Featured Celebrant Story: Changing our perception of funerals.

Perception of funerals

An interview with the wonderful Celebrant, Vanessa Buckley as she talks us through her journey and explores how funerals have changed over time

Over to you, Vanessa!

Up until a few years ago mortality was my phobia – why? Because as a young child I was frightened by a funeral I attended; a man in a big tall hat and a stern face, lots of tears, curtains closing and then wailing noises.  In later life I attended many funerals where the deceased wasn’t really referred to and if they were I could never relate to the description, as to me they certainly weren’t the person spoken about.


I often questioned why we still followed this ancient protocol and wondered if there was another way.  Did we have to follow a hearse wearing black clothing?  Did we have to put our loved one in a mortuary fridge awaiting the dreaded funeral day?  Why was everything so sad?  Did we have to attend the crematorium to say a final goodbye knowing what was going to happen to the cadaver next?  Why did we have to wait so long to say goodbye?

The start of my journey

It was when my Grandfather passed away that I began to unravel the taboo surrounding death and my fears.  His life had been so meaningful, his life had been one big party and there was no way I could let his final send-off be a somber affair.  His day had to represent him – I was going to give him a personal and unique funeral.

Where was he?

One of my greatest concerns was where he would be – I knew his spirit had flown but I still felt an attachment to his shell and I wanted to care for him as we always had done.  Knowing what I know now I would have arranged a direct cremation as soon as possible and had a service with his ashes at a later date.  However I brought Grandad to my house, he lay in a sealed coffin in my lounge and we chatted and drank whiskey with him.  My dogs lay under his coffin on an evening and friends visited.  Many people were worried to go into the lounge with him but when they did they found it very serene and comforting.

Making every last minute count

We kept everything light-hearted, we told shared memories and the day before his funeral we gathered as a family to make his floral tribute.  Our family friend and florist Janine gray arrived to assist and we covered the entirety of his coffin with flowers, placing his flat cap down one side and left room for a candle and a bottle of whiskey on top.  It all felt so right and very different to when we lost my Nanny.

The final journey

I didn’t feel there was anyone that could represent my Grandfather as I could so I delivered his service at that point I’d not had any training. After the service I had arranged for champagne sangria and Spanish tapas to be served in the vestry. We moved on to a luncheon where we enjoyed a slideshow of his life and then back to my house for further tapas and drinks.

Did it feel right?

We know we did everything we could do at the time and it made the journey so much easier for all of us. Knowing what I know now I’d do it differently and I’d certainly have photos to share with you.  It’s all about what makes it feel right for you and your loved ones.  Tradition doesn’t have to be followed and this really was a wakeup call for me – the path to me becoming a celebrant and helping families produce a farewell ritual their way.

Creating that family day

Often when families create a special day personal to their loved one they find the passage easier and more defined.

Meeting the Booths

I believe that helpful souls travel this earth together and when my friend Claire O’Connor owner of Baby Ballet heard about the Booth family she put me in touch with them.  I met this wonderful family at Martin House Hospice where their very special daughter was resting in one of their cold bedrooms.  Daisy had struggled with many ailments but had passed away suddenly, they had no idea of the path to take but it soon became clear that Daisy’s life was never straightforward and the day could not be normal.

Frightening Thoughts

My first question when helping a family is what frightens you most about the day? The thought of a hearse frightened Daisy’s Mum so the family opted for a royal send-off.  Daisy left a local beauty spot in a white carriage drawn by two white horses, we played the ABBA hit Dancing Queen and her friends cheered and waved her off.

Daisy’s burial was a private affair and her grave was referred to as her comfy bed.  It was important that her siblings enjoyed the day and didn’t feel confused or afraid.  They threw roses and sprinkled glitter onto her pink coffin; they released doves to take Daisy on her journey to the angels.

daisy 2

We are all laughing as the doves decided not to take flight!  Daisy was always playing tricks it felt right that the doves didn’t do quite as planned.

The venue of your choice

A service was then held in a barn as Daisy loved animals.  I told her life story, read letters and made lots of jokes, we blew bubbles and sang let it go, a craft table was set up for the children to make angels, we released balloons, drank champagne and it was a truly beautiful day – a unique day for a unique girl – one I will never ever forget.  The possibilities are now endless – this is the first of possibilities – a step away from the norm.

Photographer Credit: Roshini McCartin

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