In our third interview with one of our Graduates, I am delighted to introduce you to Phillip Dackombe, The Welbeck Celebrant. Phillip completed his training both as a Funeral and also as a Wedding and Vow Renewal Celebrant. He was a complete joy to work with and brought a willingness to see others that was very special.
What inspired your journey into becoming a Celebrant?
Being a celebrant is something that I have wanted to do for quite a while. From an early age, I would watch mum prepare for funerals as a Minister and as I got older would support in some of the services, playing the organ or keyboard. I remember being sat beside a coffin once, with my keyboard in someone’s living room. They were having the service at home, and wanted a hymn. I think I acted as something of a ‘wingman’ for mum.
Observing my mum carry out the funeral for her own husband (my dad) is something that I will never forget. This was probably a pivotal moment when I realised that this was something I would like to do for other people.
Is it strange to say I feel comfortable with death and dying?
On the day of my dads funeral, when waiting for the funeral director to arrive, I was in the house next door, supporting a neighbour whose husband had literally just passed away. I was on my knees, in my suit, on the phone to 999 with a deceased person. For me, death is a transition to our next stage and nothing to fear. I am aware that this is my own opinion and that all individuals will have their own perspective on death.
Throughout my working life I have worked in care and was always the person to take responsibility when an individual needed end of life care. I would sit with them during their passing and afterwards, wash and dress them before loved ones arrived.
It might seem a little silly but I love people.
I love chatting to people and finding out about them and their lives, listening to stories and really connecting with them. I have a natural compassion and empathy for other human beings and being able to come alongside them in a time of need gives me a great sense of warmth and that I have done something truly worthwhile. I think compassion for others and to experience love on all levels is our true purpose in life. Compassion and love, I believe, are innate abilities that we are born with. The pressures of society and how we are nurtured can take this from us.
What do you think are the top five skills you bring to the role?
There are many skills that a Celebrant needs to carry out the role. It’s no easy task to think of just five that I feel are my best skills.
I love writing..
This is a must for any Celebrant, whether this is for funerals, weddings or naming ceremonies, you need to be able to write fluently and be able to bring life to your script.
I said previously that I have a natural compassion for people. I am able to come alongside people in support during those tough times and also in times of joy. I like to think I bring joy, passion and enthusiasm into my work.
In another capacity, I work in adult education and have developed throughout the years in communication and listening skills. Through professional assessments with other peers and learners I have developed listening skills.
Listening is a huge part of what I do as a Celebrant.
Listening to understand and providing a space for people to be heard is so important. Even listening to what is not being said.. Really holding space for another person is one of the greatest things you could do for them.
This is not a skill as such but I am a self appointed ambassador for equality, diversity and inclusion. Being from the LGBTQ+ community myself, I am passionate about equality in marriage and relationships. I have been through several years of judgement and discrimination myself and have lived with feelings of just being tolerated.
I will stand up for anyone who is going through the same. I have recently been talking to local individuals who have also been through the same and we are now discussing a safe place and support group for young adults who are questioning their own sexuality.
I think being a Celebrant in a small town is going to keep me quite busy and not just with ceremonies.
In all I do, I pride myself on being non-judgmental and accepting of everyone. As a Celebrant you will come across people from all cultures, beliefs and ways of life. Confidence! Through my work in adult education, I have many times had to present information to large groups of people and peers. In doing this, I have gained confidence to stand in front of people to speak. This really does help with communicating with families and standing at the front to lead a ceremony.
My first funeral ceremony was quite big with over 120 guests. I don’t think I would have managed this at all without my experiences presenting and leading meetings.
What is the most satisfying aspect for you, personally, of the work you do as a Celebrant?
Knowing that I have supported someone in what could be their darkest and hardest time, gives me such a sense of heart. I can’t think of a word to describe how it makes me feel. I just know that my heart feels full and open. I am happy that I am able to leave people better than they were when we met for the first time.
As a celebrant, and maybe even if I wasn’t a Celebrant, there are other ways I can try to support those experiencing grief. I started writing a blog to support others going through bereavement and grief. It seemed to keep going and within a couple of weeks I had written 10 small chapters of a book. How on earth did that happen? I have published this on Amazon as a ‘pilot’ book. It’s very small with a total of only 25 pages and you can probably read it in about an hour. I will be expanding upon each chapter very soon which will then become their own small book. The book is called ‘A Small Book on Big Grief’ .
I feel that connecting to others when we are going through grief and bereavement is vitally important, especially for those who could become isolated and alone. Together with the support of the Parish Council and my close friend and specialist grief counsellor, I have started a new grief and bereavement support group. I don’t think the local area is quite ready for it to be called a ‘death cafe’.
Is there an area you particularly focus on as a Celebrant? Why did you decide to focus on this?
As you might have guessed already, I am passionate about supporting families as a Funeral Celebrant. I am qualified to carry out weddings, naming ceremonies and other specialist ceremonies but my area of focus is as a funeral celebrant. I can’t explain why apart from a pull from deep inside. When I think about the work that I do as a Funeral Celebrant, my heart feels light and I just know I am meant to be doing this.
Can you tell me about your local collaboration, to create a grief support group?
Recently, I have created a local grief support group. After speaking to individuals, families and funeral Directors, It was quite clear to see that there is a lack of support for people experiencing grief and bereavement. I initially approached a friend who is recently qualified as a specialist grief counsellor. She was more than happy to be a part of the group and we chatted about what we would call the group.
We discussed and researched death cafes local to us. After mentioning this to a few people, as we were ‘putting the feelers out’ we decided to call our group the Warsop and District Grief and Bereavement Friends. People in our local area seem to be put off by the words ‘Death Cafe’. As we progress in our new group I’m sure it will evolve into something great though.
I approached our new County and Parish Councillor about support for the group. We quickly had a meeting booked and within just a couple of weeks we were advertising and ready to go. Our first session was held on the first of July and was a great success. People came, they drank coffee, ate cake and talked about death and the loss of their own loved ones.
It was wonderful to see people chatting and connecting with new friends.
There were even conversations about death and their own plans and wishes for their own funerals. As a quote from the local newspaper.. We ‘lifted the lid on grief’. To ensure the group was effective, I invited a couple of other local people to come along. I needed to ensure that whoever came along had people to talk to. I invited specialist people that I knew would find it easy to talk and make conversation.
The local Church representatives came, the local Funeral Director came, I invited a Holistic Therapist and a Child Bereavement Specialist. Having these people attend, ensured I was able to introduce the group attendees to whoever I thought would be a good match for conversation or support. My mum even came as support for me. She was rewarded with cake and a sausage roll. It worked so well and If I don’t mind saying so myself, it was a huge success. I am looking forward very much to our second gathering in September and to see where this might lead.
If you could create any ceremony, for any occasion – no budget restrictions – what would it be and why?
Simple, heartfelt and doesn’t cost much; I think this sums me up nicely. One ceremony that I would like to hold and will plan this later in the year is a community vow renewal (or promise renewal). In my vision of this, we are stood around one of the magnificent stone circles in Derbyshire, with shared food and drinks and a real community feel.
There wouldn’t be any cost to a couple of groups and would be totally open for anyone to share in the ceremony. Anyone who attends will be able to take part in the ceremony. I plan to have other people take part in the ceremony also to read a poem or even take part in the ceremony.
A close Pagan friend will also be there to take part in the ceremony and bring in some aspects of the Pagan rituals. I have a choice of two stone circles which are close to me.’The 9 Ladies’ is the larger of the two and in more of an open setting. And then there is a smaller and more intimate circle in a sheltered woodland. (Doll Tor) Depending on interest, I think I will remain open to which one nearer the time.
Of the two, I love Doll Tor for its intimacy and the special energies there. I also plan on holding another community celebration here. Maybe for next year now but I intend to write a community memorial celebration in the same way.
Can you recommend something you’ve read or listened to for anyone considering becoming a Celebrant?
There are so many podcasts and youtube videos available that will support anyone considering becoming a Celebrant. I have recorded a couple of episodes with Celebrants myself on my own podcast but If I was to recommend a particular podcast, there would be no doubt in my mind that the ‘Ask a Celebrant’ podcast would be perfect. Dinah Liversidge (who you might have heard of) together with Bernie Benton. The relationship between Dinah and Bernie is palpable and the fun, friendship and love just oozes into the recorded podcast. It;s full of laughs and fabulous conversations around many topics of Celebrancy. I would highly recommend these podcasts to anyone considering becoming a Celebrant.
Where can we find you?
Mainly, I am on social media for posts and articles. I find Instagram the best fit for me at the moment and am just about to try and navigate ‘Threads’. My contact details are clearly visible on all platforms for anyone who would like to contact me.
You can find me on Instagram here:
I am also on facebook here:
If you would like to contact me via the AOIC website you can find my profile here:
I am also have calendly for anyone wishing to make an initial appointment.