Why working with a celebrant or end of life companion is important
Beginning my training as an End of Life Companion has been a revelation. Sitting with the dying, supporting their families and guiding them through the transition process of loss and grief is a privilege. It’s clear that we do not give enough time or thought to understanding death and dying. Like birth it is the one thing common to us all. And yet we prefer not to discuss it, until it is too late. We seem frightened to consider the possibility of the inevitable. But, I believe that by doing so, we are missing out on an important opportunity to fully participate in our life.
Death has become a taboo. Culturally there may be many reasons why this is the case and there are many theories. Historically these range from events like the Great Plague and the First World War and the unspeakable losses faced by so many at those times. Having a physical body present at death enables us to pay our respects and grieve openly. In the last few years during the pandemic, many experienced the sense of physical separation from a loved one both before and after they died because they were not able to be with them or properly mourn.
Given the fuss we make of births and birthdays, weddings and anniversaries, it’s surprising that we don’t give any attention to this most significant moment - the end of our lives. I am not suggesting that we all suddenly need to start believing in something, we only really need to believe in ourselves. We have all lived a life, hopefully full of love and friendship, blessed with a family or a soulmate, experienced many things and found our own happiness and success. So after all that, why leave everything undecided for our grieving loved ones to deal with? What should they do? Who should they speak to? Inevitably they will have to quickly outsource the final farewell to a local funeral business - strangers who have known nothing of you, your life or what you believed in.
It’s not in any way that I don’t value the expertise and excellent service offered by funeral directors but that is just what they are. Experts in funerals. They know how to bring together all the logistics, help you choose the right crematorium and handle the body with dignity. But their role is not to engage with families on an intimate level, to understand the experience of a life and translate it into a meaningful ceremony - something people will look back on and remember. A waypoint in our own lives, just like a wedding or an important birthday.
I encourage you to seek out a celebrant, someone who will lead a ceremony for you or a loved one. If you have a family member approaching end of life, don’t leave it unspoken if they want to discuss it. An end of life companion can be a great support to you or a family member if you are facing a terminal diagnosis. Even if it’s just to sit with you quietly to give your family respite. But find someone. Talk to them about your wishes, get to know them, help them write your life, understand your beliefs, explore your passions and interests. You might say you don’t care. Once you’re dead, what does it matter? But funerals are for the living. Make it easier for those you leave behind and start talking. Soon.