for the tragic core of the business) Princess Diana-itis. Yeah, I know, it affected me too, but there was also a lot of long-distance sentimental indulgence about it, no?

Well, we have to stay coherent, but we have also to allow ourselves to be human. Xpiry won't only have shed tears during the ceremony.

That is why we shouldn't do too many ceremonies in any one week or month. We have to hold the balance. We need a break.

And that is why I get a bit ratty sometimes - sorry - when some of our more radical friends comment on the allegedly sterile or formulaic nature of humanist funerals (by which they probably mean the funerals run by BHA-trained celebrants, who will vary, of course.) But sometimes it seems to be almost a plank of their platform for launching their own allegedly more radical ideas.

Stuff that. Read Xpiry's honest and moving post and make your own mind up. I don't care who does it, BHA or Honourable Society of Alien-Worshippers And Jedi, I want us all to have that sort of honesty and commitment.


  1. Thanks for this, Gloria. Much appreciated.

    The wobble wasn't so much the tears, it was the flappy hands and "oh, sorry" that I really got cross with. But on reflection, I don't feel too bad about feeling, and I sniffed hard and carried on - all I could do at the time.

    The numbers game is an odd one. I have a relatively high workload, compared to some, and I like it that way - I feel rusty if I haven't had to visit a family for a week or two, but you're absolutely right about the need for "downtime". This is a job where we are sometimes treated as though we're on call, and we have to have "other" in our lives.

    Sterile ceremonies? Some of mine do feel a bit like that, but that's usually when I'm dealing with fairly unemotional families. But that sounds like a whole other post.....

    Thanks again


  2. "The presentation of self in everyday life" by Erving Goffman somehow slunk across my mind as I read this.

    I don't know if you've read it? It's a kind of tangent to what you are talking about, but there are some things that echo I think.

    The idea of "front" and "Back" stage, and how it is difficult for us if the "back" seeps into view from the "front"

    At least I think that was a good part of it. I read it a long time ago so I could have got this all round my neck.

    If so please disregard this comment.

  3. Gloria. One of your more 'radical' friends here.

    Ironically, the only radical idea that we are seeking a platform to launch is of course the honesty and commitment you talk about, and perhaps even more important than all of that; appropriateness.

    This means not quoting Boris Pasternak to a working class family in a ceremony held in a bowls club, or not prosletysing about Humanism to people who simply want a religion free funeral, not a religion bashing one, and trying a bit harder to find decent metaphors other than talk of seasons changing and leaves falling off trees.

    Of course it goes without saying that you and X Piry don't fall into this category, if we had employed you ten years ago then my views on the humanist celebrancy movement might be very different. Sadly, we didn't.

    One celebrant crossly said he wouldn't have let me look at his words before hand if he had known I was a celebrant also, but it turned out 70 percent of what he said came from the first page of the website on humanist funeral services. Cut and paste.

    It is a massive thing to stand up and take somebody's funeral service, and frankly if someone is not good enough then they deserve to be shouted down and forced to look for other employment. Memories, if not lives, can be ruined by getting it wrong.

    I took a service for a six year old girl last week. Of course I cried through it, you will too.

  4. Thanks for taking this up Rupert, and for kind words.

    In two recent discussions with Humanist (i.e.in this case BHA-accredited) celebrants, a sizeable majority of us said that we would add nothing about -isms to our ceremonies, except to say that we were members of the BHA. (which seems fair enough to me as a matter of provenance, i.e. "I didn't just drift in here because it's raining outside and I've got a big gob.")The others said that they gave a sentence or two about what humanism is. I didn't hear of any wish to bash God nfrom any of them, but then of course I haven't been to the funerals they've worked on.

    Yes, individuals who aren't up to the massive challenge should be unemployed as soon as possible, but I feel that is a matter of individuals not -ists (of any sort.)I think it's the generalization and polarization that trouble me - humanists are one thing, vicars are another...it's like the whole believer/atheist oppostion, mostly sterile and unhelpful in the actuality of people's lives and deaths. That's what I meant by saying rather flippantly that I didn't mind if the were BHA, CofE or Jedi-trained.

    A few of the undertakers who I work for contact me because they like the way I do things (they say.) Most of them use me because I'm available and the family doesn't want a minister of a church, and they book the crem before contacting me because they know if I can't do it, I'll do my best to contact someone who is at least competent.

    But this is no way to run a railway.

    Sensitive and scrupulous FDs such as you would soon sort it out by saying to the dogmatists the magic words "you're fired," and they would phone the XPirys of this world instead. If they could find the time to talk to celebrants before using them for the first time, and ask them a few searching questions (such as "please show me the script of your last ceremony")that would also help a great deal. The undertakes should interview us if they employ us!

    Above all, it's not a matter of ownership. An old friend who's a vicar said to me recently "you're taking our business." He was half-joking. I should have said that it was the families concerned who were doing that, not me. (L'esprit d'escalier yet again!)Similarly, I really don't care if the celebrant is BHA or Jedi,as long as it's a good job properly done, which is why I don't like the patronising attitude of some BHA-ers about "pick and mix" celebrants and ceremonies.

    Well, feelings run high in our area of work, and there's room for self-righteousness as well as genuine concern, and even, for some, the odd smidgeon of pecuniary anxiety, so I'll leave it there for now before it turns into yet another post.