New celebrant helps families say goodbye to the dead

Celebrant Ann LeClair in her office. Cathy Dobson

Ann LeClair is deeply concerned that Western society is opting out of giving the dead a formal send-off.

While other cultures have deep-seated rituals and traditions surrounding death, North Americans are moving away from that, she says.

“We forget that if we don’t say goodbye with even a simple service, the healing process can’t start. We need to acknowledge the new reality in order to move forward.”

LeClair says a growing number of families don’t want formal visitation, funerals or burial services. Which is one reason she became a certified celebrant, qualified to conduct short, non-denominational, non-religious services that focus on the deceased’s life.

“A celebrant captures the essence of the person. I celebrate their story and help their family put a service together,” she said. “I always like to say it’s not just about the final page. It’s about the whole book.”

Earlier this year, LeClair became one of only three celebrants she’s aware of in Sarnia-Lambton.

Long-time local celebrant Allan McKeown heard LeClair give a eulogy at her sister-in-law’s service and asked if she’d considered becoming one herself.

“Then my husband suggested I pursue it. He said I’m comfortable talking to people and I’d get a lot of satisfaction from helping families,” said LeClair, a married mother of three grown children and grandmother of three.

In 2013, she retired from the Lambton Kent District School Board after 25 years. Last fall, LeClair completed a course offered in London by the Certified Celebrants of Canada and conducted her first service in January.

She has been hired as a celebrant by 23 families this year, charging $200 to $300 per service.

Most families prefer to use a funeral home, but LeClair is willing to conduct a service just about anywhere including the family house or graveside.

To prepare, she meets with family members for 1.5 to 3 hours to learn about the deceased and find out how they impacted the lives of their loved ones.

“I ask a lot of questions, right down to their favourite TV shows,” she said. “That way I can get a sense of who they were.”

There’s no wrong way to construct a service, LeClair added.

“It’s all about the farewell. I encourage family members to speak if they want, we can light a candle, play their favourite music, place flowers or bring in some personal belongings to display.”

A pilot’s family brought his model airplane to the service. A veteran’s family brought his military medals. One family opted to display some favourite beer steins.

On occasion, a family will request a prayer, hymn or other religious element, and LeClair will provide that too.

“I always have a moment of silence, and I really like a stone service at the graveside, when family members hold rocks in their hands and lay them on the coffin as they say goodbye.”

Cremation has surpassed burials with a casket, LeClair said. And many don’t hold graveside services anymore, although she’s available to conduct them.

“I have a passion for this. I believe everybody’s life needs to be honoured in some way,” she said.

Families can contact LeClair at 226-886-2335. She also encourages anyone who wants to pre-arrange his or her own service to contact her.

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