Last month, the funeral of the former First Minister of Wales, Rhodri Morgan, was the first of its kind in the UK; the first ever public funeral, akin to a state funeral, was led by humanist celebrant Lorraine Barrett, who is one of Humanists UK’s accredited celebrants.
Lorraine said, “I felt hugely privileged to have led Rhodri’ s funeral ceremony, which really was a celebration of his life with words, poetry, and music. I’d known Rhodri since the mid-1980s and besides sharing a love of the Labour Party, through all its ups and downs, we also shared a love of music. He lived his life as a humanist and said to me, after I led the funeral of a friend of his, “you can do mine when the time comes”.’ It was a privilege to have done that for Rhodri.”
Why did you become a humanist celebrant?
Some ten years ago, I had attended 3 humanist funerals for friends of mine, and at the last one, I just thought to myself that it was something I would like to do. I’d been to many religious funerals where I felt it was totally inappropriate for the person who had died and I must confess I was not aware of the alternatives. The celebrant for the first two was the late Stella Wells who became my mentor and whose funeral I conducted a few years ago. The third funeral was led by Richard Paterson and I got talking to him afterwards. He encouraged me to train with the BHA and the rest is history as they say. I will forever be indebted to Richard, not just for conducting one of my best friend’s funerals, but for being there, always ready with some words of wisdom or advice.
What kind of ceremony do you find most satisfying?
Funerals! Namings are lovely occasions for families and friends to get together and celebrate the arrival of a new member of the family, and of course, to name her/him, but there is something so satisfying about a funeral ceremony when you have helped the family get through the most difficult time of their lives.
What’s your advice to someone wanting to become a Humanist Celebrant?
First and foremost, you have to be a people person. As celebrants we meet so many different people in such diverse situations. Many of those situations are very emotionally charged and you have to develop an outer layer of professionalism whilst keeping that inner sensitivity – at the end of the day it’s about the needs of the family and you only have one chance! Being a celebrant is a privilege.
Tell us about some of your most memorable moments.
Each ceremony is unique because each person is unique, and since 2008 I have conducted such a range of funerals covering the whole gamut of life – from stillbirths through to those who have exceeded their century of life. Occasionally there will be just two people attending and sometimes more than 500 or even 1000.
Apart from Rhodri’s funeral, which was like no other because it was so very unique and I could write a whole chapter on that, I think the most poignant for me was when I led the funeral of my cousin Gareth ‘Morty’ Mortimer on Dec 23rd 2015. Gareth was the lead singer with Racing Cars who had a hit in 1973 with ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They’. We grew up together in the Rhondda. His funeral was held in a sports hall in the Rhondda with 600 people there. We had a stage set up with a great sound system and his music was played during the ceremony – I welcomed everyone to Gareth’s last show. His brother (tour manager for Def Leppard) came over from the US and spoke about their young lives. Owen Money, well known music broadcaster in Wales, gave the most eloquent, heart-felt tribute about their years performing and Gareth’s musical talent and his amazing voice. Gareth had a white coffin with his trademark hat placed on it, and at the end we played his song ‘The Time Has Come’ – you can listen to it on youtube along with another of his that we played – ‘Lost Without You’.
Some six months later, I conducted the funeral for a friend David Land who was bass guitarist with Racing Cars and during the last year or so I’ve done funerals for about six other musicians from bands in the 60s and 70s. They were people I knew as my husband is an agent for rock’n’roll bands and since I met him 48 years ago (I was very young!) our lives have revolved around music, politics and now funerals!
As I said at the beginning, each funeral is unique, and each family is going through their own grieving process no matter what the circumstances, no matter what their social standing – death is a great leveller and tends to put so many things in perspective. I feel very privileged to do what I do.