Celebrating Life… with Karen Chandler


“I do many jobs, all linked by a desire to make sure people are really heard. And I do those in Pembrokeshire, my adopted county.

“I moved to Pembrokeshire 31 years ago – so I’ve just passed the point where I’ve lived here for more than half my life. Still an incomer, obviously, although the fact that even the sight of Sir Tom Jones makes me cry, and mispronunciations of Cymru drive me scatty means I’ve gone a bit native.

“I love my adopted county. I brought my children up here as Welsh speakers, and revelled in the freedom and safety they had – a very Enid Blyton childhood.

“But for me, more than the privilege of living next to the sea and the wild places I can take my dog where we don’t see a soul for hours, it’s the community that keeps me here. I’m a city gal, born and brought up in London, of Belfast origin. But from the moment we moved here, I found community.

“A group of like-minded mums to support and co-parent our children? Check. The need for a youth theatre as they grew? We started one. So much in the world of community arts… never making me rich (as if) but growing a passion I never knew I had.

“As my children grew and left for London (explaining it to me slowly and carefully as though I’d never set foot there), I began to make plans to go back. But when the worst things imaginable hit me, I really discovered what living in this community meant. The deep comfort of people knowing and grieving with me. Quiet support. Little gestures. A safe place. That’s what (North) Pembrokeshire means to me and what I hope to continue in my work as a celebrant. Yes, that’s my work, at least part of it.

“I received an email from a funeral celebrant yesterday, the celebrant who had magnificently ‘held’ my son’s funeral 10 years ago. I had contacted her, telling her that I had now trained to be a funeral celebrant myself, and thanking her for being my inspiration. She commended my ‘resilience and tenacity in spending time working with grief and death’.

“It’s very kind of her, but maybe not how I see it. A civil funeral celebrant spends time with a bereaved family, learning all about their loved one, their little quirks and obsessions, their achievements and disappointments. Their whole journey, each one unique. How brilliant is that? What a privilege to get to know someone, albeit so briefly, and then to tell their story. That’s why I love this new role so much.

“When I applied to train, I was told you needed three things: to be able to write, to be a good listener, and to be a confident public speaker.

“I’m one of those odd people who actively loves talking in public, no matter the size of the audience. I absolutely can’t act – second sword bearer – 1978; had just one job: bearing a sword; she dropped it… but I love to tell a story.

“We’ve all been to awful funerals, where it’s clear there’s a ‘cut and paste’ service. Or where god is too present – or indeed not present enough for someone of faith. My hope is that I can craft a funeral that truly reflects the person who has died, with music, words, song – and even laughter. A real celebration.

“My own religious beliefs or lack of them don’t matter – this is about the individual and their closest ones. Unlike humanist celebrants, I’ve got no problem including prayers and hymns. But equally, Terry Pratchett and Peter Kay have made recent appearances.

“I’m never going to make my fortune as a celebrant – and it’s certainly not an easy role to ‘market’ (although I was recently ‘booked’ in the cheese aisle of the Co-op by someone very much still alive) but I very much hope that I can continue celebrating extraordinary lives and  extraordinary stories.”

Contact: Karenchandlercelebrant@gmail.com

Kitty Parsons

Kitty has forgotten how long she has been here now but she loves Pembrokeshire for its beauty and it's people. She spends her time searching out stories for pembrokeshire.online, swimming in the sea , drawing and painting as Snorkelfish and eating cake. She says "Pembrokeshire.online has been an opportunity to celebrate this beautiful county and its people. Keep the stories coming. We love to hear from you."

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