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Helping relatives


love, honour and give thanks


Sally Ward was among the first people in the UK to become an independent funeral celebrant. Here she explains what the job involves and how she works alongside the relatives and friends of the deceased to create a funeral which honours, gives thanks for and celebrates the life of the person who has died.


M


y name is Sally Ward and I am an independent celebrant. A what??? My father died in the brilliant Ashgate Hospice in Chesterfield


in 2009. At the time I believe he held the rather dubious honour of being their longest staying patient. They are an exceptional team – full of compassion and honesty. Dad knew exactly why he was there telling me ‘Sally, I’m not coming out of here – well not in the conventional way!’ After his death I asked mum if I might


organise his funeral. He was definitely a character and I wanted to reflect that. At the


end of his service, many people told me it was the best funeral service they had ever been to. Indeed, they told me they had enjoyed it. I felt I had done my dad proud – I’d told his unique story – and people had laughed, smiled and cried. My mum loved it. So, the seed of an idea was sown. I would


become a celebrant. Back than no one I spoke to really knew what it meant, in fact ‘you are celibate?’ was one of the more memorable comments I received. In 2009 just 15% of funerals were conducted


by a celebrant. In just four years that figure has leapt to an astonishing 35%. Relatives are realising that they have a choice and they are choosing well-trained celebrants. When I made the decision to train to


be a celebrant I had been working as a registrar in Derbyshire for almost 15 years and had conducted thousands of services: marriages, civil partnerships, baby namings and vows renewals. I also worked closely with


PHOTO: Sally’s husband – the actor and songwriter John Tams


48 Farewell Magazine


my husband – the actor and songwriter John Tams, who played Daniel Hagman in the ITV Sharpe series. He also wrote the songs for WarHorse, which is still playing in the West End and on tour in the UK. Together we had adapted WarHorse for the concert stage and also for BBC Radio 2, a production which starred Timothy Spall, Bob Hoskins and Brenda Blethyn.


Although I was busy working with John I felt


confident that I could become a celebrant and fit my other responsibilities around my new role. I researched the training and found the


Fellowship of Professional Celebrants. I was used to public speaking and writing but valued the guidance and support I received, and still receive, from them. I took my first


booking for a


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