Thursday, 26 March 2015

Funeral Celebrant | Death-phobic ... so what?

Caitlin Doughty - founder of The Order of the Good Death
 … And what about the funerals? 
Most people who are curious about the work of a celebrant, focus on what we celebrants call “Family Celebrancy” - the planning, writing and delivery of joyous events like weddings, naming ceremonies and vow renewals. Few want to know about funerals or memorial ceremonies so I tend not to bring up the topic unless asked.

I began the previous paragraph with the word “most” - as opposed to “all”. In fact, recently two female friends have asked me about the celebrant’s role in helping grieving relatives plan their loved one’s last journey. 

In both cases my friends also wanted to share their own experiences of attending funerals. Their stories brought home to me - yet again - how this most personal and moving of all ceremonies can be made or ruined by those “in charge” of the event. 

There is no doubt that a sympathetic celebrant working closely with the deceased’s family; and a caring funeral director can make this - whilst still the saddest of occasions - into a true celebration of a life well lived. I would hope that a “good funeral” can help with the grieving process and afterwards I like to hear the comment that the deceased, themselves, would have approved of their own funeral.

I will be finding out more about “The Order of the Good Death” - an organisation of funeral industry professionals, academics and artists who explore ways of preparing our death-phobic culture for inevitable mortality. Its founder is a remarkable young American mortician called Caitlin Doughty.


Caitlin is also the author of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory” and creator of the web series “Ask the Mortician”. She is a passionate advocate of death acceptance and the reform of Western funeral industry practices. I am looking forward to hearing her talk at the Barbican Open Salon, London on April 15th.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Wedding Celebrant | Prepare for al fresco ceremonies


Grumpy geese, wet sheep, random ramblers and the possibility of maypole or morris dancers aside, there is a lot to be said for wedding ceremonies al fresco as long as you are well prepared. 

As every successful family celebrant knows, ceremonies that leave nothing but happy memories behind, tend not to happen by accident. Even the simplest, understated event should be carefully orchestrated down to the last tiny detail.  Remember the old adage: fail to plan and you plan to fail.  
A small bottle of water for each guest

If you still decide to go ahead with the common ground venue, and set up the buffet over a public footpath, any passing walker with an appetite can partake of your hospitality. If your marquee encroaches in any way on a bridlepath, you cannot stop wet dogs - or anyone else for that matter -from joining in your party. The local police can only get involved if there is a disturbance - but who wants that on their big day?

Obviously, the success of any outdoor location is going to be determined - at least to some degree - by the whims of the weather. Be sure to inform your guests if there will be grass under foot so that the women can abandon their high heels in favour of platforms and everyone can bring a colour-coordinated brolly … just in case.



And don’t think that weather-related hazards are exclusive to the vagaries of the English climate. Mediterranean summer weddings also need to be well planned taking into account the angle of sun at the exact time of day and the correct placement of canopies. 

Undoubtedly the summer months - while the most popular amongst brides - can be positively dangerous without adequate shade and making sure that everyone is properly hydrated. Place a small bottle of water by each seat; and pretty fans make ideal wedding favours for your guests. 



The combination of a tight dress, a few too many glasses of cava on top of a nervous empty stomach baked together in the 30-degree sunshine can lead to disaster. Victorian melodramas aside, fainting brides are not a pretty sight!

Monday, 9 March 2015

Family Celebrant | It's all down to location

Geese are not always friendly
On the village green beside the duck pond, or on a Mediterranean beach at sunset … couples can now choose anywhere and any time of the day or night to celebrate their marriage or civil partnership, vow renewal or even naming ceremony.

If you can find a celebrant and enough friends and family who like mountaineering or deep sea diving  - your special day could be spent on a mountain top or you can even say “I do” with bubbles through underwater breathing apparatus. 

Woodland, yurt, castle or even in your own back garden, which ever location you pick, it’s a good idea to talk to your celebrant or wedding planner before getting the invitations printed so that he or she can point out any potential hazards. What might happen, for instance, if that predicted summer shower turns out to be the heaviest downpour since weather records began. It might be wise to have a Plan B in place … just in case.

So, to make sure that your special day is memorable for all the right reasons, here are one or two thoughts to consider when picking that all important location, location. location …
Morris dancers also have rights

Quaint and picturesque though it might be, homework is definitely needed before choosing to hold your ceremony on a piece of common land in the centre of a village. Apart from the obvious cautionary notes about duck mess or possible grazing sheep, you also don’t want the local under 15 cricket team to start putting in their stumps and nets in the spot you had allocated for elderly aunts’ seating. Do check with the parish council first. Although “common” land technically belongs to everyone in the community, there could well be a pre-booking rota in place.




The cricket team might have pre-booked
Best also to talk to the council and check out any detailed local maps regarding the possibility of obstructing by ways or public footpaths. If, for instance, you put up a marquee or hold an open air party over a foot-path, anybody who chooses to join in your celebration, is within their rights to do so. 

Forget the words “gate crasher”, absolutely any passing person or animal can become your uninvited guest and take full advantage of your hospitality enjoying the full catering service and drinks on offer.  

This is food for thought. Remember it is a “bridle-path” not a “bridal-path”.


More on this next time…

Monday, 2 March 2015

Civil Funeral Celebrancy | Eco-coffins the next Trunki ?

Death and Taxes … Whilst it might be a fact that these are the only certainties in life, it is also true that we don’t like to talk about either one.

As we go about living our day to day lives, most of us choose not to think about the final journey we will take nor make any provision for it.  Although the rational part of our brain knows it isn’t so, it’s as if, by thinking about it, we might somehow make it happen sooner. 

Of course this is nonsense. But, we can at least take some comfort in knowing that we are in good - or, at least successful and intelligent - company. I have rarely seen the Dragons (Dragons’ Den Series 12 Episode 9) want to get rid of any budding entrepreneur as quickly as when the investment topic was Eco-Friendly Coffins. 
Decorated eco-friendly cardboard coffins

It was instantly clear that - irrespective of how appealing the pitch or attractive the numbers - there was no way that Peter Jones, Kelly Hoppen or Piers Linney were going to part with any of their cash. Duncan Bannatyne and Deborah Meaden struggled to show even a cursory interest in the green coffins that were rather ingeniously made from compressed straw which, we were told, could replace wood in the future and was far better for the environment than either cardboard or wicker.

While I appreciate that coffins are seen as an unappealing investment opportunity, it is however an indisputable fact that one day - hopefully well into the  distant future - we will all need one. With the world moving towards a sustainable future and the trend for green funerals catching on fast, there is no doubt that the market for environmentally friendly coffins is a growing one.

Many people - not just the hard-line environmentalists - will walk away from the beautiful meadow of a natural funeral ground with the abiding impression that this is what they would like when their time comes. In order to comply with the regulations of a green funeral you are going to need either a shroud or an eco-friendly coffin made, for instance, of cardboard, cane, willow. woven banana leaves or, indeed, compressed straw. 


The rejection by the Dragons of the compressed straw coffins might just have been a business blunder. Remember the Trunki ? Back in 2006 the prototype Trunki was dismissed by the Dragons when its pull handle came off … and today almost two million have been sold around the world. Theo Paphitis and co must kick themselves every time they pass through an airport. Maybe today’s Dragons might also have regrets when they attend funerals in the future.