Meet one of our amazing Celebrants, Alison Saunders!
Melbourne celebrant, Alison Saunders takes her vocation as both marriage and funeral celebrant seriously. At the same she’s fun and passionate – full of love and empathy. Alison claims to be obsessed with things that start with “W” – Words, Wine, Wonder, Whisky and Wellness. She’s also partial to superhero movies.
At Tomorrow Funerals, our celebrant partners are full of life. They are quirky and kind. Professional and real.
We asked Alison about her work and what she has planned for her own funeral!
How did you become a funeral celebrant?
I’d been a wedding celebrant for about 4 years when I started considering doing funerals. At first, I was really worried that in the face of other people’s grief, I wouldn’t be able to keep my composure. Then a very, very special friend of mine trusted me with her brother’s funeral. He was only 42. I wrote and delivered his eulogy (and it is BY FAR the best thing I’ve ever written) and I held the room in the face of some pretty heavy sadness. What I realised in that moment was that I wanted to keep doing this, it is just so important. Because in the face of all that sadness, there was also joy. A wonderful permission given to me by the family to CELEBRATE his life. To share his adventures, to tell his story with gusto, with passion, with heartfelt nods to all the moments that accumulated to make him, him. And I’ve never looked back.
Why do you think you’re a great funeral celebrant?
I’m a natural storyteller. My Dad will tell you I’ve been doing it since I was a little girl (I’m much better now of course). The stories I’ve always been best at writing are other people’s. Through experience I’ve come to realise that helping others find the words to share their adventures, to add the sparkle to the moments and flesh out the laughter in their lives, that’s where my talents lie. Then putting the warmth into the delivery, well that’s just the icing on the cake, extrovert plus empath, the perfect combo.
What special skills do you have for the job?
I’m an empath, it’s my superpower. And by that, I mean I’m REALLY good at feeling what others feel, without losing myself in it. I create the space for my families (whether they are a family of one or 100) to feel whatever they need to feel – whether they need a great big laugh, to cry without shame, to shout, to sing, to sit in silence… I make the place where they can. It’s almost scary how easily people feel relaxed, safe, free to share when they sit with me. I do not take it lightly. This is why I know that being a funeral celebrant is what I’m absolutely supposed to do with my life.
What’s the strangest question anyone has ever asked you about working in the death industry?
At Tomorrow we concentrate on creating ‘dignified cremations & remarkable memorials’ in one simple package, what do you think of this model as a celebrant?
As I mentioned before – I’m a storyteller. So, any model that focuses on the Memorial – the STORY! – is a winner in my book. There is so much flexibility, opportunity and total control (without the overwhelming time pressure of traditional funerals) given to families who are dealing with the loss (yes, I used the L word) of their person.
What advice would you give to a family who needs to organise a funeral?
It’s hard not to sound self-serving when I say this, but I’d actually always advise a family to choose their celebrant first. That way they will have an advocate on the journey, from the get-go. Someone who will ensure they don’t get short changed when it comes to celebrating the life of their person, someone who can tell them what’s possible, and who isn’t vested in anything other than creating a ceremony that speaks to and for them.
Why do you like working with Tomorrow?
I like working with families who want to make one final magical memory for their person. In whatever way makes the most sense for them. To make it feel like it “fits”, like, if their person could be there in the room they’d be going “yeah, this is me, nice job guys”.
What’s one thing you wish every family knew?
That there’s no rush. You have time. And you have the right to choose how, when, where and what you’d like to do when it comes to marking the death of your person. There is no one size fits all for the rest of our lives, why should we feel so pressured to accept such at the end of our lives?!
What do you get out of being a funeral celebrant?
This may sound insane – but I get joy out of doing this job. I know, weird right?! But to know that I am HELPING people when they need it most, there’s no bigger reward (to my mind anyway). Whether it’s helping them to find the words, to create the vibe, to trust themselves, or just to hold their hand for a few minutes… how can I not get joy out of that, seriously?
Which funeral are you most proud of?
My first, which I think you’ve probably figured out already. And really that’s because it was about taking a leap, which terrified me. I’m proud that the faith my friend placed in me, and that I placed in myself when I said yes, has turned into this amazing career, creating and telling the stories of such a wondrous variety of human beings.
How do you want your own funeral to play out?
My funeral will basically be one great big party. My favourite thing in the world, which I do regularly, is to get all of my favourite people together and JUST HAVE FUN. There is usually drinking involved, definitely games – music and lots and lots of laughter and conversation. So, while I’d like to think that there will be some story telling going on, I’d just genuinely like my people to have one last fabulous “Alison” party to see me off.
Have you planned your own funeral?
Short answer – Yup. Long answer – I have a book full of stuff that my people know about, which has all sorts of goodies inside, to help them when the time comes… it’s a beautiful book, and I write in it regularly.