The funeral service plays a vital role in the early stages of grieving someone’s death. It gives us a focus in those first few days after someone dies when everything can feel so strange and out of balance. Equally important it allows us to say goodbye in a way which is hard to do without going to a funeral service. The reality of a person’s death can take a while to sink in. The person who we could talk to, touch, laugh with, be in the same room with has gone from our lives. The funeral service helps us to accept that they are no longer around. This makes it easier for us to re-engage with life without them. In time, a new relationship develops where they live on in our hearts and memories.
Most of us have been to a good funeral and a bad funeral. At a good funeral service, it feels like we have brought someone centre stage for one last time before saying good-bye. The funeral service becomes an expression of the way they lived their life and the kind of person they were. It’s a shared occasion when we come together with family and friends to mourn alongside each other in what is otherwise an essentially private journey into grief and to celebrate and honour the life that was lived. However sad, a good funeral service should bring a degree of comfort and lift our spirits.
Usually it is the celebrant who works with the family and friends to create the right kind of funeral service for the person who has died. People tend to think in terms of a simple choice between a religious service and a non-religious or humanist one. But this is misleading. Many people want a spiritual element but they do not want to be labelled or to be told that they can say this but not that. The celebrant will encourage family and friends to find suitable readings, poems, music, eulogies and tributes, and ritual.
Although many funerals take place in a church or crematorium, they can be held elsewhere: for example, in a village hall or hotel, at home, in a field, under a marquee or by the side of the grave. Sometimes everyone is dressed formally in black. At others, there is a riot of colour or styles. Music may be recorded or live. Eulogies may stick to the facts of a person’s life or offer very personal accounts of how that life was lived. What matters is that the funeral feels right and that nothing jars like the wrong piece of music or being addressed by the wrong name.
As funeral directors and celebrants, we understand the importance of a good funeral service and our commitment is always to ensure that the opportunity for having one is not missed or compromised. The ancient Roman poet Catullus calls it doing “the final kindness”.