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Another Day, Another Black Dress

My life as an Australian Funeral Celebrant

Photo of Stephanie Longmuir
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Last month I led 20 end of life ceremonies here in Melbourne; last year I served 166 families as they tried to navigate life's most difficult crossroad. People ask me how I manage working with so much grief and loss but I believe I have the best job in the world.

Why? Because I hear stories and then get to retell them. I meet people whose paths I would never have crossed and for a short period of time become immersed in their family and their lives. I laugh with them, cry with them and am so enriched by them. I work with them to craft meaningful farewells and in the process provide a platform for their grief.

Every week my thoughts about death and dying are expanded as I collect the experiences of grieving families.  Every day I wonder at life and admire its complexities.

In 2015 I was invited to the National Funeral Directors Association Conference and Expo in Indianapolis to talk about my work.

I would like to share some of the inspirational stories of how my families navigate their journeys of grief through the ceremonies that we put together.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

I would like others to consider how they want to be remembered and to plan an end of life ceremony that will best represent them and the life that they have led. If it is a non religious occasion then there is no strict format; perhaps a small family service on a beach or perhaps an event for 200 with eulogies, audiovisual tributes, live music and a golden casket - the options are vast.

Tell us about your work experience:

I am a Funeral Celebrant and founder of my, Australia's first digital funeral planning service that puts the user in control of how their life will be remembered and celebrated.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Stephanie Longmuir

Thanks Joanna.  I have now posted on the Ideas phase.  I hope you get a chance to look at my post.
Regards Stephanie

Photo of Stephanie Longmuir

Joanna Spoth 
Hi Joanna, would love your feedback on my recent contribution.
regards Stephanie

Photo of Joanna Spoth

Hi Stephanie - thank you so much for sharing about your work. What an honor to play a role in forming how lives are celebrated. I think your work and passion would be a great fit for our Ideas phase - when it launches on Wednesday you should submit as a post. You'll need to create a new post, but you can use much of the content from this one. Shane Zhao and I will keep an eye out. :)

Photo of Stephanie Longmuir

Hi Joanna
I have begun to put something together for the Ideas phase and I saved it and logged out.  I have tried to find it now to edit it and can't seem to see where it has saved in the system.  Can you please help?  Regards  Stephanie

Photo of Joanna Spoth

Hi Stephanie,

It can be a bit confusing so thanks for reaching out! If you log in and go to your own profile, you should see all your contributions, including drafts you've started, if you scroll down a bit on your profile page. Let me know if you still can't find it!

Photo of Stephanie Longmuir

Hi Joanna
Thank you for your feedback and the suggestion.  I will submit to the Ideas phase on Wednesday. 

Photo of Stephanie Longmuir

Hi Mansi
There have been so many incredible moments for me in my work as a celebrant.  I have led services on beaches, in parks, restaurants, clubs, chapels, churches and even in a castle.  I have stood in front of 500 mourners and also 5.  But its often not the venue or the size of the service that matters it is the input from the family.  
I see my role as a facilitator and I encourage participation from family and friends as I believe often the process of putting together the service is just as important in helping a family with grief as the service itself.  In collecting photos for the audiovisual and service booklets, in putting together tributes and choosing music, poems, readings and other words for the service families come together and share stories and memories allowing them to connect with each other an better understand their loss and their grief.
Some of the more memorable moments have included the Coffin Cheaters (motorcycle gang) motorcade that escorted one of the members' mothers to the cemetery, the Sheep-Dog guard of honour made up of 8 woolly dogs, a solo performance from a great-granddaughter fresh from performing Annie, an Aboriginal smoking ceremony, a balloon release of 400 green and red balloons at a Christmas Memorial Service by a lake, the countless beautiful poems that family members have composed for their loved one, songs written and letters read.
Insights include the belief that families are complicated but always interesting, unconditional love is mostly reserved for children with special needs, courage turns to grace as people age, compassion and curiosity go hand in hand, despite the intention of celebration funerals are always sad, and gratitude and tolerance and the wonderful byproducts of my work.

Photo of Mansi Parikh

Hey Stephanie, what a unique insight your job gives you into how people deal with the passing of a loved one. We would love it if you could share some stories. What are experiences that stood out to you? What insights have you gained?