Day in the Life
Tina Hayward, celebrant
Iam definitely a lark and wake early. The first thing I do, without fail, is to look at the sky out of my bedroom window and acknowledge the beauty and peace of the countryside around me. A typical day changes with the seasons. In summer, and when my campsite is open, my day starts with me cleaning the loos! But early mornings are an important time for my celebrant work, a very productive and creative time.
With the cats fed, and a cup of tea by my side, I switch on my laptop and turn my attention first to tributes that have to be written. I love writing these as I am fascinated by people’s lives, but it sobers me to think that a life that can span 80 years or so has to be summarised in a few pages. Decisions have to be made as to what is important to include. Are dates and jobs important? Possibly not. What is important is demonstrating how a loved one’s life has touched, enhanced and influenced other lives.
Most days I’m either visiting families and/or taking funeral services. In the summer I’ll also be officiating at wedding services – two very different experiences, but all part of the rich tapestry of life.
When meeting a grieving family, which I do most days, I’m always humbled. Usually the family don’t know me and they welcome me – a stranger - into their home and share their lovedone’s life with me, which includes their life too, of course. It’s a
moving experience and never fails to touch me.
The funeral service is extremely important because it is the last thing we can do for our loved one. I have also learnt that the funeral service will have a profound effect on grieving. Most families wish for a celebration of life. I always remind them that there will be still be tears because it would not be normal to say goodbye without them. But I like to create a service in which we celebrate and reflect the person’s life in a meaningful way.
Choosing what to wear can sometimes be interesting. Some families wish for a particular dress code or colour. Most of my wardrobe is black but I like to find accessories that can change it. Recently we had a sparkly themed funeral. The coffin was covered in glitter. She was my sort of girl and I got out my glittery hairspray and makeup.
After taking a funeral service I feel I need a little time on my own to reflect and think. I’m often asked to the wake, and whilst I am very touched by this, I don’t feel it’s my place to go.
Throughout the day, I check and respond to emails when I can, speak to families and write up service sheets or listen to music that has been requested for a service. A lot goes on behind the scenes in order to ensure a service runs smoothly.
Like most people, I am always pleased to get home at the end of the day, but my work doesn’t stop there and the laptop is immediately switched back on. I don’t think I have the work/play balance right yet and keep telling myself I must find more ways to relax.
I became a celebrant after I learnt to play the church organ, many years ago. I played most Sundays in church, and also for funerals and weddings. There came a time when I needed a more regular income, so I contacted a friend who ran the organist roster at Ipswich crematorium and he kindly agreed to take me on. I learnt a lot – about good services, and also bad. It ignited something within me – I knew what I could and would do if I was leading a service.
I booked myself onto a course with the Fellowship of Professional Celebrants based in Sussex. I loved it and was eager to start work as soon as I could. I’ve never looked back and, when I reflect on my life, I truly believe that, unknowingly, I was preparing myself for this time. A year later, I trained to become a wedding celebrant. I’m very lucky to be doing something that I truly love and I wouldn’t change a thing.
It’s definitely a vocation – a way of life. I can’t even properly remember life before this. I love every aspect of it – meeting families, never knowing quite where I am going or who I am going to meet. I love the close friendships made through my work and I love knowing I have made a difference. Despite the sadness and tears, memories of a loved one’s life should be about the happy times too. I believe if a congregation have cried and laughed we’ve got it right and it is a true reflection of that person’s life. I love helping with the music and also the singing. I’m not very good, but I enjoy it.
To be a good celebrant you have to have many skills. You have to be understanding and patient, aware that grief affects people in different ways. You have to be able to mediate, kindly. Some families find it hard to agree. You have to be compassionate, prepared to work hard under pressure and to meet deadlines. You can’t have ‘bad’ days. You have to be confident and have good communication skills, to be able to stand up and face congregations, knowing that everyone is relying on you to get them through.
You must never, ever judge and you must consider everyone’s feelings and perspective with understanding and tenderness. You have to be creative and find ways to personalise a service. And you have to be professional – but tears are allowed.
Am I allowed to have ‘favourite moments’? I recently took a funeral service where the congregation were invited to Scottish dance out of the chapel because the deceased loved Scottish country dance. That was fun. And another funeral service when the deceased thought it would be entertaining to ask the entire congregation to do the Birdy Song.
I confess there are a couple of moments I’d rather forget. One service I took was for a German man. His daughter said she would write and read the tribute, and that she would close by speaking in German to him. She was halfway through when she turned to me, crying, and said she couldn’t read any more. I had never spoken one German word, to my shame. My heart was beating as I approached her final words. To this day, I don’t know what they were – but I stumbled through them, trying to summon my best German accent and hoping no one would notice. It was a bit like a moment in
Allo, Allo . . . N tinahaywardcelebrant.co.uk