Meet Linda Stuart, Life-Cycle Celebrant
Death and dying aren’t often a hot topic of conversation. It’s a conversation we usually avoid altogether. But death is a certainty of life, and if you don’t make your wishes known while you’re still alive, you may not have a funeral and burial that honours your life the way you would want.
There is a whole new class of officiant on the scene that exists to make sure your funeral experience reflects who you are as a person. This new-age officiant is called a Life-Cycle Celebrant, and we recently met with Linda Stuart to learn more about what a Life-Cycle Celebrant does and what this means for the future of funerals.
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What is a Life-Cycle Celebrant?
A Life-Cycle Celebrant is a professionally trained officiant who is an expert in ceremony design and creation and the art of ceremonial public speaking. They use their skills and knowledge to create and perform one-of-a-kind ceremonies that reflect their client’s beliefs, backgrounds, and personalities.
How is a Life-Cycle Celebrant different from other types of officiants?
A Life-Cycle Celebrant is professionally trained in creating and performing more personalized ceremonies and rituals than what you might get with other types of officiants.
We have the skillsets, experience, and desire to accompany loved ones through this very special time as they celebrate a life lived.
How did you get into this line of work?
A funeral director first introduced me to the term ‘celebrant’. At first, I had no idea what this meant. He explained that a celebrant is someone who creates and performs ceremonies for life’s milestone moments that uniquely reflect each love story or life story by weaving together words, music, poetry, and rituals. At that moment, I knew this was my life’s calling.
So I guess I was around 40 when I finally figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up [laughs]!
For as long as I can remember, I have been organizing celebrations, designing ceremonies, and reinventing rituals for loved ones. It filled me with a sense of purpose knowing I could have a career where I could help other families do the same.
The training involved an 8-month long program that included the study of ceremony fundamentals and specializing in funerals. To even get into the program, I had to undergo an evaluation of written skills and before certification was required to undergo an independent review of my presentation and vocal skills.
What main pain points does working with a Life-Cycle Celebrant solve?
People often dread funerals. It’s probably because most of them have seen too many impersonal or inappropriate ones. Funerals aren’t traditionally personalized for the individual who passed away and their families. My goal as a Life-Celebrant is avoid funeral experiences that leave people feeling solemn and gloomy.
I give families the guidance and expertise they crave when they want to do something unique to honour a loved ones’ death. I can also take a lot of the burden off their shoulders by doing the heavy lifting. There are many decisions involved with ceremony planning which can also be stressful for families trying to grieve.
Who should consider using a Life-Cycle Celebrant to plan a funeral experience for a loved one?
Generally, the types of families who reach out to me fall into one or more of these categories:
- They want a lot of control and input in how their loved one is remembered and how they will be honoured and don’t want to conform to fit into a system, template, or tradition that doesn’t allow that.
- They are non-religious, multi-faith, or spiritual, and all the options they have experienced or been offered don’t fit their beliefs or values.
- They don’t want to be forced into choosing options a) b) or c). Rather, they want someone who will take the time to hear their stories and come up with a unique solution that suits them perfectly.
- They haven’t experienced or been offered options for untraditional, informal, personal ways of remembering and honouring their loved one (e.g. a picnic on the farm with toasts, tributes, and music), but that is what they want and need.
- They don’t want to speak or participate, and don’t feel like they have the skills to write anything or do anything other than sit and watch. They want someone who will put it all together for them and perform the ceremonies and rituals.
What can someone expect when they work with a Life-Cycle Celebrant?
I recently got together with a group of other Celebrants and we came up with a list of our features. Life-Cycle Celebrants will:
- Offer a consultation with loved ones to discuss their ceremony vision
- Handcraft each unique ceremony from a blank page, not a pre-existing template
- Facilitate family gatherings and conversations with loved ones to explore options for the ceremony
- Listen as we encourage and facilitate input from many sources
- Curate the life stories, meaningful moments, and achievements shared with us, to capture
the essence of the life lived
- Research content relevant to family preferences
- Create unique meaningful rituals that honour the life lived
- Rehearse with participants and liaise with venue professionals, as necessary
- Provide a digital Keepsake Ceremony to the family
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Can you share an example of a memorable funeral experience you created for someone?
One family I worked with was initially a little uncomfortable with the idea of incorporating a ritual into their mother’s funeral ceremony for fear that it would be too formal or stuffy. But the “sweet” ritual we created for their mother was possibly the most memorable and meaningful element in the entire ceremony.
A colourful woman who adored anything sweet, gooey, and decadent, Jean could find any reason to bake treats for her family. And while dessert was always on her menu, what ultimately made her happiest was being surrounded by family.
At her memorial, we set up a high-top round table with 12 brightly frosted cupcakes, one for each of Jean’s immediate family members, and inserted a birthday candle into each. A large pillar candle, which was lit at the beginning of the ceremony to represent the bright light Jean brought to the world, stood in the centre of the cupcakes.
For the ritual during the ceremony, family members were invited to come up together—surrounding Jean’s light—and, one by one, they passed a taper lit from Jean’s candle and used it to light the candles on their individual cupcakes.
In so doing, they created a circle of light and love for Jean. Towards the end of the ceremony, Jean’s two youngest grandchildren were invited to blow out the candles, and guests were encouraged to make a wish.
From your perspective, what does the future of funerals look like?
I think they will look and feel less like “funerals” and more like “experiences” that truly highlight the uniqueness of the life being honoured. It’s my hope that funerals will increasingly become more creative, memorable and authentic experiences that capture the essence of the honouree while providing much-needed space for connection and healing.
Connect with Linda
If you have any more questions about what a Life-Cycle Celebrant is all about, feel free to reach out to Linda!