“So you’re a humourist, then?”

By Dr Bob Scott, HSS Registered Celebrant

*Correction: This article was amended on 23/05/16 to show that HSS Celebrant conduct around 3000 funerals per year, not 8000 as was originally stated. Apologies for any confusion caused.

The twinkle in her eye betrayed the lie.  Jean knew exactly what my role was.  After all, I was there at her request.

“No, not exactly, I’m a Humanist, but I do appreciate a good joke.”

Jean had incurable cancer.  Her life expectancy was now measured in weeks, if not days.  She had asked me to call round to help plan her funeral and, over cups of Earl Grey tea with scrumptious home made scones and strawberry jam, that is exactly what we did.  It is increasingly common for such planning assistance to be requested and is always welcome when it occurs.

funeral picture

HSS Celebrants provide thousands of funeral services every year

I have been a celebrant with the Humanist Society Scotland for 10 years.  Spread right across the country, there are now more than 120 HSS celebrants who conduct non-religious ceremonies at funerals, weddings and namings. Last year HSS Humanist Celebrants performed over 3000 funeral ceremonies across Scotland. All HSS Celebrants have undergone residential training and, in the course of funeral training, studied topics including; how to structure a ceremony, choosing music and poetry, the legalities of burials and cremations, and dealing with the bereaved.  We are subject to stringent peer review and must comply with a Code of Conduct and Standards of Practice. Around half way through the training course, homework is issued!

This consists of a hypothetical case, where each trainee is given written information about an individual who has died and asked to prepare a mock ceremony based on that.  I was allocated the sad case of a young Ayrshire lad, one Robert Burns by name who, while he did have a definite way with words, came to a rather sticky end after coming off his motorcycle.  Two weeks after the training course I delivered my tribute to Rabbie in Perth Crematorium out-of-hours, under the steely gaze of my instructors and fellow trainees.  A daunting experience.

Following this assessment, I was provisionally approved and assigned to a mentor.  Over the following months, I accompanied her on visits to bereaved families and gradually began to put into practice what I had been taught.  Finally, I went solo.  Continuing professional development since then has included training in how to cope with particularly difficult cases such as the death of children, suicides, murder and multiple deaths.

When the time came for me to leave, Jean held out her frail hand to shake mine.  “Thank you for coming to see me, though I don’t expect we’ll be meeting again any time soon” she said, the twinkle still in her eye.

I am sometimes asked, “Is the work not awfully depressing?”  The honest answer is no, not at all.  The opportunity to celebrate a life is always an uplifting privilege, although not many of us are as brave as Jean.

During her funeral family members spoke about what Jean meant to them and, in light of our conversation, I was able to contribute insights that otherwise would not have been available, including funny wee stories from her childhood which had previously not been told in public.  The family were grateful for my limited input and at pains to emphasise the comfort they had drawn from my visit and the ceremony itself.

Although some tears were shed, there was also lots of laughter.  After all, Jean did have a great sense of humour.

If you are looking for more information on humanist funerals you can find out more here. Feel free to get in touch with our ceremonies team on  ceremonies@humanism.scot or telephone  0300 302 0680 for any assistance. or use our Find a Celebrant tool to find your ideal celebrant.

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