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The Special Skills it takes to be a Funeral Celebrant

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It takes a very special type of person to work with grieving families; to show empathy and care at such a trying time; to be able to talk about a person, that they probably never met, in a way that shows respect, dignity and professionalism.  One such Funeral Celebrant is Sonia Collins from Batemans Bay in NSW and today shares with us the special skills that it takes to be a Funeral Celebrant.

 

1. Wanting to be a funeral celebrant

Some marriage and family celebrants don’t want to conduct funerals.  There are many reasons for this including lack of knowledge about death and funerals, concerns about keeping emotions under control, being uncomfortable around grieving people.  All these are good and valid reasons not to do funerals.  If you are not comfortable with funeral work and you are asked to do a funeral, be honest.  If you prefer not to just say so and refer the person to another celebrant in your area.

2. Having good training and support

Well trained funeral celebrants will be confident that they can create and conduct any ceremony to honour the deceased appropriately.  They will have written and performed ceremonies as part of their training.  They will have read and researched, prepared their questionnaires for meetings with the family, they will know what Funeral Directors do and what they are looking for – and they will probably have an experienced resource to talk through any tricky questions.

3. Empathy and great listening skills

Funeral celebrants have to be great listeners.  There is a great deal of information to gather from the family prior to writing a draft of the ceremony.  The family is in grief, there may be conflict in the family.  They may not be in agreement about the funeral arrangements, and it may not be easy to get them talking freely about the deceased. As a celebrant you have an important job to do and usually not very long to do it in so you have to be professional, focused and yet empathetic and patient.

4. Ability to probe respectfully

After gathering all the basic biographical information the funeral celebrant needs to be able to find out lots of information about the deceased in order to write a ceremony that is a “good fit”.  Skilful funeral celebrants probe carefully for information in a way that does not make the family uncomfortable but allows the family to discuss the deceased person openly, often sharing personal details and anecdotes.

5. Organisational skills and commitment 

A funeral celebrant usually only has a few days to liaise with family and funeral director,  gather information, research poetry and other readings, draft the ceremony, incorporate changes from the family and deliver a heartfelt, authentic ceremony so organisational skills and commitment are vital.


 

Comments 7

Guest - Margie Rankin on Tuesday, 23 February 2021 16:41
What a little boy asked at his grandmother's funeral.

Very informative Sonia, thank you.
I had a couple of very interesting questions asked of me yesterday by a 5 year old who wanted to know
'how I got his 'Nanno' (grandmother) into the box and then 'why did I close the lid on the box'??
Answering questions from children is something that doesn't seem to be covered in any funeral training. Being a mother and grandmother myself I'm sure I answered his questions appropriately and he went away happy and satisfied.

Very informative Sonia, thank you. I had a couple of very interesting questions asked of me yesterday by a 5 year old who wanted to know 'how I got his 'Nanno' (grandmother) into the box and then 'why did I close the lid on the box'?? Answering questions from children is something that doesn't seem to be covered in any funeral training. Being a mother and grandmother myself I'm sure I answered his questions appropriately and he went away happy and satisfied.
Sonia Collins on Tuesday, 23 February 2021 16:59
Children's questions

Children do come up with the best questions!!. There is a lovely book written by a member of The Celebrants Network, Robyn O'Connell. It is called "What happens when you die" and is the story of an 8 year old boy Jamie whose 25 year old uncle dies suddenly. Jamie has lots of questions as most children do. Through his questions he learns about the processes and emotions around death, funerals and grieving.

Children do come up with the best questions!!. There is a lovely book written by a member of The Celebrants Network, Robyn O'Connell. It is called[b] "What happens when you die"[/b] and is the story of an 8 year old boy Jamie whose 25 year old uncle dies suddenly. Jamie has lots of questions as most children do. Through his questions he learns about the processes and emotions around death, funerals and grieving.
Rhonda Allen on Friday, 19 February 2021 11:24
Still pondering

Thanks for this Sonia. All good to know. I love doing weddings, but as I get older thinking funerals would be good. This is such a gift to give a grieving family. As an ex nurse I feel very comfortable around death, more so as I get older. But the line between empathy and losing it for me might be just a bit close in this situation, especially with the death of young people. Do you feel it is mandatory to undertake a course in funerals before embarking on that journey?

Thanks for this Sonia. All good to know. I love doing weddings, but as I get older thinking funerals would be good. This is such a gift to give a grieving family. As an ex nurse I feel very comfortable around death, more so as I get older. But the line between empathy and losing it for me might be just a bit close in this situation, especially with the death of young people. Do you feel it is mandatory to undertake a course in funerals before embarking on that journey?
Sonia Collins on Friday, 19 February 2021 12:03
Pondering

Hi Rhonda
I do think that training is important even for expeirenced marriage and family celebrants. And I think it is really important to select training that challenges you. You know that you have skills and knowledge that will stand you in good stead so think about what else you might need and how to get there. Do some research to find a course that looks good for you. Talk to other funeral celebrants about their training and whether you can learn from them. Happy to chat further.

Hi Rhonda I do think that training is important even for expeirenced marriage and family celebrants. And I think it is really important to select training that challenges you. You know that you have skills and knowledge that will stand you in good stead so think about what else you might need and how to get there. Do some research to find a course that looks good for you. Talk to other funeral celebrants about their training and whether you can learn from them. Happy to chat further.
Mhairi CLARK on Wednesday, 17 February 2021 15:00
Funeral Directors and Celebrants

Hello Sonia - thank you and I absolutely agree with all you have said.
Do you have any ideas/strategies of how to obtain more work from Funeral Directors? I live in a Regional town and find the local Funeral Directors here have 'their regular favourites' and it is extremely difficult to break into this. When a family asks for you directly - there is no problem, but then the Directors always revert to their regulars. It is a pity because being a Funeral Celebrant is so very rewarding.

Hello Sonia - thank you and I absolutely agree with all you have said. Do you have any ideas/strategies of how to obtain more work from Funeral Directors? I live in a Regional town and find the local Funeral Directors here have 'their regular favourites' and it is extremely difficult to break into this. When a family asks for you directly - there is no problem, but then the Directors always revert to their regulars. It is a pity because being a Funeral Celebrant is so very rewarding.
Sonia Collins on Wednesday, 17 February 2021 16:33
Funeral Directors and Celebrants

Many funeral celebrants report the same issue Mhairi. And of course it is easy to see why FD's use people they know will do a good job, stay on time, work well with the FD staff etc. However there is a risk to that approach. A friend of mine who works in a nursing home a long way from me told me once that she often goes to residents' funerals and if she hears XX celebrant use the same poem and commital words again she feels she will scream. Getting known by FDs and their Arrangers is important. Equally though, educating the public around you that they have choices when arranging a funeral is essential - so networking, community groups, radio station grabs, local news - anything you can think of!!

Many funeral celebrants report the same issue Mhairi. And of course it is easy to see why FD's use people they know will do a good job, stay on time, work well with the FD staff etc. However there is a risk to that approach. A friend of mine who works in a nursing home a long way from me told me once that she often goes to residents' funerals and if she hears XX celebrant use the same poem and commital words again she feels she will scream. Getting known by FDs and their Arrangers is important. Equally though, educating the public around you that they have choices when arranging a funeral is essential - so networking, community groups, radio station grabs, local news - anything you can think of!!
Guest - Barry Slocombe (website) on Wednesday, 17 February 2021 13:12
Interesting article

Here in Canada Marriage Celebrants do NOT do Funerals or vice versa, with rare exception. Training is also interesting as about 20% of us come from broadcasting/public speaking backgrounds with some funeral experience and those 20% get the majority of services. I live in Vancouver, British Columbia and there are about 30 - 40 Funeral Celebrants in a population of 2.4 million people. Many are Clergy, about 60% and about 40% are not. It has been an interesting year for all of us and I wish everyone success. Success here in based on your relationship with Funeral Homes and not the public. Cheers Barry

Here in Canada Marriage Celebrants do NOT do Funerals or vice versa, with rare exception. Training is also interesting as about 20% of us come from broadcasting/public speaking backgrounds with some funeral experience and those 20% get the majority of services. I live in Vancouver, British Columbia and there are about 30 - 40 Funeral Celebrants in a population of 2.4 million people. Many are Clergy, about 60% and about 40% are not. It has been an interesting year for all of us and I wish everyone success. Success here in based on your relationship with Funeral Homes and not the public. Cheers Barry
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