Louise Jopling has been a humanist funeral celebrant for over a decade. So, if anyone would knows what makes a ‘good’ funeral, it’s Louise. Here, she shares her thoughts on ‘good’ funerals and why Humanist Ceremonies celebrants are unique.
What makes a ‘good’ funeral?
To me, a ‘good’ funeral is one that both consolidates and enhances your memories. It should reflect the person in every moment. It should bring people together and strengthen the bonds of support. A good funeral will deliver a true celebration of a unique life.
At Humanist Ceremonies, we aim to deliver a ‘good funeral’ every time.
What makes a humanist funeral celebrant different?
There are celebrants and then there are ‘Humanist Ceremonies celebrants’. Our training, professionalism, and ongoing development is unique to Humanists UK. But, the uniqueness of our role is our own Humanism. In believing that we have just one life, the funerals we conduct take on a new and vital significance. I am committed to never underestimating that.
Funerals should always be memorable for the right reasons and getting it right takes true commitment.
What Humanism means to me
To me, Humanism is all about being the best person that I can be for my short time on our planet. One of my favourite quotes comes from poet William Wordsworth:
“The best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love.”
I strive to have a positive influence on the people and the natural world around me. If I can leave the world, even the tiniest bit better than I found it then, I’ve succeeded.
Why I became a humanist celebrant
The first time I attended a humanist funeral, I left feeling both comforted and wonderfully uplifted. It was a sensitive and completely tailored celebration of life.
I have always been a humanist. After I discovered how amazing a humanist funeral could be, I wanted to contribute by opening up this option to as many people as possible.
I am a part-time celebrant and also a self-employed charity consultant. It’s a balance that works well for me. I can be flexible and commit as much time to writing a ceremony as a family needs.
A rewarding role
Being a funeral celebrant is a great privilege. I love that as a humanist funeral celebrant, I can tailor absolutely everything within a ceremony. No two humanist funeral ceremonies are ever the same. II thrive on the variety of it. In life, we are all individuals, so why would we have a set template for our funerals?
I love hearing people’s stories. There is something memorable to be found in all lives. Each and every life really does matter.
My clients tell me that the family meeting can provide almost as much comfort as the ceremony itself. It is a wonderful moment when you’re drawing out those memories, and you see laughter erupting through the tears.
I’ve delivered ceremonies in the driving rain, gale force winds, and blizzards. I’ve balanced on crates in village halls, which is not easy in heels! I’ve coordinated a Morris Dance performance in a crematorium and a Harley Davidson parade for a woodland burial. I’ve spoken Norwegian, Latin, Elvish, and even, ‘phrasing Yoda, I have learned’! I’ve conducted a funeral with full military honours and with a Veteran Guard of Honour lining the route. And, in an autumnal wood, I lit candles and threaded leaf lanterns to hang from the trees for a child’s funeral.
There are so many memorable and moving moments. But, when I have the privilege of working with someone to plan their own funeral ceremony, these are the most moving.
Planning your own ceremony
Pre-planning funeral ceremonies are a unique part of my role and one that is inevitably emotional. For some of my clients, planning their ceremony is a part of coming to terms with a terminal diagnosis. For some, it’s a way to alleviate the burden on their families. And, for others, they are in perfect health and are just being super-organised.
In my contacts, there are clients who will drop me the occasional line with their news and to tweak our plans. The conversations that we have cover everything from practical arrangements to explorations of beliefs, philosophy, and legacy. It’s such a pleasure speaking with these clients. You often get to know them, their families, and friends. It’s always hard to hear when they’ve died.
Delivering a pre-planned ceremony on a client’s behalf, is a great honour. I quite clearly remember each and every one. We’ve shared a connection. To then carry out their wishes is incredibly moving. It is special for me (and the family) to know that you have delivered exactly what they wanted.
What makes a good humanist celebrant?
When not working, I’m a keen cook and so, my suggested recipe for a good humanist funeral celebrant would be:
- Start with a committed humanist.
- Add a large portion of communication skills, abilities in active listening, and an acute awareness of the power of silence.
- Being non-judgemental is an essential ingredient.
- Add an ability to build a relationship quickly and, with just about anyone.
- Mix up well and then bake slowly, absorbing as much training and peer experience as possible.
- To finish, add a sprinkling of intuition, That’s the icing on the cake!
‘You have an incredible ability in creating the colour and texture behind the person.’
‘I was, for all the wrong and sad reasons, recently at a funeral and witnessed you ‘in action’. I did not have the opportunity to congratulate you on the way you handled the service and I wanted to take the trouble to track you down to say I thought you were excellent and faultless in every aspect. On such a sad day, can I say you made it so very special, your delivery and touches not lost on us the audience. Real pleasure to witness a master at your craft. Long may you carry on making a very difficult event so much better.’
Humanist funerals and memorials are non-religious ceremonies that support family and friends to mourn and to celebrate the person who has died. They focus on the life they led, the relationships they forged, and the legacy they left. They are based on the humanist perspective that every life is individual and valuable.
Funerals conducted by humanist celebrants are both a celebration of a life and a dignified, personal farewell. They’re the perfect option for families who want a sincere, personal reflection on the life of their loved one.
Visit the Humanists UK website to find out more about Humanism and take our short quiz to see if you have humanist values.