Funeral Celebrant
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PART ONE - Your life story

 

PART ONE - YOUR LIFE STORY

“In the end, we’ll all become stories…”

— MARGARET ATWOOD

Life Stories… they are everywhere, happening around us every second of every day. We live our own life story, we share it with the life stories of those we know – our family, friends, colleagues and neighbours – and we watch life stories happening around us to people we don’t know – strangers on trains, couples in cafes, families on holiday.  We follow life stories in television dramas, on the news and in social media. We read about life stories in books – lives imagined and created, lives past and present. We admire other lives, find inspiration and hope in them…

Your story is woven in to this rich tapestry of life. It interconnects in all sorts of wonderful, colourful ways. It is experienced, shared, watched, and admired. It reaches out and touches the lives of others. It makes its unique mark. And it holds meaning in more ways than you’ll ever know.  I’ve had the privilege of writing and sharing hundreds of life stories through my work as a funeral celebrant. And while some have appeared, on paper, to be more eventful than others, there isn’t one life story that hasn’t made a positive impression on me in one way or another.

In this first section, we’re going to look at your own life story starting with the main events of your life, ie. where you were born, where you lived and went to school, what work you’ve done, what interests you’ve had… Basically drawing an outline of your life so far, together with relevant anecdotes and memories. This will form the basis of your story which we will refer back to in future stages of the course, as we elaborate and fill in more of the colours, looking at relationships, memorable moments, your personal soundtrack, and, of course, when we go on to create you ceremony.

We’ll also look at how you can capture information and I’ll be giving you some helpful prompts to get you thinking. We dip into the life stories of others for inspiration and a reminder that there is no such thing as an ‘ordinary’ life.
So, let’s get cracking…

 

 

Questions to ask...

“This life has been unique to you,
no-one else. It’s all 

yours”

For the past however many years, you have been living your life. And that life will have consisted of some, or all, of the following – being born, growing up, going to school, making friends, working, falling in love, raising a family, travelling, reading, listening, watching, doing...  

This life has been unique to you, no-one else. It’s all yours. So what do you remember about it? What have been the main events and experiences? It’s entirely up to you how detailed you want to be and whether you want to approach things chronologically or by subject, ie. Childhood, Working Life, Family, etc.

Here are some questions to help you along. You may want to read all the sections in Part One before you start answering, as you’ll find more tips to help you…

 
 

Early Life and Education

  • Where and when were you born?
  • What are your parents’ names?
  • Do you have brothers and sisters?
  • Where did you grow up?
  • What do you remember most about your childhood?
  • Who were your friends?
  • Did you have family holidays?
  • What schools did you go to?
  • What subjects did you enjoy/excel in?
  • Did you go on to further education? College or University?
  • What qualifications did you gain?
  • Were there any formative experiences that had an influence on your choice of career or early work?

Relationships

  • What have been your most significant relationships – both past and present – ie. parents, siblings, spouses, partners, children, grandchildren, friends?
  • Have you been married? Do you have a partner?
  • Do you have children? Grandchildren?
  • Who are your friends?
  • Have you had pets?
  • Who are you closest to?

Working Life

  • When did you start working?
  • Did you have paper rounds or Saturday jobs to earn pocket money?
  • What was your first full-time job?
  • Where has your working life taken you since then?
  • Who have you worked with in terms of both organisations and people? 
  • Have you ever been self-employed?
  • Have you ever done voluntary work?
  • What work qualifications, skills and experience have you gained along the way?
  • Which colleagues or managers stand out in your memory?

Interests

  • Do you have any particular interests or hobbies? If so, what are they?
  • Have you travelled? If so, where? Which trips stand out, and why?
  • Any strong likes or dislikes of yours?
  • Do you have any particular talents or skills?
 

 

Anecdotes and Stories

Alongside the relevant dates, names and places, it’s a good idea to include any specific memories, anecdotes and stories as you go along. Because it’s those memories – calling to mind what you experienced and how you felt – that hold more meaning to you. They provide the colour within the outline of your life and make your story unique and interesting (we’ll do more of this in Part 3).  And, of course, these memories and stories live on after you, in the hearts of minds of loved ones who shared in those moments. 

Not all your stories will be richly detailed or even particularly eventful. Sometime it’s the simplest things about your life that become significant, as you can see from the following examples. These are short extracts from real-life stories I’ve shared during funeral ceremonies. I have, however, changed the names…

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Maureen worked as an usherette at the cinema complete with torch and ice cream tray. She always told the story of how she saw the film Paint Your Wagon about 70 times but always missed the same bit because she had to fetch the ice creams.


Ron absolutely loved his garden – he was even known to come home from work at night and rig up a torch on the washing line so he could tend his veg in the dark.


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When Kate and Dave started dating in May 1976 they missed out on seeing the then relatively unknown Sex Pistols. Given the choice of two pubs, they opted for the one that didnt have such a racket going on inside.  


Sarah excelled at long jump she was so good, in fact, that she jumped the full length of the long jump pit at school and it had to be closed for Health & Safety reasons until she left. 


Cycling to work, Bill knocked out his pipe tobacco on the cycle frame, and set his socks on fire.

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CAPTURING YOUR STORY

When I learnt to type at school, it was the era of the electronic typewriter. You could even use a carbon sheet between two pieces of paper so you could send a letter and keep one copy for yourself. How clever was that?! Then when I became a journalist, I was introduced to the first Apple Mac computer. Not only could you could correct as you went along but you could print off as many copies as you like… mind blowing!

Yes, technology has come a long way since the 1980’s and it continues to progress at high speed. So while using your desktop computer, laptop or iPad to type up your life story, you’ll no doubt also have access to all sorts of software that will allow you to create a multi-media, all-singing, all-dancing, creation with photography, music, video etc. added in to the mix. There’s no point even naming any of these applications because a) I’m no techie and b) it will be out of date by the time you read this. But if you have the time, inclination and the know-how the world is your lobster.  And if some sort of spreadsheet appeals to your organisational sensibilities, you’ll have no trouble finding an application for one. It’s a good way of keeping track of all your information and adding to, as and when you like.

"How great to be able to use technology in such a life-affirming, positive way


 Get Creative

Do you remember having a scrap book as a kid? Sticking in all sorts of things and then the joy of flicking through the pages once they were filled? Well, you can create your own ‘memory book’ of your life story.  As with the audio/visual options, this is probably best done at the end of the course, rather than as we go along, but it could be a lovely collections of words, images, and also memorabilia, such as travel tickets or music festival programmes, whatever you like. You then get to enjoy it in the years to come and leave it for others to enjoy when your story draws to a close. There are plenty of creative display ideas coming up in section Four.

Alternatively

You may wish to keep things simple and opt for a notebook and pen. And who can blame you? In this age of keyboards and touch screens there is something intensely satisfying about writing by hand. Getting your thoughts down can feel cathartic, nostalgic even. It’s also very personal, reflecting another aspect of your individuality as your own, unique handwriting fills the page. And if that notebook should be left for your loved ones, think how much more of a treasure it will be for them to see words in your own hand, rather than Helvetica, Times, Comic Sans or whatever other typefaces your computer has to offer.

In this age of keyboards and touch screens there is something intensely satisfying about writing by hand.

And when it comes to notebooks, there is always a glorious range on offer. I confess to being a bit of a notebook addict. As I type this I have three different notebooks on my desk for various projects and lists of ideas, and a cupboard full of them behind me. Some are written in and pulled out from time to time for reference or reminders, while others are un-used because they are so lovely I can’t bring myself to make a mark on their pristine pages. That’s weird, right? Anyway, strange behaviours aside, notebooks have most certainly not had their day. In fact, I’d say journaling is more popular than ever.  So if this option takes your fancy… go for it.


Other ideas

Sound and Vision

I mentioned earlier how unique our handwriting is, and how it reflects our individuality. The same can be said of our voices and, most definitely, our faces. So a life story captured in an audio or video recording gives those stories a whole new dimension. For the purposes of this course, where we are adding information at different stages and asking you to look back on your notes, it’s probably not the ideal method. But it is certainly something you can consider doing at the end should you wish to, both for your own benefit and those you love. Hearing the voice of someone dearly departed, or seeing their face in front of you once again, is a gift technology has made possible for everyone, even with just the swipe of a smart phone. How great to be able to use technology in such a life-affirming, positive way.


 

THE LIVES OF OTHERS - 5 Lives in Books

We engage in life stories in all sorts of ways, from the music we listen to and films we watch, to books we read and places we visit. Some of those life stories stay with us, striking a chord and making an impact in their own meaningful way. From my first copy of ‘Miffy Goes Flying’, books have been a joy to me and I cannot imagine life without them. Everyone has their own preferences, but here are five autobiographies that have a special place in my heart and my book case…

 
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder   The first (and my favourite) of the Little House on the Prairie series about an American pioneering family in the late 19th century seen through the eyes of Laura. I still have the original set of books from my childhood and they are so charming and have such a vivid sense of history I recently re-read them all again.

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The first (and my favourite) of the Little House on the Prairie series about an American pioneering family in the late 19th century seen through the eyes of Laura. I still have the original set of books from my childhood and they are so charming and have such a vivid sense of history I recently re-read them all again.

Greetings from Bury Park by Sarfraz Manzoor   Sarfraz came to Britain from Pakistan as a small child and these are his memories of growing up in Bury Park, Luton. It’s both moving and funny, as he talks about his parents, his dreams for the future and his passion for the music of Bruce Springsteen.  I grew up about 15 miles from Sarfraz – with a father who came to England from India – so it struck an emotive chord with me.

Greetings from Bury Park by Sarfraz Manzoor

Sarfraz came to Britain from Pakistan as a small child and these are his memories of growing up in Bury Park, Luton. It’s both moving and funny, as he talks about his parents, his dreams for the future and his passion for the music of Bruce Springsteen.  I grew up about 15 miles from Sarfraz – with a father who came to England from India – so it struck an emotive chord with me.

A Handful of Earth by Barney Bardsley   Barney is a woman whose husband was diagnosed with cancer when he was 36. After he died, and with their very young daughter to support, Barney finds solace in her allotment. And gradually, plant by plant, month by month, and season by season her life begins to restore itself.  This book left me feeling uplifted, grateful and with a deep desire to get out into the garden.

A Handful of Earth by Barney Bardsley

Barney is a woman whose husband was diagnosed with cancer when he was 36. After he died, and with their very young daughter to support, Barney finds solace in her allotment. And gradually, plant by plant, month by month, and season by season her life begins to restore itself.  This book left me feeling uplifted, grateful and with a deep desire to get out into the garden.

Swan River by David Reynolds   This is a beautiful, beautiful book about three generations – a son (the author, David Reynolds), father and grandfather – stretching back more than a century.  I was so caught up in this family and the feelings between them, that I was torn between gorging myself on one chapter after another, and pacing myself because I didn’t want it to end. Everything a good book should be.

Swan River by David Reynolds

This is a beautiful, beautiful book about three generations – a son (the author, David Reynolds), father and grandfather – stretching back more than a century.  I was so caught up in this family and the feelings between them, that I was torn between gorging myself on one chapter after another, and pacing myself because I didn’t want it to end. Everything a good book should be.

Star Gazing by Peter Hill   Peter was a Dundee College of Art student in the 1970’s when he answered a newspaper advert seeking lighthouse keepers. Within a month he was living with three men he didn’t know in a lighthouse on a remote island off the West Coast of Scotland. This is a fantastic memoir of his time there, and on other lighthouses, the eclectic people he met, and his feelings for a simpler way of life, now gone. I adored this book and reading it while I was on holiday on the Scottish West Coast added to its charm.

Star Gazing by Peter Hill

Peter was a Dundee College of Art student in the 1970’s when he answered a newspaper advert seeking lighthouse keepers. Within a month he was living with three men he didn’t know in a lighthouse on a remote island off the West Coast of Scotland. This is a fantastic memoir of his time there, and on other lighthouses, the eclectic people he met, and his feelings for a simpler way of life, now gone. I adored this book and reading it while I was on holiday on the Scottish West Coast added to its charm.