Losing a loved one is an emotional experience that most of us will have to face at some stage during our life. It can be a very difficult time as we grapple with emotions such as exhaustion, shock, anger, pain and grief. And just when one longs for time and space to grieve in peace, there is the process of registering the death, the heavy burden of dealing with complex administrative tasks, official forms, insurance companies and many other unwelcome, stressful and unfamiliar tasks.
Just communicating the news of the death and the funeral arrangements to family, relatives and friends can be a long and daunting affair. During this time of upheaval, it can be an enormous relief to have comfort and assistance from an experienced and sensitive professional. We lead such diverse and busy lives, we put such a lot of thought into how best to spend our days, that we all deserve to have the richness and wonder of our life remembered in the best way possible.
So what will an independent celebrant do for you? First of all, the celebrant visits the bereaved family to learn about the life of your loved one. Often this is very healing in itself. Having been a therapist for almost twenty years, I have a lot of experience of being with people during very difficult times in their lives, and bereaved people really appreciate my sensitive, gentle, thoughtful and caring support. I am also a skilled speaker with a particularly fine command of the English language. During my visit, people often find that they can let out all sorts of pent up thoughts and emotions because they no longer have to put the feelings of family and friends first. We also look in detail at what made your loved one’s life special, and consider what sort of music, poetry or readings you would like and whether there will be contributions from family and friends.
Sometimes there are delicate and sensitive issues which need to be handled with great care and discretion. There may be things in the family history requiring tact and diplomacy. Having a celebrant deliver the funeral tribute (also known as the eulogy or address) means that family and friends are relieved of a taxing and potentially distressing task. Death is never easy and the presence of a mature, tactful, and well-organized celebrant will significantly ease the burden of bereavement for all concerned.
Working closely with your funeral director, my aim is for everything to be done in the most helpful, sensitive, dignified, professional and compassionate manner possible. By using my services you will have a first class funeral that you will be able to look back on with pride.
A really beautiful funeral can be a very powerful occasion that both honours the deceased and helps you say your own very personal farewells. It can bring healing and release, and the funeral tribute often sheds new light on the life and times of your loved one. A good funeral draws people together in a special way. Often people meet who may not have seen one another for years. And a good funeral can prompt us to reflect on our own lives, and to use the occasion to re-evaluate the direction our lives are taking and the balance of our priorities.
Sometimes people are unaware of just how much freedom they have regarding funeral service content. You really can have just what you want. You can have recorded or live music; friends and family may sing or play or contribute anecdotes, readings and poems. Or, if you prefer, I can do any readings for you. Sometimes, when the moment for them to speak arrives, people realize they can't do it without breaking down and I am always happy to step in and to do it for you. There is no shame in grief, it is a very natural thing - it's the body's way of releasing emotional pain. Knowing you have someone you can fall back on is always very comforting.
The one small but important constraint can be time:- if the service is in a crematorium, you do have to stick rigidly to the time slot allocated for your funeral service and you are not allowed to overrun in order to be fair to those attending subsequent funerals. However, if you are having a private ceremony at a hotel, restaurant or in a private venue, you won't have this time constraint and there will be the opportunity for as many people who would like to speak to do so.
A lot of people choose a so-called "direct cremation" which is where there is no funeral service at the crematorium. Because the funeral directors do not have to use limousines or pall bearers, this option is quite a bit cheaper and some people prefer to channel the savings into a private occasion at a restaurant, hotel or private venue with the celebrant giving the funeral address and introducing each person who is going to speak. Over the years, I have had increasing numbers of bookings for private ceremonies of this sort.
You can have as much or little religious content as you like. If you use a vicar or minister, they will generally be restricted to working within the framework of their particular religion. It is a common misconception that celebrants only do humanist funerals. The truth is that you can as much or as little religious content as you would like; it is entirely up to you. As an independent celebrant my aim is to give you a bespoke funeral that is tailor-made to your wishes. My training and my many years as a therapist means that I work easily with people from all backgrounds and faiths.
If the bereaved family would like a short session of hypnotherapy to help them cope better with bereavement, this can be included in the family visit. I am probably the only celebrant offering this service in the south east of England.
At this time of grief and loss, from the moment you pick up the phone and talk to me, you will start to feel a sense of relief at having someone to shoulder the burden with you. Because I get very booked up, a lot of people ring me even before going to the funeral directors.
Helen France, Funeral Celebrant, Kent & East Sussex - Helping you bear the burden of bereavement.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Where are you based? I take funerals at the crematoria at Tunbridge Wells, Charing, Blue Bell Hill, Folkestone and Hastings. People have also asked me to speak at memorial services at stately homes, gardens, restaurants and hotels. And some people just want a small affair in the privacy and comfort of their own home.
What you say you are an “independant celebrant” what does that mean?
As an independent celebrant I do not belong to any religious body or association that might place restrictions on what you can have in your funeral service, so that you can have as much or little religious content as you like. I will support and help you to have a really special funeral that is conducted in a professional manner and which pays a beautiful tribute to the your loved one.
Do you do humanist funerals?
I take a wide variety of funeral services, including but not restricted to humanist ones. For some reason there is a common misconception that celebrants only do humanist funerals. A strictly humanist funeral would mean having absolutely no religious content at all, not even the Lord's Prayer. Personally, I believe it is really important for you to have the funeral that you want. So when I visit you I will ask you how much religious content (if any) you would like. It is entirely up to you, and whatever your wishes in the matter they will be respected.
Are there rules about what can I have in my funeral service?
No, with the help of a celebrant you can in effect have a bespoke funeral. Your farewells may include prayers, poetry, readings, music, contributions from family and friends, and may even reflect more than one faith.
Are there any restrictions?
If you are having a service in a crematorium, each funeral is allocated a set amount of time and this really does have to be respected, as it would be really unfair to any funeral parties who are booked in after you if you were to run late.
Apparently, there is a rumour that the staff at a West Country crematorium simply turn on the sprinkler system if a funeral service goes over its slot! I'm sure this is just a myth, but it underlines the fact that we have to be on time. However, if you want to have a longer than usual service, perhaps because a lot of family and friends will be contributing, then you can always book a double slot with the crematorium.
What are some of the reasons people have a celebrant?
Dislike of public speaking – nerves – fear of breaking down during the service - shyness. Also, family and close friends are often physically and emotionally exhausted after a bereavement, and it is an enormous relief to be able to hand the conduct of the ceremony over to a professional.
Do I have to have a Christian funeral service?
You are free to have whatever you like during the service. The service may reflect any faith, beliefs or values you choose.
Have you had any training? I heard that anybody can call themselves a celebrant!
I had an excellent and very thorough training with the The Fellowship of Independent Celebrants (FOIC) and I adhere to their code of professional conduct. In some countries (for example, Australia) the training and work of the celebrant is regulated by law but this is not the case in the UK.
To give you an idea of my work and with the kind permission of the family, the following funeral addres has been included here so that friends and family who couldn't be present can have a chance to read it.
"One of life’s free spirits"
Kevin Douglas Paige was born on 29th June 1958 in Calverley Park Nursing Home, Tunbridge Wells. He was the eldest of three children, Kevin, Robert and Susan and the firstborn child of Sylvia and Douglas Paige. The Paiges are a tight-knit, warm, peaceable family who have quietly and steadily supported one another through the last difficult and painful months. They are a family with strong roots in the Tunbridge Wells area and all three children went to Sherwood Park Primary School.
I was shown a photo of Kevin as a child and as I looked at this attractive, dark-haired lad with his cheery freckled smile, his steady, sunny and optimistic nature just shone through. On the wall of the family kitchen is a photo of Sylvia’s husband, who passed away suddenly in January 2008. Sylvia’s husband, Douglas Paige, spent a lot of his life working for the Post Office, first as a postman and later as a counter clerk, and for a while Kev went to work with his Dad, which must have been a very proud moment for him. From the photo, Kev’s Dad Douglas smiles down with a gentle, kindly, affectionate gaze. Most families have those little running jokes and it was a standing joke in Kev’s family that Sue and Kev got their Dad’s ears and the middle son, Rob, looked more like his Mum.
Kev was blessed with a really first class brain; he was good at mental arithmetic and one of his great passions in life was words. He just loved words, whether it was crosswords, books (he was always reading), or Scrabble. And as he grew older he started exploring foreign languages, too... French and Spanish – nothing was too difficult for him. And later on when he was spending his winters in Greece, he began to learn the local language, there, too. And when he met his girlfriend Olga, he starting learning her language - Russian.
The three children were all quite close to one another in age. When they weren’t at school they loved being out and about on their bicycles, cycling over to High Rocks, or playing cards, Scrabble, Lexington, football, backgammon. And Kev often used to play cribbage with his Dad and no doubt his ability with maths and numbers helped, as it’s one of those games where you have to do lots of really rapid calculations in your head while you play to outwit your opponent.
Those were the days before mobile phones (at this point someone’s mobile phone rang, much to everyone’s amusement!) and computers and Health and Safety. Kids made their own fun and roamed around the neighbourhood playing games – hide and seek, skipping, inventing races and competitions, climbing trees, seeing who could do the best cartwheels and handstands, acting out things they’d read in books or making up their own dramas and adventures – cowboys & Indians, fireman, playing families, cops and robbers, pirates, smugglers. And when it was raining there were cards and board games. Kids didn’t have to keep up with Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. It was such a different way of life from today. As Kev’s Mum, Sylvia, said to me “The children were brought up in the old way. If you couldn’t afford it, you didn’t buy it.” Debt was really frowned upon. And I’m sure that children then had far more interesting adventures than if they stayed indoors crouched over a computer screen. When Kev was about eleven, he had a dog of his very own called Laddie. For a while he did indeed walk Laddie, but as with most kids, the novelty wore off and the job fell to Mum and Dad.
He loved gardening. He would go down to Homebase and come back with half dead plants that he had bought for 50p or a pound and nurse them back to health in the garden of the family home. And some of those no-hope plants are still alive in the family garden today and Kev lives on in that garden.
When they were teenagers, Kev and his brother Rob used to go fishing at the lake all night long. Just think how exciting that must have been – staying up late, being outdoors in the dark with all those strange sounds, foxes barking & frogs croaking, the crack of a twig sounding twice as loud as usual, the buzzing of insects, the smells of the night, the plop of a fish, the sudden jerk of the line... but will it prove to be a fish or just an old boot?! There were memorable family holidays in France & at Camber sands, and once they all stayed on a boat on the Norfolk Broads – you could hear the birds tweeting and pitter-pattering on the cabin roof, and when Dad was mooring the boat he misjudged the distance and fell in. Another time they camped at St Mary’s Bay and Rob and Kevin caught eels. A passer-by said “Well, boys, what are you going to do with them, then?” and quick as a flash Kevin replied “My Mum’s going to cook them!” There were days out at Hastings, Brighton, adventures at Yalding fishing off the weir, Sunday picnics and swimming. It was a really lovely childhood.
And years later, when Sue’s daughter Georgia was born, Mum Sylvia used to look after her while Sue went back to work. Sometimes Kev, Sylvia and Georgia would go to the seaside and Kev came up with a new game called “Let’s Make Duck War.” For those of you who are not familiar with this game, this involved throwing chips in the air for the gulls to catch and Georgia loved it... everyone laughed and laughed. This was typical of Kev; he had the gift of being able to find humour in most things and he got on easily with people. He could tell you risky jokes and shaggy dog stories that he spun out for ages and ages. When he died he was in the process of teaching the manager of the Indian hotel English.
All her life Sylvia had always done fruit picking in the summer and when the children were old enough they used to go along as well. Most of the time the children would go off for the day exploring local farms, but if it was apple picking, Kev would stay and pick while his Mum sat and read a book in the sun. And there’s nothing quite like the sight of an orchard full of red and green apples, is there? The boughs bending under the weight, just crying out to be picked... And imagine eating a ripe apple straight off the tree – not waxed and several weeks old from the supermarket. And you can see the fruits of your labours as you watch the buckets and crates filling up with apples – what a great feeling that is.
Athough Kev went to the Tunbridge Wells Technical School, a lot of the time he seemed to be ahead of what they were teaching him. After he left school he did various mainly administrative jobs, he worked for the Land Registry, he worked as a postman along with his Dad. He was also a keen supporter of Millwall and loved going to matches.
He grew to love Greece in the summer and about 15 years ago he also discovered how attractive India was in the winter and gradually it became his spiritual home. Kevin and Olga were together for about 8 years. She was a photographer. As she lived in Russia, theirs was a long distance relationship, but they spent the winters together in India, sharing a love of photography and the local cuisine. It is rumoured that Kev had a cast iron stomach! Unfortunately, Olga cannot be with us today as she has to return to Russia directly from India.
He especially loved Goa and Varkala, soaking up the bright colours and the wonderful sounds and smells. There is a lovely photograph of Kev with long sun-bleached hair covered in bright splashes of paint - part of some local ceremony. He just loved things like that. But although he was abroad a lot he was still very close to his family and he always phoned his mum regular as clockwork at nine on the dot on Sunday.
That love of words stayed with him all his life. He had a great fondness for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and like the characters in that wonderful and original book, he was one of life’s free spirits, travelling lightly on this beautiful and amazing earth. History and travel books were very much his cup of tea. But when he first came down on a Saturday morning he liked to start the day with the Times crossword, and this habit stayed with him even when he was in India. The family started doing pub quizzes and used to take Kevin along; with that brilliant brain of his, he became their secret weapon! And not only was he good at general knowledge but he was also fiercely competitive. Even if he was guessing the answer, he was still pretty convincing. This competitive streak came out in other ways, too – such as the regular tug of war at 'The Ramsay.'
He walked a lot, he never owned a car and he never learned to drive. Whereas Sue and Rob learned to drive at the first opportunity, Kev just wasn’t that interested. Likewise he never had a mortgage and he never bought a property in Britain – he didn’t accumulate possessions, as most of us do, because he simply wasn’t materialistic. I think, don’t you .... it takes a certain sort of quiet steady courage to live your life on your own terms and Kev had that courage. He was one of those rare and gifted people who are profoundly true to themselves. He never married or had children – he genuinely was one of life’s free spirits. He and Olga really enjoyed their stays in India and it was Olga who found him after he had the massive heart attack on 26th January, 2019 in Varkala in India. He was just 60 years old. Apart from having a slight cough, there was no warning that he was ill – indeed not many days previously on the phone he had reassured his Mum that he was fine. He was cremated there and his ashes were flown home and Sylvia plans to scatter them in one of the apple orchards near Paddock Wood that he loved so much.
The hotel where he was staying in India have made a garden in his memory and Olga is arranging a special bush as a centrepiece with ornamental butterflies.
Amongst the photographs, the family found one Kev had taken of an inscription in India which they felt really described him very well and that is
“Love should be your life to the very last breath.”