When training a new student to be a celebrant, there are often two main fears which I need to allay: crying and buttons.
The first fear―crying― is one that people confess to me generally before we’ve even started training. I assure them of two things:
1. I’d much prefer to train someone who had that fear than work with a person who didn’t think they’d be touched by other people’s grief or the high emotion of a wedding. The nature of this training is Heart-led Celebrancy. That is, we are leading from the heart. If the heart isn’t feeling what our clients are feeling then it’s possible we’re rather removed from the process. There are many people who’d say that our client’s grief is not our grief. While this is true, I would always prefer to train people with a high-level of empathy who won’t be disconnected from their client’s pain. Empathy isn’t something a person learns. You either have it or you don’t. You can, by all means, develop awareness of other people’s feelings but true empathy is when you feel another’s emotion as if it were your own. Empathy is what allows us to build meaningful and coherent bonds, and ensures smooth relationships.
Managing emotions, on the other hand, is something one can learn. As a trainer (and one who is highly empathic to the point if someone falls over it usually hurts me more than them!), I give my students tips which allow them to remain empathic but to channel their feelings so that they can keep on top of the emotions.
2. The buttons are to do with how we orchestrate different functions involved in a cremation service, such as: Turning music on and off, closing curtains, opening the exit door. A new celebrant has enough on their mind without worrying which buttons to press (and when). As part of our training we advise celebrants to visit the crematoria in their area (long before they are booked for a funeral) to get a feel of the set up. (All students from January 2022 are now required, as part of their training, to do this.)
Each chapel is different. Some use a remote control rather than buttons on a console. Others have a crem assistant who takes care of all of that. Some use the Wesley system for music and others use Obitus. I’ve even worked in one which used a CD player!
There are crematoria around the country which don’t use curtains after the committal.
In some places you, exit out of the doors you came through. No two crematoria are the same.
When starting any new job we are venturing into unknown territory. One of my recent graduates, Michelle, said to me that she’d never done such intense training in her life (and she’d done a lot). Her husband assured her that it would give her everything she’d need for once she was out working as a celebrant. Michelle said that when she did her first funeral it felt like she’d always been doing them.
We always assure our students that if you’re willing to put the work in then Paul and I are here at every step of the way to support you. Crying and buttons soon become a thing of the past.
Veronika Robinson is co-founder and co-tutor (along with Paul Robinson) of Heart-led Celebrants (Celebrant Training UK) a boutique celebrant training school in Cumbria offering one-to-one training. She’s been a celebrant for 27 years and is the editor of the global publication The Celebrant magazine.