Giles Fraser (Guardian, 15th August 2015) suggests that secular funerals by definition have to turn ordinary mortals into celebrities; have to jazz up their lives into something to celebrate; have a problem if the person has been ordinary or cantankerous or unkind.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It is often Christian funerals that somehow leave the real person out of the service altogether. The dead person is turned into yet another example of the Christian god’s wonderful ability to love all people. How often does one come away from a Christian funeral thinking “I did not recognise my dear friend at all in what was said. The minister was able to trot out his honed formula for funerals, choosing the opportunity presented by the presence of normally-non-attenders to remind them of God’s care for even the smallest sparrow”? It is the Christian god who is talked up and celebrated.
Really good Christian ministers know better. When I spoke at my mother’s funeral, the Christian minister taking the service gave an accurate picture of the woman he had come to know in her old age, “Jess commanded loyalty” he said, and an archdeacon friend of mine, who also knew my mother well over many years, advised me to tell the truth about her, describe the woman warts and all: “make her real”, he said.
Verisimilitude depends entirely on the knowledge of the person, the real person, held by the celebrant taking the funeral service. One of the main skills developed by the secular celebrant is that of talking and really listening to all the significant others, family and friends, so that the people attending the ceremony can recognise the person they have come to honour. They are depicted in their individuality in a way that distinguishes them from all others. All mourners can go away feeling that they have participated collectively in the building up of a picture of someone whom they will not meet again. And feel that they have been helped to say goodbye.