Conducting a humanist funeral is a very special task which focuses on a celebration of life of the one who has died
The way I work is to meet the bereaved family and listen to what they can tell me about their loved one. It is amazing how different family members or friends of the deceased can often throw quite different light on a person’s life!
The most interesting thing about my work is meeting with the relatives and finding out about the life of the deceased. And it is a privilege. Most lives when considered in depth are fascinating and impressive.
My approach is to listen closely to the story of the life of the person who has died, and how they related to the other family members. I also like to see a picture of the deceased and to listen to some of the music they loved, to get a better feel for him or her as a person. Then I write a funeral specially for the family, which is right for them.
I always then email a copy of the draft script to the principal mourner for comments, correction and for further suggestions. And of course I liaise with the funeral director.
The great thing about a humanist funeral is that there is little that is set: a wide range of music, poetry and contributions from family or friends can be built in to enable the family grieve for their lost loved one in the way they feel most comfortable with.
I am clear that non-religious people have normal human needs (just like religious people), particularly around life and death, and questions about the meaning of life. Some might call these ‘spiritual’ needs, but I see them as without any transcendental element.
I live in Stockport and have been a humanist since the mid 1990s. This was after many years of reading and thinking about the evidence for God’s existence.
After many years in the legal profession (finishing as a tribunal judge), I decided in 2011 to retire and reinvent myself – training as a humanist celebrant. I am active in humanism and currently a vice-chair of Greater Manchester Humanists and a member of the Board of Trustees of the British Humanist Association.
What’s Right for You
The needs and wishes of the family come first in my work. I am happy to adapt the ceremony in any way that is appropriate. This might include audiovisual representations or the transmission of the service via the internet to absent mourners. Although my own standpoint is humanist, if you want for instance a religious piece of music because you or the deceased find enjoyment in it, or it brings back happy memories, I am happy to include it in the ceremony. I seek to provide a service not only for the clearly non-religious/humanist but also for those whose lack of religion is less clear cut.
The beauty of a humanist service is that it can unite people of different beliefs around the one issue that is relevant to them all – the memory of their loved one. My experience is that religious folk very frequently are impressed by a humanist funeral.
Humanism as a life stance or philosophy goes back to ancient times but the word has only been used in recent decades to mean a belief that for humans this is the only life we have, and we have to decide what purpose and meaning to give our existence; there is no transcendental force that can give us the answers. We also have the right and responsibility to decide how to lead our lives ethically. We have the benefit of our power of reason, the findings and approach to truth of science and our own human experience individually and in community to help us find our way.