Interview with a Celebrant: Em Melrose

Em Melrose funeral celebrant

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I’m privilged to introduce you to Em Melrose this month. Em shares some very personal insight into her path to becoming an Independent Funeral Celebrant in this month’s interview with a Graduate. Working with her was life-enhancing. She’s the real deal; a light in the world who is on a path that will touch many lives. I feel genuinely honoured to be part of her journey.

What made you decide to become a Funeral Celebrant?

Mum and Dad both died in 2019, I knew my sister would struggle so I stepped up and organised both of their services.  The Funeral Directors were family friends, over decades, so that was an easier decision to make, but who delivered their services really mattered to me, that they were able to share their stories in an authentic way. 

My husband Don was diagnosed in 2019 with Throat Cancer, a tough journey to walk with him, I learnt so much about resilience, compassion and how to walk alongside someone.  Way before Don died in September 2021, I had imagined his service, what it would feel like, would I be able to cope?  I knew that surrounding myself with people that I trusted mattered.  We were a ‘young family’ a religious service wasn’t what he would have wanted.  Those services that I had attended were for an older generation and traditional in format.  It felt cold searching on google for someone, and those that I did, were ‘text based’ and I did not feel a connection and that really mattered to me. 

I read the eulogy at Mum and Don’s service and it was a privilege

It was our best friend who sign posted me to the most amazing lady, who has since become my celebrant coach and a cherished friend.  She was a guiding hand to enable us to create a service that honoured Don’s life, she offered support and compassion and hope. I read the eulogy at Mum and Don’s service and it was a privilege. I knew this next chapter was an opportunity to bring what I have and continue to learn, to support others, but I wasn’t clear exactly how.  Then I was approached by the Funeral Director of Don’s service, a friend, to ask if I had considered becoming a Celebrant… and so the journey started to unfold.

My ‘why’ has become really clear.  We each walk our own path with grief.  Some of us experience it sooner than we would have expected, and so being able to support people like me, who walk their own path is an honour to those we have lost and brings hope for our future chapters.  I don’t want people to have to worry ‘Who’.  I want to be their ‘Who’, to offer the support that I felt in those very early intense days of grief enabling them to honour the life of their loved one.

What skills do you think you bring to the role?

Compassion, empathy, “groundedness” if there is such a word .  The ability to hold a safe space for people to ‘Be’, without judgement or expectation.  The art of listening, beyond the words, to be able to honour the person that they loved and respected.  Humility and grace, building trust and confidence in those I am of service to.  Organisation and planning, there is a lot going on in those immediate days following death, and it can feel like everyone wants a piece of you, so honouring time and keeping my commitments. And a facilitator, guiding family and friends in the ebb and flow of their emotions as they come together to honour and celebrate a life lived.

Em Melrose funeral celebrant

How do you think our culture copes with conversations about funeral plans and expressing our wishes for the end of our life?

We are renowned for the ’ Stiff upper lip’ as a Nation aren’t we?  That says a lot to me about the ease that we feel in having the conversations.  I recall the multiple conversations with Don, “ we must get our wills written” but we didn’t.  I am thankful that the persistent of our Financial Advisor, who got us there in the end, and this was years before Don fell ill.  In hindsight we dealt with the important practical things but we didn’t really talk about our wishes in the way that I believe it would have been helpful too.  We had a strong connection, so I know that I was able to honour him, however there are other conversations that I have shared where the family still question if they did the right thing many years later.

It’s a courageous conversation to have, but one that I feel is an important part of the healing journey that we go on when we lose a loved one, not having to “wonder”.  So, I want to be a catalyst for ‘loosening the stiff upper lip’, enabling people to feel more at ease about exploring their wishes, if talking about it is too much…write down and put it somewhere safe, so that when its needed.  For those that are here to write their next life chapter, they will know that they did what their person wanted and not carrying a burden of wonder.

You’ve only recently completed your training. How are you planning to promote your new venture?

My belief is that connection is at the heart of being a Celebrant and so surrounding myself with other professionals who share the same values as me, supporting each other and sign posting so that we can connect the right people together and be of service.

I want to ‘loosen the stiff upper lip’, so I intend to share my personal experiences and learnings using social media.  I’m a Widow, Single Parent, Orphan… lots of labels, that initially I carried like a bag of heavy stones, but have soon realised are important to acknowledge. Grief is a unique and personal journey, but knowing that you are not alone is precious.  I’m at ease being vulnerable, Showing up as Em, a real human being, who accepts being imperfectly perfect, with the intention of creating a safe place where others can do the same..  I want to people to know that they aren’t alone and that whatever their way, it’s OK.

I know you are a Havening practitioner, can you tell us a bit about this technique and how it can support you and your clients in the work you do as a Celebrant?

Havening is a psychosensory therapeutic technique that can help alleviate mental health symptoms by changing pathways in the brain linked to emotional distress.  The beauty of it, is that we can do it on ourselves, reducing stress and anxiety levels quickly and effectively.  In those very early days of grief, having self-help tools that bring calm are priceless and help us to build resilience.  Our primitive brain is on overdrive and our autopilot will kick in, sometimes not the most helpful.  Havening helps us to get back in control and a state of calm.

What type of ceremony would you love to create – if there were no limits on time or budget? 

I’ve reflected on this question a lot.  And I keep coming back to the same place.  To support friends and loved ones to create their services together before they die, so the soul of our lost one, is at peace and those that are here to create the next chapter are at ease that life goes on.  What and how that looks like will be unique to all.  After Don’s cremation, we celebrated his live again over Haggis Neeps and Tatties, and released his ashes in fireworks together at a place we loved to walk – not conventional many say, but it had deep meaning for his life.

To explain further, One of the 5 regrets of the dying is ‘I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.’ 

How often do we hear, I only wish I’d told her/him…. So I would love to be the enabler, where loved ones have a safe space to do this their way.  To create services that bring people together NOW (whenever that time is right) , not waiting until we are gone… and then ‘wishing’ we had said something.  One of the most precious things I hold about supporting Mum, Dad and Don in their passing, was that nothing was left unsaid. 

What top tip would you give to anyone exploring the idea of training as a Funeral Celebrant?

To have a very honest conversation about your WHY and ask yourself this 7 times…trust me it works….you will get to the heart of your reason and does this feel right?  I believe that this role is privilege, its emotionally charged so be really clear about how we stay grounded and look after our mental well-being is an imperative.

Find a celebrant that you connect with and ask them every question that you have, then tune back into your heart and see it if it feels right. This journey isn’t about You or Me, it’s about the loved ones.

How do you practice?

The reality is we don’t have a dress rehearsal, as you would at a wedding. I have facilitated a lot of events and so I will use visualisation as part of my preparation, imagining myself in front of the friends and family, then reading out loud, so that I get familiar with the words.

How do you gain experience?

By letting people know what we are doing and offering starting by offering support in small ways.  A friend of my has asked me to go to the funeral directors the evening before the service so that she can say her personal farewell.   Reading Eulogies for friends if the service is in a church.  Looking out for readings, music and poems that resonate with you.

How can people find you online, Em?

at the moment, it would be to em@yourcelebrant.life or my personal facebook account (1) Facebook.

One Response

  1. Steve Wicheard says:

    I think you will make a fantastic Celebrant Em. I wish you all the luck in the world. 😃

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