Funerals are undoubtedly sad and emotional occasions, but they can also be uplifting and cathartic. When I am asked to visit a bereaved family, I never know what amazing life story I might hear and, although the opening comment may sometimes be, “I don’t know what I can tell you”, after a short time, extraordinary and often inspirational details emerge; details which I then have the privilege of sharing with the other mourners.
Sadly, I have also conducted several ceremonies for young adults, children or babies who have had less time to make their mark upon the wider world – but whose loss has a profound and lasting impact upon the people who knew and loved them. As always, the emphasis is on acknowledging the importance of each of their lives and the memories they leave behind.
Humanist ceremonies have no religious content, so whatever time we have can be spent reflecting on the life and personality of the person we are there to remember. During most ceremonies, a period of private reflection is included which anyone with a religious faith can use for private prayer, if they wish.
While funerals usually take place in a crematorium, cemetery or green burial ground, the ceremony which precedes or follows can be held elsewhere if appropriate. An example would be a graveside ceremony for the immediate family followed by a much larger gathering in a hall or hotel. Similar venues would be used for memorial ceremonies.
Carefully chosen music and/or poetry can express so many emotions and most people like to include several pieces. The selection need not be guided by convention or tradition, but can be something which has a particular significance – including a favourite hymn – or which you simply enjoy listening to. Most venues can also accommodate live music if you prefer.
There is no fixed boundary to the area I cover, but I usually conduct ceremonies within a radius of around 30 miles (50 miles for weddings) of my home in Woodthorpe, Nottingham.
Humanist Funeral Archive
The Humanist Funeral Archive is a national collection of funeral tributes and photographs, and is the only one of its kind in the country. It provides a way of preserving the life stories of people who have died and who have had funeral ceremonies conducted by Humanist UK celebrants.
The archive is curated by the Bishopsgate Institute, who manage many historical archives. They also look after all the historical documents for Humanists UK and are a well-respected organisation based in London. If you would like to know more about the Bishopsgate Institute you can find them on-line at www.bishopsgate.org.uk
The archive is a digital collection, so the documents within it – the funeral tributes and photos – can be accessed on-line, and they are available for viewing by anyone who is interested. However, the Bishopsgate Institute has strict privacy tools in place (tested over many years), which means that people viewing the archive can see the entries but are unable to change them.
The archive is an additional (free of charge) service to families which can be offered only by Humanist UK celebrants, but there is of course no obligation to participate.
Families wishing to contribute either photos, a tribute, or both, are asked to sign a consent form, with options about when the material becomes open to public viewing.
If you feel this is something you would like to consider – or have any questions – please feel free to call me.