Humanist celebrants recognise the need to talk openly about grief and death, respect individual funeral choices, and lead ceremonies that celebrate life. These are values that London-based, female-led funeral directors Poppy’s share.
We invited Sarah Hagger-Holt to tell us more about Poppy’s approach to non-religious funerals and their experience of working with humanist celebrants.
Poppy’s started in 2012 with the aim of empowering people to have better experiences of funerals. This is done by helping people to make informed choices and making gentle, thoughtful care ‘the norm’. This has meant challenging the funeral sector to be the best it can be. Speaking out is not always comfortable, but it is important.
We’re female-led, which is unusual among funeral directors. Our approach is centred around our clients, and what they need. There is no one-size-fits-all model at Poppy’s. We have the privilege of accompanying families and friends as they plan unique funerals for the people they love.
Over the last nine years, we’ve worked with many humanist celebrants. The values they hold fit very naturally with ours: we both put the person who has died at the heart of the funeral. After all, everyone is unique: they each have their own story, beliefs, and interests. We believe that every funeral should reflect the individuality of the person whose life is being celebrated.
Funeral director Hannah Ditch has been directing funerals at Poppy’s for the last two years. She says:
‘We make different choices in life, it should be the same in death. We try to empower people to know what’s right for them and give them practical support in the choices they make.
‘This could mean a traditional horse-drawn carriage or a hand-decorated cardboard coffin; formal flowers or a display of allotment produce — or any number of other options. What matters is giving people the information they need to make the right choices for them.
‘I think a lot of clients choose a humanist celebrant because they’ve been to a humanist funeral and were relieved to have experienced a service that reflected their own beliefs in a meaningful way.
‘I feel that humanist ceremonies can add meaning and guidance to a funeral. Especially at the moment, there are many occasions where people are struggling to make sense of someone’s death. In the past, it fell to a religious minister to explain and reassure. I find that, if wanted, a humanist celebrant can provide a perspective on what death means.’
‘A humanist funeral celebrates human achievement and the meaning found in life through relationships and experiences. I know many clients here at Poppy’s request a humanist funeral as a positive choice because it fits their beliefs and values. But, I also know many families choose a humanist funeral because they’re just looking for a non-religious funeral, which is fine.’
Both Hannah and Natalie recognise the importance of the training that Humanist Ceremonies celebrants receive and how this training influences their approach. ‘As a funeral director, it’s reassuring to have a humanist celebrant, as they are formally trained and I can be assured of high standards,’ says Hannah.
Talking about death
‘I’d say the atmosphere at a humanist funeral is like any other non-religious funeral, and varies according to the experiences and personalities of the family and the person who died,’ adds Natalie. ‘But what I find distinctive about humanist celebrants is that they are not afraid to speak to the grief in the room. I think this must be down to their training. It doesn’t shy away from confronting the tough stuff around grief.’
Like humanist celebrants, at Poppy’s, we believe in talking openly about grief, death, and dying. Our Talking Death blog opens up the conversation by sharing practical advice, insightful interviews and new ideas.
At Poppy’s, we believe it’s important to demystify death care. Normalising what happens after someone dies helps to dispel people’s fears.
Founder Poppy Mardall says, ‘It’s up to the funeral sector to ask more of ourselves […] the very first step is opening up our doors to let in the light.’
We care for the dead in our own light-filled, airy, peaceful mortuary, next door to Lambeth cemetery. And, we encourage friends and families to visit if they wish.
A new approach to funerals
Talking openly, celebrating life, and respecting individual choices are the values Poppy’s shares with humanist celebrants. They are values that we at Poppy’s would love to see take hold and flourish across the whole funeral sector.
Thank you to Sarah for this article. If you would like to submit a guest post, please email us.
Further information about funerals in London
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