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Benet Waterman: My experience of being a Celebrant

As a Funeral Celebrant, I carry with me a constant and very deep sense of privilege when I am invited to view, through an opened window, someone else’s life experiences.

I am awed, each and every time, by the wonder of the story shared and in discovering, through that, what has been given to others in the living of that life.

I am moved, too, in a profound way on those thankfully fewer occasions when there is no-one present, able, or even willing, to step up and speak for the one who has passed. A life that has caused hurt and shame is still a life lived, a life carrying lessons for all involved.

‘No man is an island’ – we are all one – and the unspoken invitation always, of course, is to look within. So, when my role as celebrant has been fulfilled and I am engaged in silent reflection, I hear the question how would I, or others who have known me, choose to have reflected the life I have lived and the paths I chose to walk down ?

Through recent months I have shared in the wait for death of someone I grew to love very much as a friend, a woman I respected greatly. K. had terminal cancer and from the time of her diagnosis began to prepare in practical ways for her departure. She spent time in her earliest lucid moments, before her mind became increasingly dulled by medication, noting down her final wishes, giving away possessions – stripping out the material manifestation of the life she had lived.

K. had made her home into a sanctuary – a beautiful oasis of calm and tranquillity for spiritual seekers and for those wishing to ‘open themselves up’ as healers. She was a spiritual teacher, healer and mentor for many.

In planning for her transition she also gifted her home to close friend, fellow-spiritual teacher and soul midwife P., for the continuation of that work, intending for him to create a new sanctuary there in his own way and according to his own wishes.

K’s spirit soared in the loosening from earthly ties that can otherwise bind – powerfully excited and filled with eager anticipation of the next stage in her soul’s journey. She planned a service that she hoped her friends would enjoy when we gathered to say goodbye for the last time – music, songs and anthems for a choir, hymns, readings, poetry and tributes from a given few… asking us all to wear bright colours on the day !  We shared the joke that, as a one-time producer of her own version of plays and ‘Cecil B de Mille type spectaculars’ during her earlier years as a teacher, she would no doubt be hovering at her funeral service to give us all marks out of ten. I heard inwardly a distinct ‘nine’ on the day for my efforts – wondering only briefly where I had dropped my lost mark. That was between me and K!

How wonderful to be included – and how moving to see the many different faces of the woman we had all loved conjured up for everyone there through the words we each put into our tributes. K. had provided the context but hadn’t known the words we would choose to speak in our acknowledgement of her. Each having played one part, the service came together in a most beautiful and fitting tribute to a life well-lived, worthy of our celebration and worthy indeed of K.

What a privilege, too, to witness her facing her death with such dignity, graciousness, and compassion both for herself and for others.  Her life was inspiring, but so, too, was her dying.

Much of the spiritual understanding that K. demonstrated in her life and in her dying, can be heard expressed in the words of  the song ‘Who you really are’ written by Kirtana,  a deeply spiritual American singer-songwriter.

I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Kirtana for permission so graciously given to quote the lyrics of her song 'Who you really are’.

‘Who you really are’

We measure success by the things we accrue 

or the bonds that we form, or the deeds that we do.

But these too shall pass, as hard as we try to hold on to form; form will die.

But inherent in this dance of form  

Is the chance to see what’s yet unborn,

And the choice to throw this chance away

And be caught up in the play of who we think we are, 

who we think we are.

and as Kirtana continues ….

This is your lifetime; it could end at anytime.

Where is your attention?

Where is your prayer?

Where is your song?

In a fortunate life, comes a call to be free

From the cycle of bondage and mis-identity,

to wake from the dream and finally realise the truth of

one’s being before the body dies.

So before the final scene is past,

see the screen on which it’s cast.

See what’s seeing this me and you.

And then you will see who…

who you really are, who you really are

Who you really

who we really are.

Could there be more to this life we call “mine” than a journey through space or a storyline? More to life than the body can sense than the mind can conclude from experience?

Does who we are begin with breath, depend on form or end with death? Strip away these roles, these names and tell me what remains

And who you really are, Who you really are.

Benet  is a qualified Soul-midwife and Independent Funeral Celebrant living and working in the Border City of Carlisle. She is committed to funeral services being thanksgivings for and celebrations of the life lived, reflecting the wishes and personal views of the deceased or, if those are not known, as they are believed to have been by those closest. She believes there are no rules when it comes to making that final farewell and as part of her work is privileged to offer support to those who wish to plan for their own funerals in their own time.

This article was originally published in More to Death, the official magazine to The Natural Death Centre.