At a recent networking event I introduced myself as a funeral celebrant. The person I introduced myself to said; “Does that mean you wave a foam finger in celebrating the person who died?”

As it turns out the foam finger points to the one thing a funeral is about: telling the story of a life. As a celebrant, I advocate for the story or stories—and the family members who cherish them. With careful listening to family members I learn all I can about their loved one—and their own relationships with the person who has died. I listen carefully, ask questions, look at family photos, laugh and cry with the family as they consider how to celebrate the life and mourn their loss of.

To me, being a celebrant is an opportunity to be totally immersed in stories; the stories particular to the person who died.

Everyone has a story

I have always loved a good story. As an avid reader I can become so engaged in a story that hours pass me by. As a professional writer I am always looking for the best way, the most intriguing way, to tell a story. As a daughter, I had the opportunity to hear and tell the story of my own mother at her funeral at the time of her death.

There were many stories told about her that day. (Not just the few I told). And those stories still, eight years later, remind me of whom my mom was to me and others. A memorial or celebration of life service is all about those stories. Telling the stories in a time of deep sorrow, lifting up the stories to celebrate a life lived, spending time together calling that person’s name and their stories into the community once more.

What has grown out of my experiences as a writer, reader, story-listener, adult orphan and creative grief coach is a desire to be the advocate for the story. That is the one thing, the only thing to which the foam finger points.

What does that look like for a mourning family?

When I serve as a funeral celebrant I visit with a family in their home. I spend a couple of hours listening to the many stories of the person who has died. We may visit about the events of the last few days—answering the question; what happened? I listen to their experience as a way to prepare to give the story back to the family and their community as a eulogy.

Family members share fond memories; how they met, the day of a son or daughter’s birth, graduations, special events, family traditions—the way dad always loved to hide the Easter eggs, the way Sis initiated childhood adventures but never got caught, the experiences of being a member of a larger community. Together the family and I may sift through photographs or old letters; we may look at a recently taken video. Over cups of tea or coffee, with tissues in hand, I hear the details of the life lived out loud.

Later, I sift through these stories. I think of all the stories shared with me and consider how to best describe this one precious life. I think about all of the people who will be in the room at the funeral service; and reflect on how everyone, every single person can be invited into the mourning and dancing that is the beginning of the grief journey.

Working with the funeral directors, I help build a bridge between the grieving family, their wishes and the activities involved in hosting a viewing, wake, memorial service or graveside service. Together we all wave the foam finger pointing to the story of the one who is loved and has died. We all collaborate on behalf of the entire family to make sure the story is the one thing the foam finger points to that day.