When a Funeral Feels Too Close To Home

celebrant training Aug 08, 2023

We have all attended a funeral at some time in our lives. Some of us may have even experienced a tragic, shocking or sudden bereavement. This type of life experience can help make you a more compassionate funeral celebrant (someone who writes and delivers personalised funerals). If the funeral you are delivering reminds you of a past traumatic experience, it can also be an emotional barrier to remaining collected and professional. So, how do celebrants overcome this? After all, a celebrant is only human and death is an incredibly emotive experience. 

Recognising Transference

Transference refers to the process of redirecting past experiences to current circumstances. The term was coined by Freud, and at the time referred to the therapist / patient relationship. In that context, a person might assign feelings from childhood onto the therapeutic relationship, perhaps thinking of their therapist as a father figure, or another significant figure from childhood. In modern times, transference is much broader than that - we naturally assign our own experiences into our current situation. For example, if you meet someone who reminds you of your mother in the way she looks or behaves, your behaviour and feelings towards her might change to reflect how you behave and feel about your mother. 

So what does this have to do with celebrancy? Actually, quite a lot!

When you are faced with a ceremony, client or situation that reminds you of something from your own past, you might start to think, feel and behave differently to how you normally would. And this can be detrimental to you, your reputation, your mental health and your clients. 

Here’s an example. 

Let’s say you once experienced the loss of a child, and you remember the funeral and grief process all too well. If you are asked to deliver a funeral for a child of the same age, your experience might cause you to talk to the bereaved family differently. You might assume you know what they’re going through, because you had a similar experience once. You might find that you get too emotional and cry or need to leave the room to cope, which, in this context, is unprofessional. In this type of distressing circumstance, you might suddenly find that you are having to deal with resurfaced feelings.  Or you may feel overprotective of the bereaved family. You may even judge them for not grieving in the same way that you did! There are so many ways transference can show up - and while having empathy and compassion is good, there’s a boundary here that you need to be aware of and put into place. 

Can You Say No?

As a celebrant, you can decline a funeral if you feel the subject matter is too ‘triggering’. Normally funerals are allocated to celebrants via a Funeral Director, and you will always be given information about who the family are and any circumstances you should know about. If you feel it would be better for another celebrant to have that funeral, you can refer or just explain that you aren’t available on that day. It is vital that you put your own emotional and mental welfare central to your role. 

Referring Is Fine

The great thing about belonging to a network of celebrants is being able to refer jobs elsewhere. If you trained with ICPC, you will have met trainee celebrants at your training course. If you are a member of the Celebrant Training Facebook Group, you can reach out and find another celebrant to refer to. Or, you can ask the Funeral Director to ask one of the other celebrants on their network list. There is no shame in doing this and nobody will think of you as unprofessional if you do. 

Get Mental Support

If you decide to go ahead with a funeral that feels ‘close to home’, recognising your transference is important. This way you can stay in control and ensure you treat this funeral in the same way you would any other. 

If you feel it will help, you can get mental health support to aid you through the process. You can reach out in the Facebook group for help, see a short-term therapist, or seek one to one mentorship with ICPC. Some mindfulness activities might be helpful, such as journaling and reflective writing, peaceful nature walks, meditation and breathwork. You can also see a complementary therapist for something like shiatsu, yoga, guided meditations or NLP.

Be Part of the ICPC Family

Whether you are new to celebrancy or have been doing it for a while, ICPC welcomes anyone interested in the profession to connect and support one another. You can see our residential training dates here, or take our quiz if you’d like to test your suitability for the role.