Mental Wellbeing Tips For Funeral CelebrantsSep 27, 2021
A funeral marks the final passage of a human’s life. Surrounded by family and friends, they are ‘seen off’ as part of a ritual that goes back as far as mankind. In fact, funeral care is such an inbuilt instinct that certain animals even perform this ritual - including chimps and elephants.
But in British society especially, death is still a taboo and stigmatised topic. We have been socialised to avoid talking about death or to quietly deal with the emotions that come with it - and this can make being a funeral celebrant in the UK quite challenging.
We have put together a few tips to help funeral celebrants overcome some of the more emotionally challenging parts of funerals, and keep themselves healthy at the same time.
Recognise your transference
When you agree to conduct a funeral, there might be aspects to that client’s circumstances that resonate with you personally. For example, let’s say you have experience in losing a mother to a particularly unpleasant disease. You will have had your own experience of that grieving process, that funeral and the healing afterwards. Now, imagine you meet a client whose circumstances feel very similar to your own and that of your mother. It would be easy to empathise with this client, but it’s important that this empathy does not become transference. Transference is where your own feelings and experiences are projected onto someone else. When you fail to recognise transference, you can end up reliving the unpleasantness of your own history, and dragging your poor client into that sphere. The same can happen the other way around. A client might meet you and find that you remind them of someone, or see you as a mother or father figure in a time of need. While this is natural and normal, it is important that you try and recognise when this happens to ensure you keep emotional boundaries. Empathy does not involve become entangled in someone else’s life, or entangling them in yours, but being there to support and understand in a caring and objective way.
You’re not a therapist
Death, pain, loss, grief - these are all difficulties people must face when losing a loved one. In particularly distressing circumstances, such as the death of a child or the untimely death of a young husband, the family left behind might be particularly vulnerable. Your role as a celebrant is to get close and intimate with the family to plan the perfect funeral and give that person a thoughtful send off. But it can be easy for families to become very attached and assign you more of a ‘therapist’ role. While some skills - such as listening - are transferable across professions, therapists are strictly trained over many years to help people in grief, and celebrants simply do not have the tools to take on this task. It is a great idea therefore to know a therapist, grief group or support circle that you can refer your clients to should they need it.
Being sad is normal
All funerals are sad, but some can be especially challenging. You might feel overwhelmed, confused, distressed, angry or fearful by what has happened to the person who has died. Talk to your peers, other celebrants, friends, a therapist or whomever you trust. While maintaining client confidentiality, discuss what was so affecting about the funeral. Keep checking in with your own feelings and remember that it is normal to experience sadness during a sad event, even if you did not know the person. And remember to check your transference again - if you are sad because the deceased reminds you of someone, you might need to reflect on this more.
Celebrancy is a deeply moving and rewarding career but to best serve your clients, you must take good care of yourself first. We have a dedicated Facebook group for new and existing celebrants to share their thoughts and feelings. Please feel free to check in with us at any time to gain help when needed.