Thursday, 3 February 2011

Being a celebrant isn't just about weddings..

Weddings are lovely to do and they are certainly on the increase as far as popularity is concerned but I, like a lot of my colleagues became a celebrant to conduct non religious funerals. Weddings are a lovely bonus but for me, funerals are the most wonderfully rewarding work.

Now of course I can't blog about the funerals that I do in the same way that I can talk about weddings but I wanted to share a ceremony that I am involved in planning at the moment.

A couple of months ago I did a funeral for a lady who had passed away at a relatively young age and who had spent the last few months of her life in a nursing home. The funeral director was not one that I had worked with before and he called me a couple of weeks later with a germ of an idea. The manager of the nursing home had been toying for a while with the idea  of having a memorial service for the residents at the nursing home who had passed away the previous year and she wanted it to be non religious so as to include as many people as possible. She had spoken to the funeral director and he had suggested that she approach me which she did. I immediately thought - what a brilliant idea!

When I got to thinking about it, I realised that both the staff and the residents at the nursing home must have to deal with the death of somebody that they had become close to on a regular basis and quite often not be able to attend the funeral to say their farewells to them.

For a nurse, it is part of the job to be faced with the loss of a patient and they deal with it in a professional and yet compassionate manner. For the staff at a nursing or care home, I think it is slightly different. Quite often the residents are with them long term - sometimes for years and they must become quite close to them and to their families. I know that whenever I have performed a funeral for someone who has been in a nursing or care home the family talk about the staff almost as part of the extended family. I don't think that they could do such a wonderful job without caring and compassion but that means that they must grieve for the loss of a patient that they were close to in much the same way as if they lost a friend. The downside though is that they can't all go to every funeral for obvious reasons and so they miss out on what I consider to be a vital part of the grieving process. I hope that the memorial ceremony that I am going to do will go some way to addressing this.

I talked to my good friend and colleague Penelope about the idea for the ceremony and she told me that her mum had spent a long time in a nursing home towards the end of her life. One of the things that she commented on was the fact that when one of the residents passed away, sometimes the first that they knew about it was when they realised that their friends room was empty. Obviously there is immense pressure on nursing home beds and usually within a couple of days there was a new person in the room. With the best will in the world, nursing home staff can't always take residents along to a funeral and so they too can miss out on a chance to say their final farewells to someone they may have known for years. For them too, I hope that the memorial will provide some comfort.

The ceremony will be happening on Saturday and we are just putting the finishing touches to the poetry and the readings and we'll be finishing it all off with a well wishing. As far as I know, this hasn't been done before in this format and so I'm really looking forward to it and hopefully making it an annual occurrence.

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