Harmony: the celebrant’s role in a personalised funeral service

Woman standing in front of people doing speech in a funeral

In his book Bereavement: Studies of Grief in Adult Life, Dr Colin Murray Parkes, a psychiatrist at St. Christopher’s Hospice, states, “The pain of grief is just as much part of life as the joy of love: it is perhaps the price we pay for love, the cost of commitment,” highlighting the significance of loss and the need to honour the grieving process. A funeral is an important part of this process and a celebrant’s role in a personalised funeral service is to maintain harmony and flow, from words and memories, to music and timing.

At Something Beautiful Remains, we understand that each family has unique dynamics and beliefs. That’s why we collaborate with a diverse range of secular celebrants, pandits, pastors, ministers, reverends, priests, to make each service truly special and reflective of the person’s life and their family’s wishes.

Woman giving eulogy to the deceased

“Being a funeral celebrant is an honour.”

Something Beautiful Remains partners regularly with Joy, from Joyful Occasions Celebrant, to offer our families a harmonious, seamless, personalised funeral experience. Like Caryn and Phil, when it comes to funerals, Joy has no rules.

“We can’t change the fact that a person has passed. But what we can do is give them a highly personalised, dignified and individual ceremony or service,” says Joy.

It is a privilege to have family members entrust you with memories in their time of heartache and grief. That’s why Joy chose to become a celebrant.

With a background in journalism and a lifelong love of stories, she finds it extremely fulfilling to capture the essence of a person and create a service as unique as they were.

The celebrant begins by meeting with the family

A celebrant doesn’t simply write out an order of service. A personalised celebration of life is a carefully crafted event that relies on compassion, consideration and creativity in every stage of planning.

Caryn considers each family’s beliefs and wishes before recommending a celebrant or religious leader to them. She provides a comprehensive brief and the preferred celebrant starts by meeting with the family and learning as much about their loved one as possible. When it comes to Joy, she likes to create a safe and private space for families to share their thoughts, memories and wishes.

“I talk to them about the things they would like said and the things they don’t want said,” Joy explains.

Families are often complicated and sometimes there are things the next-of-kin would prefer to leave out. And that is perfectly fine.

The role of a celebrant includes ensuring that nothing said throughout the service will create conflict or add to the sadness the family is already experiencing.  The family receives a final draft of the order of service to approve beforehand. The family’s comfort always takes precedence.

Man standing in front of visitors giving eulogy to the deceased

Memories, music and timing

Caryn takes responsibility for the overall theme, while the celebrant focuses on words and timing. The possibilities are endless. It might be a colour, a hobby like arts and crafts, or fancy dress. This theme will serve as the focal point, guiding the arrangement of decorations, displays, music and cherished memories.

When it comes to music, we ask the family what they would like, and what their loved one would have wanted. We consider when it would be appropriate to include each song. Typically, we play music upon entry to the chapel or venue, during time of reflection, a photo tribute and when leaving the chapel or venue.

Joy recommends choosing something upbeat or uplifting as the final piece of music as it is often hard for family and friends to leave the service knowing this is their final farewell. Music is powerful and when we play the right song, loved ones focus on, and find comfort in, their happy memories.

It is also important to have all eulogies in advance, for many reasons.

By doing so, we can avoid repetition and ensure that those speaking at the funeral only say things that align with the family’s wishes. At times, the celebrant will also use the written eulogy to deliver the words on behalf of the speaker, should they become overwhelmed when the moment arrives.

On the day of the service

On the day of the service, all the family has to bring is themselves. We take care of everything else.

A funeral is an emotional occasion, but a celebrant will ensure the service runs seamlessly.

When those who will be speaking arrive at the funeral, we like to check in and see how they are feeling. Often, people are confident about sharing memories until they get to the venue, then it becomes more daunting.

Joy offers tips on how to cope in such a vulnerable situation, and she gives speakers cues for what to do if it all becomes too much. If they stand to speak and nod to her, she knows they need her help.

From the beginning of the service, we emphasise to everyone in attendance that they can freely experience and express all emotions. And they’re valid. Crying is OK. Laughing is OK. Applause is welcome.

“While the funeral is designed to be a celebration of life, it is equally important to give service attendees permission to cry, to laugh and to be at one with their grief, as they are in a safe place, among family and friends,” Joy says.

Priest conducting a funeral mass

A symphony with a full orchestra

At Something Beautiful Remains, we collaborate with celebrants and other professionals in the funeral industry to create meaningful, personal, unique funeral services. For us, it’s all in the details, which is something we share with all who serve as celebrants for our services.

“Caryn and I have a similar approach. Our focus is on attention to detail and giving that point of difference, because every loved one was unique,” Joy says.

At Something Beautiful Remains, we take responsibility for ensuring that everyone is comfortable. Recently, Joy worked with us on a funeral where several attendees were in wheelchairs. Joy quickly identified a position in the venue where they would feel seen and be able to hear the service, and arranged to have them seated there.

We are committed to fostering inclusivity in all our services. Our extensive experience includes partnering with celebrants who can speak and sign, as well as those who are multi-lingual. We can incorporate multi-faith prayers and liturgy, biblical verses or any version of the Lord ’s Prayer that is true to each individual and family. If it holds meaning to you, it’s important to us.

Woman standing in front giving a speech in a funeral

“Give yourself time to gather your thoughts and time to say goodbye.”

After 15 years as a funeral celebrant, Joy has many tips for making a funeral service deeply personal.

Take your time. If a double time slot is available at your chosen venue, ask for it.

Don’t be afraid to use colour. Ask attendees to wear your loved one’s favourite colour on the day.

Be crafty and creative. Have a display of items that were important to your loved one. What were their hobbies? Did they volunteer? Use personalised lapels to identify close family members.

Include poetry. Poetry can be a powerful tool in processing loss. Joy enjoys penning customised poems or verses for services, drawing inspiration from the heartfelt stories and memories shared by families. This personal touch provides a meaningful and special way to honour a loved one.


Aboriginal man giving eulogy to the deceased

Saying goodbye is never easy, but you can do it your way

At Something Beautiful Remains, we have been part of so many services, all of them as unique as the people we were celebrating.

Some services ended with fun as disco lights flashed, music played and everyone danced their way out.

Some have been touching and rooted in culture and tradition, including a smoking ceremony and a didgeridoo player at an Aboriginal funeral. Not only were the attendees able to celebrate the life of a loved one, they were able to learn about and embrace an important part of their heritage.

Man giving eulogy to the deceased

“That was a great farewell.”

Funerals have a way of bringing the entire family, friend group and even the whole community together. Ultimately, you want everyone to leave thinking, “That was a great farewell.”

At Something Beautiful Remains, we can help you say goodbye the way you want to, with no rules and no regrets. We know that having a professional involved, whether a secular celebrant or a religious leader, will bring harmony to the entire process from words and memories, to music and timing.

If you would like to plan a personalised celebration of life service for someone you love, reach out to Caryn and Phil. They will guide you through this difficult journey, every step of the way.

Contact them anytime, day or night.

Once you’ve spoken with us,
your job is done

We are here to help you. Call us today and leave everything to us.

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