The other day a new friend commented that they thought it would be sad to work at a funeral home. I said that while it is true that it is sad when someone dies, it is also true that we celebrate lives. Yes, we mourn their death, but we are all so much more than our death. There is a lot of life that gets you to us. And it is our job, as funeral professionals, to do all we can to help you through these very first stages of grief. That comes in many different forms for many different people. We want each family to have the type of service for their loved one that they want – our families direct the way we serve them.
I have always been outgoing and believed in promoting local businesses I trust that are of high quality and high standards. I have also never met a stranger. I love people – all kinds of people. Although I never thought I would work for a funeral home, becoming the outreach director and life celebrant at Altmeyer Funeral Homes and CARE Funeral & Cremation Specialists has been the best decision I have made professionally. I began working for Altmeyer Funeral Homes and CARE Funeral & Cremation Specialists in the fall of 2015. In January 2016, I was offered the opportunity to be trained as a Life Celebrant. Before I took on this new title, I had to learn more about what a Life Celebrant did, even though I had a pretty good idea. I consider myself a relatively religious person and wondered if I could separate my beliefs from my ability to provide something meaningful to the families we serve. Fortunately, our host and trainers sent the candidates plenty of information to prepare us. I learned that there is great need for Life Celebrants across the United States. These types of funeral service have been common in Australia and Canada for quite some time, but have just gained notoriety in the United States in more recent years. There is a growing group of people in our communities – the “nones”. This is a term used to describe people who do not identify with any religious denomination or affiliation. You could say that this group is spiritual and faithful, rather than religious. According to Pew Research (2007), “nones” make up 16% of the population. That makes them the 3rd largest group behind Catholics and Baptists. You can find more information about the study here.
Altmeyer Funeral Homes has had Life Celebrants in our sister locations for several years. We were the first in many of the communities we serve to offer this special type of remembrance. In the Ohio Valley, we have two Life Celebrants – David Wright & me, Sarah Barickman. We have the ability to coordinate with clergy or provide Life Celebrants to the all of the families we serve. Again, we want our families to let us know what they want and we have the ability to carry out their wishes, whether secular or religious. This can be done in our funeral home, their church, Oglebay – just about anywhere – or a combination of any of these places.
Here is a quick list describing Life Celebrants and our services:
- Certified through In-Sight Institute – Glenda Stansbury & Doug Manning
- Life Celebrants create a funeral service WITH the loved ones of the deceased. There is no preplanned script.
- No rules – the service is ALL about the individual we come to memorialize
- Can be done in addition to a traditional church service
- May be totally free of religion or have scripture & prayer
- Music, poetry & quotes are encouraged, but not required
- Candle lighting & sand ceremonies for loved ones to participate
- Services may or may not have friends and family participate through eulogies and reciting quotes, poems and/ or scripture, as well as performing music.
Now, I will take you though the process of having a Life Celebrant funeral service. Our funeral professionals meet with a family to find out all of the details of what they want for their loved one (if they haven’t already prearranged their funeral). If they have a church home or a connection to a minister, pastor, priest or rabbi they would like to conduct a service to help them say their final goodbyes to their loved one, their funeral professional will connect with that clergy. If not, the funeral professional will contact one of our Life Celebrants. We then set a time to meet with the departed’s loved ones for a family meeting. I always tell the family member that is making the arrangements to include anyone that was important to the person who has died. I want to hear as much about their loved one as I can. This family meeting can be an important first step in the grieving process for many people. I try to make sure everyone at the meeting is comfortable, so we often meet in their homes. We simply sit around and talk about their loved one – the good and the bad. I tell families that just because they share it in the family meeting, doesn’t mean it will be shared at the service. I want to know as much about the person we are memorializing as I can. I want to know the spirit of that person. We discuss music, quotes, prayers or scripture they would like to have included. Often times there is someone close to the deceased that wants to speak at the service. I try to coordinate with them, if possible, so I do not disclose anything they have planned to share. The services we perform are all about the person we come to celebrate and their families. We are simply the storytellers and facilitators. No service I have ever done is like another because no one person is like another.
I have now performed dozens of services for people all over the Ohio Valley and I can say that it is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done, professionally and personally. I like to think of myself as a collector of people. As I said in the beginning, I love people – all kinds of people. And with this opportunity as a Life Celebrant I get to know about all kinds of people. It is my hope that by taking the time to get to know the families we serve and providing a safe place for them to begin their grief journey, they will have a good foundation on which to build a mountain of memories of their loved ones.
Sarah Barickman is an outreach director and life celebrant at Altmeyer Funeral Homes and CARE Funeral & Cremation Specialists in the Ohio Valley. She and her husband, Mike, have lived in Wheeling for 18 years, where they have been raising their two children, Lilly & Haden. Sarah is a collector of people, she has never met a stranger and will always strive to be of service to others.