Celebrants provide the perfect farewell to loved ones

FREE SPIRITS: Funeral services can be held anywhere, to celebrate life rather than mourn death. Photo: Shutterstock
FREE SPIRITS: Funeral services can be held anywhere, to celebrate life rather than mourn death. Photo: Shutterstock

FINAL goodbyes are increasingly being said away from the pews and out in the open.

These days, around 70 per cent of funerals are conducted by celebrants, who tend to celebrate a life rather than officiate a service.

"A good celebrant will have people leaving the service with the feeling that they really did know that person," Funeral Celebrants Association of Australia president Di Ingelse says.

Celebrants have been conducting funeral services since the mid-1970s, and there is a growing number of celebrants who train solely in funerals as their form of ceremony.

"The key is for the celebrant to establish a relationship with the deceased's family so they really 'get to know' that person and tailor each service individually," Di says.

"This begins with a meeting with family members, often in the family home.

"As well as writing the service, many celebrants assist the family by helping write the eulogy and other tributes, and assist with the choice of rituals, music and readings, guided by what they've learned about the deceased during their meeting(s) with the family."

Venues for farewells

A funeral service can be held anywhere, subject to local council regulations.

While most services are held at a funeral home, crematorium chapel or graveside, an increasing number of people opt for parks, beaches, surf (and other) clubs, art galleries and private homes.

Funeral directors and celebrants encourage mourners to mark their loved one's life in an individual way.

Many mourners, especially family members, now read letters at funerals as if the person is still there, sharing cherished memories.

Friends and invited guests are encouraged to tell stories about the deceased, be it funny, trivial, profound or intriguing; stories add to the send-off, providing a personal touch.

Colourful caskets

As many people turn towards a cardboard coffin in a bid to "go green", mourners are choosing to paint the casket or even write final messages.

This is especially the case with caskets for younger people; coffin signing lets friends write memories, and the colour of a painted casket can help deflect the sombre and painful mood associated with such a funeral.

This is where a good celebrant helps keep the balance between grief and reflection and celebration and hope.

"A good celebrant is someone who is well-spoken, well organised, empathetic and can present the story of someone's life with sincerity and suiting the individual family and the person they are speaking about," Di says.

Anyone can conduct a funeral (there is no need to be licensed or have qualifications), but the best funeral celebrants are those who have undergone some formal training.

This could be either as a stand-alone course or as part of their studies to become a marriage celebrant, where funeral celebrancy forms part of the syllabus of the Certificate IV in Celebrancy.

Courses in funeral celebrancy are offered by some TAFEs and also by private training organisations in most states.

"Increasingly, people are opting for 'green' funerals and having their ashes interred in forests or planted elsewhere (again subject to local regulations)," Di says.

Living legacy

One such legacy is arranging for a Living Legacy, where treated ashes are interred in a biodegradable urn which is used to grow trees.

Some cemeteries now also offer a "natural burial area", such as Pinaroo in Perth, where the body is returned to nature in a biodegradable coffin, in a plot located in a secluded bushland pocket.

Expect to pay anything up to $15,000 for your loved one's final send-off.

Factors to consider include hiring the venue, basic service fees, transporting remains to a funeral home, a casket, embalming and other preparations.

Costs can vary from state to state.

The cost of a celebrant depends on whether the celebrant is hired directly by the family or through a funeral director and the length and complexity of the service.

"The average cost is around $400-$450, but can be as high as $1000," Di says.

Establish costs from the outset.

If the celebrant's services are being included in the funeral director's fee, people should ask them what the celebrant fee is.