One of the most critical decisions when planning a funeral or memorial service will be to decide who will conduct the ceremony.
If the ceremony for your loved one is private with only family members in attendance, then having a family member might be the best option for your family. However, if speeches, slideshows, pallbearers or any similar elements are involved, or – most importantly – if there are any family tensions, then a hired professional will be the best choice.
If your loved one has a religious belief and attended a local church, then it would make sense that the clergy would do the job. However, due to a decrease in church attendance, some family members may feel hypocritical in having clergy speak if their beliefs don’t match the nominated religion.
Funeral celebrants are another option. All funeral homes have a shortlist of celebrants who they use regularly. If the funeral director has been in business for a while, they will be able to recommend the most suitable celebrant for your family. If you decide to go with a celebrant and know of one that your family has used previously, it might be beneficial to contact them either directly or through the funeral director. Not all celebrants conduct funerals, but if you have worked with them before, then I am sure they would consider it an honour to work for you. It is also important to note that if you are using a celebrant, then you can still add religious elements to the ceremony.
A professionally delivered ceremony leaves a lasting impression of your loved one’s funeral and is the first step towards your healing.
Most people are familiar with the main speech at a funeral being called a ‘eulogy’, where someone speaks about the life of the deceased, detailing their family, work and exploring some special moments in their lives, which defined who they were.
Being asked to speak at a funeral, is usually a great honour, but also a terrifying prospect – especially if you don’t like public speaking. In some cases, you might ask your celebrant to deliver a life tribute. I am often happy to do this for families, as long as I receive enough information about the person’s life then I am happy to write and deliver a short biography which celebrates the life of the loved one.
Often, family members will feel like they have to say something at the funeral. This can be very healing, as long as what they want to say is written out and a support person is standing next to them, they will usually find the strength to get through it.
Sometimes, though, it’s just too hard. Your life partner or parent has died. You feel like you’ve lost a part of you. You want to say so much, but it’s not going to happen, even if you are a good speaker! So, in those circumstances, write a letter to your loved one and have the celebrant or other family member read it out for you.
Sometimes, it’s quite clear, especially if it’s someone who has died from old age, who will be speaking. It can be a family member who speaks about the earlier years, then someone from the professional years, and another person from retirement (usually someone from a club/organisation the loved one has joined).
Every ceremony is different. I like to talk about the historical events of a person’s life, and then whoever speaks can share compelling stories and what they will miss most about their loved one.
Why Can’t We Invite Just Anyone To Speak?
An open invitation to speak can lead to a disaster, with too many attendees feeling like they have to say something, or sometimes no one coming forward. It’s best to have designated speakers or have the celebrant conduct the whole ceremony. If there is a wake after the ceremony, there will be ample opportunity for everyone to speak.
Another alternative is to have a memorial at a later time and then have an open microphone to share stories.
Tips On Speaking At The Ceremony
- Keep your speech brief: 3 to 5 minutes is ideal (7 minutes maximum).
- Even though the MC/Celebrant/Clergy will introduce you, and most people will know who you are, introduce yourself, and state how you are related to the deceased.
- Have what you are going to say written out, don’t rely on winging it.
- If there are other speakers, find out what they will be saying so that you don’t cover the same stories.
- MC/Celebrant/Clergy should be able to send you his/her draft a few days after they have met with you.
- Make sure to read it out loud a few times before the ceremony.
- Have a support person come up with you, just in case you are not able to finish or ask the celebrant to step in as a back-up.
- If you find yourself getting too emotional to continue speaking, stop, breathe (count to 3 silently – I find this helps) and resume if possible.
- If you cry, that’s okay – you are at a funeral!!
Tips To Get You Started On Writing Your Tribute
Let those around you know that you need to be on your own and not be disturbed. Turn off your phone and computer notifications, etc.
Inspiration can be found by sitting in your loved one’s favourite chair, walking around their garden, or even putting on a treasured piece of their clothing.
Alternatively, locate some photos of your loved one and look at them for a few minutes.
Wherever you will be writing, make sure you are sitting in a comfortable chair, have ample lighting, have a glass of water handy etc. If it helps you to look at a photo, have one near the computer.
It’s natural to feel a bit overwhelmed. The following questions will help you to get started:
- Write three words to describe your loved one.
- What did you love most about your loved one, or what will you miss most?
- What similar traits do you have from your loved one? What was their influence on you?
- Do you have a favourite memory?
- Did they have an interesting/annoying habit, dress sense, quirk?
- Were they community-minded? Did they have any special causes, groups, hobbies?
- Can you recount any of their travel adventures?
- What were the personality traits that made them uniquely ‘them’?
An average person speaks between 125-150 words a minute, so when writing out your tribute, keep it to 400-700 words.
A Sample Speech Template
Say your name, how you are related to the deceased, what they meant to you. If you want, you could thank everyone for coming.
Write three engaging stories, which can relate to their personality, their job, descriptive words, upbringing, etc.
Conclude your tribute, on how you will miss your loved one, and thank them for being in your life.
Sometimes it’s just too hard to put into words what we are feeling, in this case, reciting a poem or lyrics from a song, might be a better option.
There is an abundance of poignant poems on the internet. You can also have a look at my selection of poems by clicking on the following link.
It is not uncommon for the celebrant/clergy to conduct the whole ceremony for your family on the day.
There is no right or wrong way, do whatever feels right for your family. The death of your loved one will be one of the most emotionally challenging periods in your life, so getting the right person to lead the service and be your voice for your family should be a decision in which your whole family contributes.