The Humanist Celebrant and the End of Life


imagesThe role of the Celebrant is to be there for people during life’s passages.  Baby naming ceremonies and weddings are usually happy occasions.  Dying is sometimes not a happy passage of life.  For this reason, the Celebrant must be especially prepared to accompany people on this life passage.

People deal with the end of life as variously and individually as they have lived their lives.  Many people are very matter of fact in the face of death, settling their accounts and getting their affairs in order.  Others refuse to give up hope, even after all medical options are gone, refusing to consider death as the next step.

As a leader of a congregation, I am able to develop long-term relationships with members, so I have many of the last wishes written down and in readily accessible files.  This is the ideal situation.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.  Many humanists seldom–or never–join groups.  Expect “cold calls” from people who have just gotten the bad news of a fatal illness or from families who have just lost a loved one and are at a loss concerning what to do next.

handsWhat to do?  The humanist Celebrant’s task is threefold: comfort, console, assess: Comfort the dying person.  Console the loved ones.  Assess the situation and see what needs to be done next.

Comfort.  Console.  Assess.

Assess how ready a dying person is for discussion of palliative care; hospice; the arrangements for a memorial service; and the daunting personal and business arrangements required at the time of death.

But don’t forget comforting and consoling; merely being there as a non-anxious presence is often the most important work.

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