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What kind of person is a Celebrant?

Those of you who read my blogs will know that I like to write about subjects that others don’t broach. However, after my last blog, I had some great feedback from an old school friend John Morrison, who asked the question: What sort of person becomes a Celebrant?  So, just for you John, I thought I’d try and answer that.

It is a huge misconception that those working in the ‘death’ trade are ‘hard’. We can be seen as very straight laced, poker faced, devoid of all feeling and emotion. I’ve walked into a room before to overhear someone say ‘here comes Dr Death’.

But you know what, nothing could be further from the truth!  As an old friend use to say to me, “Karen, you’re as hard as toenails in a bath”…. And that about sums me up. I am probably the biggest softie you’ll ever meet. I cry at the TV. My kids and David often look at me, shaking their heads, as I bubble away at something ridiculous. I’m a hugger. All my pals will tell you that they don’t get greeted with a ‘hiya’ it’s a huge hug. When I meet the families that I work with, I shake hands to introduce myself, but by the time I leave – it’s hugs central.

I’m a people person. I have the natural ability to put people at ease and keep a conversation going. Many families have often said that they felt anxious and nervous about my visit, but afterwards, they were glad I’d came. They enjoyed being able to speak about happier times, remembering funny stories, rather than speaking about the death of their loved one. It does help that I’m a natural yap!

I’m a confident public speaker. This comes from 20 years in the voluntary sector and having to get up at a minute’s notice, to promote the work of the charity. This could be in a room of 400 at a black tie event, or at the local pub at a race night with 30 people in attendance. I am adaptable and suit my pitch to meet my audience. It wasn’t always like that though, years of practice to perfect. And even now, if it wasn’t for the lectern at the crem, you’d maybe still see my knees knock!

I have a good command of the English (and Aberdonian) language. Again, 20 years of writing promotional material and reports has stood me in good stead. But I don’t have a certain style. I’ll match my script to the family. It’s pointless going in ‘all queen’s English’ when the family are broad Aberdonian, and vice versa. Although when I am minding my p’s and q’s, it’s quite funny when the odd bit of doric slips in….. aye? At least I can laugh at myself.

I am real. I am what I am and I am me. I can be a bit like marmite. Folk either love me or hate me, and I’m really lucky to be able to say that 97% fall into the first category. But I never pretend to be something I’m not. If I make a mistake – I own it. If I don’t understand something the family have told me – I’ll ask for clarification. What you see is what you get. I’ll tell you that I’m going to do my utmost to make sure your loved one gets the send-off they deserve, and I mean it. I put my everything into each and every funeral that I have the honour of composing and conducting.

I empathise. Having gone through the grief cycle last year, with the death of my dad, when I say I know how you feel, I really do. I feel their pain. I can tell what stage they’re at (shock, denial, anger, depression, acceptance). But, I remain professional at all times (even when I’m hugging!!) I remember that this is not my grief, and for as much as I feel for the family, I can empathise without showing emotion. Does that mean I don’t feel it? Of course I do. But I wait until I get back into my car before I have a wee cry.

I’ve conducted every type of funeral that you could imagine: cremations and burials; from the 7 month old baby, to the 98 year old woman. I’ve dealt with death by natural causes; murder; suicide; accident; drugs overdose; cancer; prisoners attending handcuffed to wardens; warring families – where I’ve even been threatened with legal action. I don’t think there’s anything I’ve not dealt with.

Are some easier than others? I’d say no. Each and every service is hard. You’re dealing with emotionally charged families who have lost someone close to them, and you have to be mindful of that at all times. Some can be harder – for example I conducted 3 services last week. One was a woman with adult children, who were so grief stricken, you could hardly hear me over their tears. That was hard, watching a family fall apart right in front of me, while I try to conduct a service.

Another last week, was a young woman of only 31 and the outpour of grief at her service was incredible. It hit me like a wave, as I stood there and had to speak about how truly amazing this person was. Life is not fair and death has no preference, there was never a more shining example of this, than on that day.

It can be emotionally draining, but extremely rewarding. If I can get people to laugh at a funeral, and walk out of there saying “yes, that was my dad / mum / wife / husband ” then I’m doing something right and worthwhile.

It always amazes me the feedback I get afterwards. Even in their darkest hours, these families take the time to email or text me to thank me for the service. To me, that means more than anything.

So John, hope that answered your question, but to summarise, what kind of person is a Celebrant? I’d say Karen’s………

K caring (I know that begins with a C but hey, humour me!)
A adaptable
R respectful
E empathetic
N nice

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