Working with diversity as a celebrant; are there still new experiences to be had? Today I’m sharing my experience of officiating a funeral for a deaf audience.
It is certainly not news but simply nature that all human beings are destined to die at some stage, sadly some sooner than others. Yet all human beings are different, not just in personality but in other ways, so it is important to be flexible in thought when you’re putting together a fitting farewell.
Today was my first experience of leading a service where 80% of the gathering was profoundly deaf. It was only when I met the family of the man who had died that I became aware of this interesting challenge. From that point, I started to learn about the way in which deaf people communicate, interact, party and socialise and it was fascinating. I was certainly overwhelmed with admiration for this group of skilled and adaptable communicators. I did some research and found that most deaf people, rather than viewing deafness negatively as a disability, embrace it as the natural part of a cultural experience which they go on to share with friends, both deaf and hearing.
My couple had originally met at a disco for deaf people and I learned that these would be arranged by the deaf community around the country and youngsters from all over the place would get up a minibus and head over there so they could socialise with one another. I was told that they could feel the vibration of the music through the speakers and indeed, in general, they often rely on floor vibrations as well as their eyes to understand what is going on around them. It was then that I realised that profoundly deaf people have never heard music. This would not have occurred to me before. In spite of that, three pieces of beautiful, evocative music were chosen as there would be some hearing people there. Also, the family had engaged the services of a signer so she would interpret the lyrics which meant people would understand the depth of meaning attributed to each piece. In practice, it was truly magical.
Insights from officiating a funeral for a deaf audience
As the service progressed to tributes written by each family member, the personal anecdotes were very popular with everyone as they tried to move past the intensity of shock, loss and grief which pervaded the chapel. I kept an eye on the interpreter at my side to ensure I didn’t talk too fast and leave her behind and this resulted in another learning point for me; the audience “heard” the punchline through the interpreter’s signs a few seconds after I had spoken it and so I quickly learned to wait to hear their acknowledgement, before moving on. It was quite astounding to realise that sign language, rather than being simply an interpretation of English, is in fact a stand alone language all of its own.
The privilege of creating a funeral service for such an amazing group showed me what it means to embrace new experiences, even at my great age. This is a welcome addition to the many reasons why I love my profession. The challenges of diversity and working with people with such different skills, characters and lives and ensuring I meet their hopes and expectations, is the ultimate reward.