Updated: Sep 11
In this unique and amazing role as a Funeral Celebrant - where work is ever fascinating, often times challenging, and always rewarding and valued - gratitude appears in countless ways.
In life like in all kinds of work, thank you... is a gift.
Sometimes with a warm handshake or a hug, at others a brief written note - the deeper message of personal appreciation is carried between the lines, nothing more need be said. Mostly though it is unspoken – warm appreciation expressed through a glimmer of the eyes, a small nod, a gentle smile over a sandwich and a refreshing cup of tea.
So many names, people, faces among tears, speeches and tributes, songs laughter and emotions, and for you each week it is so many more.
It is always a delight to look into the letterbox to see a thank you card or note delivered by the 'Postie' laying in wait in its envelope - it's message, a warm thank you from the heart.
Though now days of course the ‘posts’ arrival is more often by the inbox with an email, quickly keeping in touch and inter-connecting us all.
“I wanted to touch base with you and thank you so much for everything yesterday. I got so overwhelmed with people chatting to me that I did not manage to acknowledge you, for that I apologise. You captured Dad’s life and story so beautifully. It was soft yet powerful J.”
Thinking of each service, each family, each passing, and glancing through messages received over these seven years to now, among them quite recently - the joyful gathering of family and friends for a Memorial held at Wattle Park Chalet in January – with 150 people plus and 35 degrees in the shade and every chair taken it was standing room only, with a group photo at the end to remember the celebration.
A mother, a dear friend, a partner, daughter, loving wife, a husband of decades, only son, our gran, pa, a favourite aunt, a colleague, an old mate, a lifelong friend. Gone.
Each family’s message prompting awareness of what we do and the knowledge of having made a small yet important and palpable difference.
“It was truly amazing, and the way you weaved everything together was brilliant.
Your warmth and compassion were clearly evident...
...but so too was your sense of humour and you certainly
“fitted the family mould” beautifully.
Robbie would have loved you!!”
Sometimes the words come with much pathos, at others brief, succinct….hard to write, but pleased to send.
“…just wanted to send a short note to thank you again.”
While from time to time there is a sense of relief carried on the page through humour and observation.
“…never seen so many young and older men rush to be pall bearers
– should’ve got an 8 handle!! ….
...it was the best service they have ever been to,
exactly what she would have wanted.”
On hearing each word spoken or seeing the sentiments penned, added to the observant feedback of colleagues, brings a new insight into the deep appreciation and gratitude people have for what we do - messages never taken for granted - each a timely reminder to take stock and check how we are traveling.
How can one improve, what's needed, what did they hear and see, what was missed, what went really well…. well done, be right there - every time, they need us, they’re relying on us all to get them through.
"Thank-you very much for your
caring manner in conducting the service for dad today.
our guidance and support was very much needed and appreciated....
...sincere gratitude and thanks."
And with each thank you, whether on the day or afterwards, it is I believe a must to be shared with you - it is after all when the hearse has gone, and the last cup of tea finished, we pack up things, our work done, our roles complimentary, tuned to the family and the day.
The confidence Conductors and Arrangers place in me again and again - to work with and present services for the families and clients is a precious responsibility and duty. Thank you.
I would like to thank you for your participation in Eric's "farewell" service.... I could not have found anyone who would have suited the occasion better. Scott was right saying he fits people to people, I am glad he chose you.”
These past few months - as things inevitably change, flat out one week less so the next - and then it changes again. Such is the way things are, impermanent and bound to change.
The reality of life, death and the uncertainty which every funeral service and memorial bring to the fore - for which in our roles be it conductor, arranger, driver or attendant, mortician, celebrant or minister, graphic artist, tea lady or Florist - we each face directly - these things are all good teachers.
And being the profession we are in it is good to be able to say ‘g-day' from time to time, to ask how you’re doing, let you know I’m here, and to say thank you.
So keep well, be happy and lets stay in touch, till the next family walks through the door - and the right fit see's your's and my role, skills and experience coming together once again, in this amazing work we do helping all who ask for our help to say farewell.
With kind wishes always.
Funeral Celebrant & Master of Ceremonies
In the week-to-week world of funerals, as a celebrant working with and alongside conductors, arrangers and many others, we each play an important role in all that comes and goes with each service, and the natural sadness and joys remembered, with the passing of someone loved.
My dad is eighty-seven now and keeps an eye on the Tribute pages in the daily paper, and awhile back told me that from time to time he sees an old friend's name among the memorials.
He often asks with that kind knowing look.…'how’s it all going?'
I’ve come to see over these near seven years, a pride in his eyes, having a son who works as a Funeral Celebrant.
Likely for most of us in this ‘profession of end of life’ it was not generally a career, which we ran from school shouting I’m going to be a Celebrant, a Funeral Conductor, a Mortician.
It is however, on being a part of it, a most special, respected and unique responsibility to help so many people in this vital way.
It seems for those with far more years gone than left to come, age and experience rings a vastly different take on the value of things we do, the importance we place on them, and how valuable others see it and us..!
'Yes, it’s steady...' I add, recalling years back when asked by a friend what work I do, and on explaining, he smiled in a very real, practical and warm hearted way saying
'very good, their will always be more to do'
At a service a few months back at Bunurong Memorial Park, where 150 or so family and friends of the deceased gathered – for a Scotsman from Glasgow.
The piper played 'Will Ye No Come Back Again' and like in so many services, the idea and reality spoken, that amid all the things we experience and see, create, do and share, the conditions and situations we find ourselves, life is ever changing...
‘...What has been gathered will be dispersed, what has been accumulated will be exhausted, what has been built up will collapse, and what is born will one day die’. Buddha
What is it then we each do, we each bring to our work, warmly welcomed, seemingly mundane, yet deeply cherished, so vital to the doing of this unique job and important livelihood of ours.
When that voice on the phone, you as Conductor or Arranger asks the Celebrant ‘Would you be available next such and such a day and date?
We call the family and make contact, that vital connection of human warmth. So begin the days - leading up to those hours - when things stop for a brief time – and in the calm quiet, those gathered from near and far, with tears and smiles from a thousand different places – they say their personal and public thank you's and farewell.
Right there in our warm smile and readiness to step up, in our unique ways, presence and style, we too gently ask ‘how’s it all going…?’
And there in those moments the hints and hallmarks of our talent and compassion come forward.
Our professionalism, friendliness, practicality to bring it all together – from order of service to graveside committal - the readiness to listen and learn, our cultural adaptability to tune in to the nuances of human nature, life stories, amid bare emotions and the inherent wish for happiness and freedom from suffering which we all have at heart.
In the very first funeral service I did in 2010 as a Professional Celebrant, which was at Le Pine Funerals Croydon, on meeting the family in the days before, the teenage children asked me to read their dad's favourite poem.
I'm not sure if he wrote it or someone else, but it was special to them, because it was special to their dad. The sentiments and aspirations are a gift for us all.
‘There is really nothing you must be,
There is nothing you must do,
except be yourself.
There is really nothing you must have,
There is really nothing you must know,
There is really nothing you must become,
Of we the people and colleagues who work here, conductors, arrangers, drivers and attendants, celebrants, printers & graphic artists, caterers and the tea lady’s, florists and pipers, musicians and performers, AV specialists, and many more…
Together we bring all sorts of experience, sensitivity, kindness and compassion to help make that unfamiliar occasion - just that little less sad, somehow more bearable, more real.
And over cups of tea and sandwiches, and handwritten notes in days and weeks to follow…
‘You did him proud’ ... 'she would have approved’ …. ‘You fitted the family mould beautifully’ … ‘thank you so much'
To each conductor who have chosen me to work with their families and clients, thank you for every one of those precious gifts, and opportunities to serve again and again.
Looking forward to the next time conditions entrust me to work with you.
That's about it for now ...
Best wishes, of health, harmony and happiness, to you and your family for 2017.
With kind wishes always.
Funeral Celebrant & Master of Ceremonies
‘Tuesdays with Morrie’
Lessons on life, death and how to live with it.
Walking into the cafe from the bookshop next door, I ordered coffee, sat down and became immersed in 'Tuesdays with Morrie'. Looking up from time to time to see if the rain had stopped outside, but with no intention to leave these pages.
I would make some notes then return to the book for a few pages more. On the front cover it read’s International Best Seller.
Starting to read it I quickly learnt why.
Getting half way down page 27 my eyes filled with tears for it is about someone who you have no doubt lived, and wanted to tell you how he saw life and death as it was coming toward him.
Morrie said: "...I want to tell you about my life, I want to tell you before I can't tell you anymore…..I want someone to hear my story, will you?”
You can feel it in his words. The story of his last months, captured by his college student of twenty years ago with great heart, authenticity and understanding.
The blurb on the back reads:
“Maybe it was a grandparent, a teacher or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and impassioned, helped you to see the world as a more profound place, and gave you sound advice to guide your way through it.”
The book is written as a series of intimate lessons, of one to one discussions. He said to his student: “ask me anything....”
Their first class was on regret, for things not done and of wishing others one had never done. So it is to be human.
They engaged in intimate conversation though to the end of his life, on: Death, Fear, Aging, Greed, Marriage, Family, Society, Forgiveness, and A Meaningful Life.
Morrie taught through experience, he shared his own views the meaning of life, without holding back, and how to live it. Of capturing the story and lessons in ones own life he said with such knowing.
“....we're involved in trillions of little acts just to keep going. So we don't get into the habit of standing back and looking at our lives and saying, Is this all I want? Is something missing?"
Life overtakes us so powerfully and convincingly. We each need someone to prompt us, to look at what is important. Without someone to push, in truth it will likely not happen, we all need someone to give us a prompt, a shove.
As the writer Steven Covey has pointed out many times, we give little heed or time to doing the things that are important but not urgent.
"..standing on the tracks, listening to deaths locomotive whistle, and he was very clear about the important things in life”…Morrie was his own prompter:
He used his own death to give that shove to his student.
It reminded me of something my own teacher often said “…..you’re hanging on by your fingertips to the last carriage of the last train, hurry up…..”
Time stops for no one.
Of living observed Morrie to his student:
"Life is a series of pulls back and forth. You want to do one thing, but you are bound to do something else. Something hurts you, yet you know it shouldn't. You take certain things for granted, even when you know you should never take anything for granted."
"A tension of opposites, like a pull on a rubber band."
Of what his own situation brought, he said:
“It's hard to explain....(but)....now that I’m suffering, I feel closer to people who suffer than I ever did before....I feel their anguish as if it were my own."
At that moment I recalled an image I had seen online recently of the Dalai Lama on one of Melbourne’s funeral home websites. He was with Les Twentyman who had that day received a gift of $100,000 from him to help homeless youth, who Les and his team reach out too and prompt every single day.
Every life is so very precious.
Of what life is and what always wins Morrie said simply:
"Love wins, love always wins."
At that point I put the book down and began to write this first blog.
So with this small introduction to this intensely personal recounting of the last months of Morrie Schwartz’s life, I leave you.
Here’s the You Tube link to the television interview he did with Ted Koppel, and mentioned in the book, called 'Morrie: Lessons On Living' at http://youtu.be/dcnL2o385Gw Listen for the lessons he shares toward the end.
I hope you can find the book in your local library, bookstore or maybe online at Amazon, or even catch the 1999 film made about him, staring Jack Lemon
With kind wishes always.
Funeral Celebrant & Master of Ceremonies