During the early part of the ’90s, I realised that the first step towards an authentic life is to understand that there is a difference between just doing a job and a vocation that lasts a lifetime.
After a challenging time in my life, I was encouraged to take a little time out to think about things. And so, I did precisely that – in a Franciscan Monastery, nestled deep within the Worcestershire countryside. The profundity of the silence there struck me and its daily routine and simple way of life.
It became clear then, that vocation means doing the work that fits you exactly right. A profession means doing work that lasts a lifetime; when Mondays are the best day of the week, and you get to create your own development path. A vocation is where your values align with the work that you do, and so, it becomes a natural expression of yourself, and you begin to feel younger and more creative. All sounds very romantic, and how was I going to make a living out of what seemed like to me at the time, just fanciful, impractical thinking.
Having the space to sit down and think made me realise my values lay in helping others, a natural ability, and a desire to empathise and console. How can I make a sustainable living out of feeling for others? I have a family and a home, and personal responsibilities.
I remember being overwhelmed by the question, “will this ever be possible?” But with the help of the Monastery’s Guest Brother, I gradually realised my authenticity depended on it.
Assuming a religious call to ministry, I pursued that pathway, on and off, for 20 years. It felt right and didn’t all at the same time, and for some reason, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why that was. For one reason and another, I decided church life wasn’t for me – my experience of the church was life-limiting and disaffirming. However, some of the skills I had obtained during my training were stirring up something inside of me, and I wasn’t able to define what that was until asked, one day after leaving the church, to take the funeral of a parishioner. I explained that I had left the church, but this didn’t seem to matter to them at all. “Nevertheless,” they said, “we would like you to take the service.” That short, seemingly insignificant sentence sent a psychosomatic ricochet through my entire being. Of course (a light switches on), that’s it! And I threw everything I had into it, and the affirmation that had been so sadly lacking prior came flooding in.
A few weeks after this, I was asked to take another funeral and then another, and the more I was asked, the less religious they became. I realised very quickly; many people didn’t want the churchy stuff. They didn’t want their loved one’s name inserted into the religious text. They wanted to celebrate the life of their loved ones. I recognised that the bereaved deserved more; more attention to detail, more compassion and more unrestricted ceremonial know-how.
Something else was happening to me at the same time. I was experiencing profound loss on a personal level too. My wife lost her daughter, Katie, to a Glioblastoma, she was just six years old, and then I lost my grandmother (an extraordinary person in my life). I had to take both services. And as difficult as it was, it was so important to us that they had the best farewell and celebration of who they were as possible. Nothing half-hearted or generic – quality and compassion mattered, and I understood, I got it!
And so, I decided I would make this my life’s work from now on; I had to do it right. I studied grief and the funeral world intently and learned from my own experience. I gleaned from my ministerial training the things that would enhance my work as a Funeral Celebrant, and everything organically moved forward from there. In 2017, I set up a group called, Holding Dear Support Service, which now provides specialist support to the bereaved and is entirely funded by my work as a Funeral Celebrant.
“Will this ever be possible?” Everything is possible if you’re the right person, doing the right work, at the right moment. I know I will be doing this for the rest of my working life, and Monday is the best day of the week for me now.