I just made the decision to alter my business "tagline", in honour of the fact that I am now available to conduct funerals. It used to read, "Joy-filled, story-centred celebrations of life and love". To be honest, I still love it, and if I were confident that everyone would interpret "joy" in the same way I do, those first two words would be going nowhere.
I don't intend to conduct only "happy"funerals. I will not exclusively tell the stories of people who lived long, contented lives, and died peacefully in their sleep. I will not solely work with families who can see light in their loss and who want their loved one's funeral to be a triumphant celebration of life.
Don't get me wrong; I will work with those people, and will delight in doing so. But I will also work with those families who are not in a position to find any light at all. And I know I will share the stories of people who died tragically, whose lives were cut short too early, or were blighted by difficulty and sadness. It is curiously moving to ponder, even when the lives I contemplate are mostly hypothetical.
So whilst I have no intention of trying to force a funeral into being a celebration if that isn't what a family wants, I do intend to always create a space for joy, right at the heart of the ceremony. Because to me 'joy' does not equate to 'happiness'. Joy is a spark, a profound moment of connection with others. Joy is that blissful, unbearable ache or longing, right in the centre of your chest. Joy is blinding sunlight; it is a moment of shock so profound that you feel it could unravel your very mind. It is that tiny, brief glimpse of, "This is me. This is you."
The joy I see in death and therefore in funerals, is the joy I see in life. Life is so infinitely precious, so sacred, so beautiful and painful and exhilarating and confusing. And every, EVERY life is unique. The very definition of individual. It is a joyful thing to gather with others in remembrance, to share love and pain and sorrow.
And whilst being a funeral celebrant is a hard and emotional and exhausting job to do. It is also, at its very core, a deeply joyful one.