I’ve covered the topic ‘why do you do what you do’ in an earlier blog, but new year, new start and I wanted to re-iterate once again, how important it is to get the ‘right’ person to give your loved one their perfect send off. You only get the ONE chance to say goodbye, so make sure you do it right.
If you’re recommended a Celebrant by your Funeral Director, take a wee minute to check them out. If they’re part of a reputable organisation, you’ll easily find their details on line. And did you know, you don’t have to go with your Funeral Director’s recommendation? If you’ve been to a Humanist service before, and have a Celebrant in mind – ask for them. It’s your choice.
I remember on one particular occasion, being asked to compose and conduct a funeral service for an elderly woman who had passed away. I took note of the family’s details and phoned her daughter to make arrangements to go and see her. After a lengthy telephone conversation, the woman said to me, you’re awfully good you know. I first saw you when you did so and so’s funeral at Westhill. Right away, I knew this woman had confused me with another celebrant, as I hadn’t conducted that particular service. I know how important it is, to make sure that you have the right person, representing you, your family and your loved one, saying their final goodbye. There was no way on this earth I was just going to say ‘oh thank you very much and I’ll see you tomorrow’. I politely explained that she must have me confused with someone else, that I hadn’t conducted the service she was referring to. That threw her and I could hear her panic down the phone. So, I took the lead and told her not to worry, I would contact the Funeral Director and see if we could maybe find out which Celebrant it was and check their availability. Thus I duly did. End result, the family had the person they wanted, the Funeral Director was glad that we’d managed to resolve the situation, and my integrity was left intact. I even got a text a few days later from the woman, thanking me for my help and saying how nice I sounded and that she hoped to meet me at some point in the future.
I was delighted with that text. I wasn’t put out or offended that they didn’t want me. It’s all a matter of personal choice and I was delighted that I could help, even in some small way. I’d never deny an individual the opportunity to have their celebrant of choice. I’ve had quite a few requests, direct from people who have seen me at other funerals. And that’s great. Word of mouth is the best form of marketing you could ever use. Be good at what you do. Be professional. Make sure you compose and conduct the best service you possibly can – each and every time.
Have I ever made a mistake? Of course I have, I’m human! I’m far from perfect. But I like to think I’m professional enough that I can overcome and rectify, on the spot, any mistake and use it as a learning curve. I have one funeral that still haunts me, from early on in my days as a Celebrant. I’d gone to meet the family and they were, understandably, still in shock. I gathered what information I could, came home and wrote the funeral script. I wasn’t happy with it. I didn’t feel it was personal enough or contained enough information. It’s the little anecdotes that brings the memory of the person to life. So, I emailed the family with what I’d prepared to date and asked for further information. They’d had time to think about it since my visit, and sent back quite a few stories. I re-wrote the tribute, and sent it to the family for approval. They were delighted.
As always, on the day of the service, I fired up my laptop and read, and re-read the script out loud. I like to practice. I then went and made myself a cuppie, went back to the laptop and printed out the script. Off I went to the crem and was on the 3rd page of the service, when I realised I’d printed out the wrong script. I have never felt so sick in my life. You know that feeling when your heart drops into the pit of your stomach. By the wrong script, I mean I had printed out the original version instead of the updated one – it’s not that I’d taken the script for a different person!!
What do I do? What do I do? Panic set in. I’m still reading from page 3, while my mind was in turmoil. This service will be far too short; it will be missing all the ‘personal’ stuff. And what is the one thing I always say – you only get the one opportunity to say goodbye, so make sure it’s right.
Luckily, because I had read and re-read the script that very day, I was able to carry on. I remembered the funny stories I had been told and that I’d incorporated into the script. I was able to recite them, albeit in my own words and by my own recollection, rather than reading from the paper in front of me. And all the time I felt like the family’s eyes were drilling into me. Oh no, they’ve realised my mistake, I’m rubbish. Help! But, I finished the service, it wasn’t too short, I shook hands with the family, they thanked me, then I got out of there as fast as I possibly could. Got into my car and I burst into tears. I felt such a failure. How could I do that?? When David came home from work, I cried again, as I told him. I said I was going to phone the family to apologise and tell the funeral director that there would be no fee for the service. Then my phone beeped, and I got this text:
“Hello Karen, just a text to say thank you for the professional service you carried out for my Dad. Everyone was very impressed and gave you very good feedback which is good testament to your service. Thanks again”
The family hadn’t noticed! Because I’d practiced, I’d managed to recall and relate the anecdotes.
I still went and saw the Funeral Director the following day and ‘owned’ my mistake. Interestingly enough, they were just finishing a phone conversation with a family member as I arrived, and the family had been singing my praises.
So, lessons learned from this:
- I practice from the PRINTED script and not the one on my laptop – that way, there can be no error. I have never made the same mistake again.
- I am professional. Even though I felt sick and was panicking on the inside, I managed to hide this and carry on. The family didn’t notice and were pleased with the service.
- I am human, I make mistakes, but when I do, I own them!
My professional reputation is everything to me. Although that service still haunts me to this day, I did learn from it and took steps to ensure that nothing like that could ever happen again. I’ve stopped beating myself up about it, I am human, I make mistakes.
And I am still amazed by the feedback I receive from families – all unsolicited – after conducting services. Even in their darkest hours, after saying goodbye to a loved one, they still take the time to contact me to say thank you. I am truly humbled. On my next blog, I will share some of that feedback with you.