Catherine Duffy, Sussex Personal Funeral Celebrancy Service
I’m writing this on Armistice Day which is a significant reminder to me about how and why I became a civil celebrant.
Two years ago, I was still commuting to London every day to work, doing a senior, serious and stressful job in a local authority. I represented the Department for Adults and Children at our Armistice Day event, and remembered, in particular, my nephew-in-law, Flt Lt Alan Scott who had died a couple of months earlier, in Afghanistan. Al was repatriated through Brize Norton, with all the military honours, and his funeral was beautiful; a mix of the intense formality of the armed forces and the colour, love and personal touches that my niece wanted, for us all to remember her husband in the different facets of his life. I had found Lisa a celebrant who negotiated a path through the RAF expectations and those of the family beautifully, with touches of religion for those to whom faith mattered, but respecting the views and values of Alan and Lisa, who did not hold any faith. I was impressed and slightly in awe with the work that she did.
Fast forward a couple of months, and the senior, serious and stressful job ended, and I knew immediately that I wanted to be a celebrant; to be involved so intimately and gently powerfully at a time when people are so very sad, hurt and vulnerable. I identified the best training I could, and later gained my Diploma in Funeral Celebrancy.
What a privilege the last fifteen months have been – and what learning I have gained from every individual person and every family I have worked with in each of their unique situations. I have helped well over 120 families, mostly through my contact with excellent funeral directors such as Bungards, and some directly from people who have been at a funeral I have been celebrant at, and others from people from my wide circle of family and friends. Each is so unique, so personal.
People can and do expect different things from funerals these days – from the traditional to the outrageously joyful – and I love being in a position to help people who are trying to think through the options at the hardest time to make decisions, and to help them to create the unique story of the person who has died, in the way that feels ‘right’ to the family.
Death happens to us all, as we know, but few of us are privileged to be in the company of bereaved people so uniquely, and to hear the human stories behind family lives, and deaths. I am humbled and grateful that I am able to do this; to be able to tell the stories, to share in the music and poetry and readings that form the backdrop to individual, unique, personal lives.
I love my job, today, on Armistice Day, and every day. All lives matter.