Friday, 24 August 2012
Funeral celebrancy - a paradoxical status
I sometimes feel a bit like the little chap in the picture, making something (a ceremony) in which my role looks simple in plan, but turns out to be full of paradox, ultimately impossible.
Any celebrants out there dis/agree with any of this? Do chip in:
1. I didn't know the person who's died, but I have (usually) to present a picture of her - life story plus essential characteristics, looking for the spark of recognition in the upturned faces. If I overdo it, people will feel I am being presumptuous. If I undercook it, the congregation will find it harder to feel the connection. A catalogue of jobs, hobbies and retirement activities, and health problems doesn't do. We need to feel the uniqueness of the person, but the only possible view, for me to use, is the one from one or two people in the family. It's my empathy, imagination, background knowledge I shall have to draw on. Mustn't over do it....
2. I want to give the event some ritualistic power, some ceremonial effect, but the common threads for assembling such a thing are few and faded. Ritual and ceremony evolve over time, but we're trying to invent them. It kind of works, sometimes.
3. I need to stay in control of the ceremony, however distressing the circumstances. But celebrants who can't bring love and compassion to the people they are working for should perhaps be doing something else. Those qualities cannot be faked as part of a professional performance, but my part of the proceedings needs to be calm and ordered. I need to be moved, I won't help anyone if I lose it.
4. I draw on my own emotions, my own thoughts about mortality and loss, but if I draw too deeply I run the risk of exhausting and depressing myself. If I don't draw upon anything of mine, the ceremony may lack my own personal commitment, therefore it will lack authenticity. If I drain myself over a few weeks, I'll be less able to energise the next funeral.
5. I don't want to take on too many funerals (see above) but if I turn down a request, I worry that a suitable alternative may not be available. (That's not, I hope, vanity, merely availability of celebrants who are at least as good (or bad) as me.)
6. I'm not in it for the money, but I find it difficult sometimes not to feel cross about the attitudes towards celebrancy fees from the rest of the funeral so-called profession.
7. Who am I to talk about the meaning of a life I never knew, and draw from it something for the people to carry away with them? Yet I know how hard it is for family members to make that sort of synthesis - much as I want to see them do as much of the funeral for themselves as they can. It's probably only people with considerable cultural resources, time, maybe money, who can do that for those close to them.
8. Celebrants often feel they need to present an honest picture of the person, but they don't want to hurt feelings, they want to help people along with their grieving. It's not a forensic activity; yet no-one respects a whitewash.
9. Celebrants often want to transform the way our culture "does" end-of-life matters in general and funerals in particular. But here and now, most people want something fairly or very conventional.
10. There is no such thing as a secular funeral that is ideally suited to purpose, occasion and dead person. It's an impossible job.
It's the best job I've ever had.