Lynne Watson

Lynne’s new career brings rewards beyond riches

When a brain haemorrhage stopped 57-year-old Lynne Watson in her tracks five years ago, she knew it was time for a lifestyle change to aid her road to recovery.

Until then, she had been busy managing and running a helpline for people with oesophageal cancer, but as she looked to return to work, she recognised she could no longer cope with such a demanding role.

It was her funeral director sister who first suggested that training as a funeral celebrant may provide the ideal solution – a job which would allow Lynne to set her own agenda in workload terms, while still feeling she was providing a service to families who needed help.

“I had never heard of civil funerals before, but I did some research and found Civil Ceremonies which, although it wasn’t the cheapest, seemed to offer the best training course,” said Lynne, who lives with her partner, David, and has a 25-year-old son.

Having talked to the team, she signed up for the residential training package and says she has nothing but praise for the way the course was taught and the resources provided.

“I recognised this was giving me a huge sense of responsibility, helping families with the arrangements for their loved one’s funeral, but I can honestly say that by the time I had finished the training, I felt much more confident and ready to start,” she said.

As it happened, she didn’t have long to wait. Driving home from the course, her sister called to ask if she could meet a family and within days she had conducted her first service.

Today, she undertakes an average of two funerals a week across the South Birmingham, Redditch and Bromsgrove areas near her home and, while she believes this could be increased by promoting her services more proactively, it is a workload that suits her perfectly well.

She works with four or five local funeral directors on a regular basis, and is often in demand for a second time from families who have had one service already and lost another family member, or by people who have attended one of her funerals.

“You need to be prepared to go out and sell yourself to funeral directors because you are mainly relying on their goodwill to tell families about you,” said Lynne.

“When you are meeting a family and conducting a service, you are representing the funeral director so it’s important that you have a good relationship with them and that you build up mutual trust.”

At £160 per funeral, she admits it’s never going to be a high-earning new career, but says: “I may never be rich, but the work ensures I am rich in other ways and I find it very, very rewarding.”

Many families don’t know what to expect when she visits them for the first time and Lynne stresses how important it is to explain that they are free to have exactly the sort of ceremony they want, not one they feel they should have.

She likes to spend plenty of time talking about the family member who has died, ensuring she understands the person as best she can in order to write a meaningful tribute as a final goodbye.

A sympathetic approach, good listening skills and the ability to write well are essential components for the role and Lynne says that if you are the kind of person that strangers will talk to on a bus, then you will probably make a good celebrant.

Civil funerals simply mean they are not conducted by a religious minister, and this allows a family to set their own ceremony content, for example, combining some religious elements if they wish, or none at all.

Lynne’s services vary from those whose families like to include a hymn or a prayer, such as the Lord’s Prayer or the 23rd Psalm, to a less traditional approach.

“Funerals for younger people often have more personal input, such as family and friends speaking, live music, a file past to touch the coffin or place flowers on it; the release of doves or balloons to mark the occasion,” she said.

“I always tell families they can have whatever they like, as long as it is legal, and there is often an over-riding feeling that you are giving people permission to enjoy the day. Yes, a funeral is a bleak occasion, but it is part of the healing process and a good funeral will help that healing.”

She has conducted services for individuals of all ages and backgrounds, from those who have lost their lives in tragic accidents, to victims of crime and suicide, and those who have slipped away through illness or old age. 

With getting to know families intensely over a short period of time, how does Lynne cope with the emotional side of the role?

She believes her work for the cancer charity, as well as the fact that she previously served as a policewoman for 10 years, have both helped her approach.

“Of course I get involved and it’s especially never easy when you are talking to parents who have gone through the trauma of losing a child or when the focus of the ceremony is a little white coffin,” she said.

“In my office I keep pictures of all the babies whose funerals I have conducted and I keep an Order of Service from every funeraI, I see them all as ‘my people’.

“I have my own way of dealing with it, and at night when I get home after a service, I raise a glass in my own special tribute. For me, it’s been a real privilege to help those families through a very difficult day.”