It was a great shock when my son Stephen died unexpectedly aged 24 in spring 2014. As things took shape for his funeral, with people of all ages coming from all over the UK and overseas many of whom had never met, I realised that we would need someone quite special to lead the spiritual service we had in mind. Stephen himself had been a practising Buddhist but those coming to the service would be of many different faiths or none – we needed to strike the right welcoming tone that would make everyone feel at ease, while leading them through a service which would necessarily include Buddhist practice totally unfamiliar to many.
Fortunately Jane Grayer was available and agreed to be our celebrant. She set aside time to speak with us patiently in person and on the phone, listening sensitively to what we wanted and adding her own helpful advice. We agreed with her the outline and timing for the service, which was to precede a walk across fields to the graveside where she would also preside over the poetry and songs accompanying the burial. We also carefully drafted with her the core content of what she should say, but left much of the detail to her. It was very easy to communicate with her - she brought a clear understanding of what was needed from her leaving us confident that among all the other things we had to arrange this at least we could leave to her without anxiety.
On the day, Jane brought a lovely, friendly and informal tone to the service and the burial, achieving what needed to be covered in a way that conveyed it was ok to laugh and enjoy the day, as well as to take seriously the loss and the sadness of having to bury this young man who had made so many laugh so much during his lifetime. There was lightness, but also a sense of order and purpose.
It was no easy task we had set her: to preside over a Buddhist service, moving tributes from family and friends, jazz music followed by singing a lively combination of songs (the South African national anthem, Blazing Saddles and Simply the Best), and reading of reflective poetry (Mary Oliver and Emily Dickinson), all in an impromptu setting (hop kiln and wooded fields).
That she carried this off perfectly is attested to not only by the feeling of great satisfaction felt by myself and other family members at the end of the day and ever since, but also by the many people who got in touch afterwards to say things like “I know I shouldn’t really say this about a funeral, but I had a wonderful time” and “That is exactly how I would like my own funeral to be, thank you for the inspiration”.
Nick Sherwood 2015
Prices for the creation and conducting of your bespoke funeral ceremony start at £250. Travel free within 15 mile radius of Abegavenny. Mileage charged at 45p per mile thereafter.
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Jane Grayer is an Independent Celebrant creating unique ceremonies for all occasions living in Abergavenny and working across Wales, Herefordshire and beyond. 0773 320 1158
Jane is a member of The UK Society of Celebrants