It seems weird to be writing about Funeral Best Bits, but I want to emphasise to you how magical a celebrant funeral ceremony can be.
Yes, again, weird to call a funeral magical. We are there to mourn the loss of a loved one. And we are all floating somewhere along the grief spectrum from a bit sad to utterly devastated.
However, someone amazing lived. They were born, went to school, maybe travelled, maybe worked. Had friends and maybe a family? Made people laugh, cry, supported them, and loved them. And yes, we miss them and want them back. But as we can’t have that, we can choose to celebrate what they brought to our lives.
A Celebrant Led Funeral Ceremony
A celebrant ceremony aims to remind you not that you have lost someone, but of the joy that person brought to your life. The memories that make you smile. The little jokes and sayings that make you shake your head in wonder, then nod in agreement – that is the person I remember.
So here, in no particular order, are a few stand out moments from funerals I have delivered aka Funeral Best Bits.
Young at Heart
A young pensioner’s mum died. When she described her, the mother sounded like a woman who was unaware of the decades she had spent on this planet. She was in her early 90s. However, she lived with the vitality and energy of a woman at least a third of her age.
She went clubbing and dancing and dating. She’d borrow her daughter’s and granddaughter’s clothes for nights out. Every outing was a reason for full make-up and a well-chosen outfit.
If you were single, then she would act as matchmaker though would often end up getting a feller herself too.
Her daughter chose The Bluebells “Young at Heart” for the last song of the ceremony. As the music filled the small crematorium, the daughter followed by the rest of the attendees, began swaying in time to the music. Then clapping, then singing. And following the funeral director from the building the singing continued fading away as they departed.
The room was filled with delight, laughter, and so much love for this woman who truly lived her life young at heart.
You had to be There
Oftentimes, families are nervous about choosing music that will be seen by others as “inappropriate”. But I am an advocate for choosing music that reminds you of or is linked to your deceased family member or friend.
There’s no point having hymns and classical music if they were a metalhead or lover of boybands, and this next family chose very wisely.
The man that had died had been a father and grandad. If I remember rightly, he lived with his son and his family.
Now, we all have ideas of the sort of music that grandads should be listening to and it rarely includes current pop chart music. But one day this fellow had come wandering through the family-filled living room quietly singing Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”.
The grandchildren were delighted and it made the parents laugh. The song was included in the ceremony because that song brought back such a joy-filled memory to each of them. As the music began playing, they smiled and laughed and held each other sharing knowing looks – remember when he sang this?
And the rest of the attendees sat with facial expressions ranging from bemused to “this is not a funeral song.” But it didn’t matter that they were not in on the reason for the song. The four closest people to that grandad were in on the song and loved him all the more dearly because of it.
This first tale is about a young blonde boy, probably about five or six. He was in awe of everything that was going on around him and sat very sombrely among the grown-ups. I made sure to make eye contact with him and give him the odd smile by way of reassurance.
When it came time for the middle song, often known as the Reflection Song, he listened carefully. And his whole body reacted with utter delight as his favourite song from his favourite film came on. I am guessing he must have watched it with grandad at some time. However, this was the part of the funeral he could connect with and understand.
He sang the whole of Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again” from Fast and Furious Seven and smiled throughout. It is the image of his eyes lighting up at the opening bars of a song that sticks with me years later.
This second story is bittersweet. This grandad had a reputation for getting lost. One of the memories shared with me was that he’d taken the family out for an hour’s drive from Liverpool to Chester. Four hours later, the family were still in the car. They were now somewhere in deepest Wales with a man refusing to accept he was lost.
The grandchildren, who had experienced grandad’s directional inabilities, were worried that he would get lost on his way to heaven. So, with their child practicality, they drew him a map. It was placed on the coffin for him to use so he didn’t get lost.
It was a little bit sad, a little bit sweet, and somewhat adorable. It’s also a very good way for the children to be involved in the ceremony and say goodbye in their own way.
These are my Funeral Best Bits. There are other moments that stand out too, but not in the way these four do. These are the moments when the family got to say goodbye to their loved one in their very personal way. They didn’t worry about what others may have thought or deem suitable, because what they did was suitable for them. And that is the most important thing.
I hope some of this made you smile and made you realise that funerals don’t have to be sad or sombre. You can make the funeral a collection of best bits of your person and leave smiling at wonderful memories.