I wish I had known about humanist funerals when I was younger. Tasked, at 23 years old, with organising the funeral for my father, I simply had no idea what to do. He wasn’t a religious man yet the only option seemed to be a service at the crematorium led by a vicar. He did as good a job as he could, given that he had never met dad and had no idea who he was, but it left me with a nagging feeling that we hadn’t given dad the goodbye he deserved and, knowing that, definitely prolonged the grieving process.

I’m now a humanist celebrant and know that a humanist funeral would have suited dad perfectly. The ceremony would have allowed us to say everything we wanted about him. He would have been at its heart and not some notion about the place he would take in an afterlife he didn’t believe in. It would have included his favourite music (country and western, and Kate Bush – he was quite eclectic!) and his favourite writers (he read poetry now and again) and, most importantly, it would have given me and others who loved him a chance to celebrate the life he lived, the wonderful, complex, and challenging human being that he was. Instead, we had something bland and unconnected to who he had been. Any stranger wandering into that service would only have known that my dad was a builder – because the vicar referenced that – and nothing more.

I’ve been working as a wedding and naming celebrant since 2003 and people often asked why I didn’t do funerals. I said I would at some point (that memory of my father’s funeral still relatively fresh for me) but that I wasn’t ready at the moment. Last year, after helping a friend plan his own funeral, I finally realised I was ready. Having dreaded talking to my terminally ill friend about what he wanted at his own funeral ceremony, I actually found the experience incredibly rewarding and could see that it gave him reassurance and relief to know that when the worst happened, he could at least bow out how he wanted, and his family didn’t have to worry about what to do. As a result, he had a wonderful humanist ceremony which included his favourite music, contributions from friends and family, and a woodland burial, all conducted by a lovely local Humanists UK celebrant I recommended.

Since then, I’ve attended many humanist funerals and found each one inspiring, personal, and moving. They include reflections on mortality, why we’re here and why we should make the most of the time we have here and the people we share that time with (a critical part of humanist belief). There have been live and recorded musical performances of all kinds – sea shanties, country and western (dad would approve), pop, and even heavy metal – as well as touching and sometimes humorous readings of poetry and prose. But the central part of each ceremony was the eulogy – delivered either by the celebrant or by one or more mourners – talking about the person who’s died, their life, their loves, their personality. A chance to celebrate them before saying a final goodbye.

Doesn’t it make sense that the person who is gone is at the heart of their own funeral ceremony? Any stranger wandering into a humanist funeral ceremony (and let’s be clear, that never happens, but go with it for now) would know way more than the deceased’s profession, they would know what it was that made them tick, who they loved, how they spent their spare time, maybe even their favourite phrases and TV shows.

It might sound strange to some but I really enjoy working with Funeral Directors and families to create the perfect farewell ceremony for loved ones, a ceremony that celebrates who they have lost and that helps with their grieving process. I wish I’d had a humanist celebrant to guide me through the process at that difficult time when I lost my dad. It’s too late for me now but, at least now I can be there for others.

If you want me to be the celebrant for a funeral that you’re organising, contact me directly or give my name to the Funeral Director that you’re working with. I can also write and lead memorial services for those you wish to remember.