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A Humanist Funeral

Length - 11:02
Published - Nov 2022
Keystage(s) - 3 and 4

The Humanists UK organisation helped us get access to a very special woman, Cathy, who agreed to be filmed for an interview about her life and her impending death due to a terminal illness. Cathy is a big character who had a lot to say, as she planned for her own funeral and discussed why she identified with Humanism. After she passed away, we edited together her interview and funeral to make what is a rare and very touching film that goes beyond teaching non-religious world views: it’s about grief, love and helping others.

A film by Alastair Collinson.

Humanists UK

Component 2: Thematic studies - Religious, philosophical and ethical studies - Students should be aware of different religious perspectives on the issues studied within and / or between religious and non-religious beliefs such as atheism and humanism.

Area of Study 1 - The aims and objectives of this qualification are to enable students to: ● develop their knowledge and understanding of religions and non-religious beliefs, such as atheism and humanism

Component Group 2–Religion, philosophy and ethics in the modern world from a religious perspective - dialogue within and between religions and non-religious beliefs; how those with religious and non-religious beliefs respond to critiques of their beliefs including the study of a range of attitudes towards those with different religious views – inclusivist, exclusivist and pluralist approaches.

PART B - Theme 1: Issues of Life and Death - Learners are expected to make relevant references to scripture and other sources of authority as well as the beliefs of Humanists and Atheists.

2.3 Component 3 (Route A) - The compulsory nature of this component ensures that learners know and understand the fact that the religious traditions of Great Britain whilst being, in the main, Christian are also diverse and include the following religious traditions as well as other religious and non-religious beliefs such as humanism and atheism. This knowledge may be applied throughout the assessment of the specified content.


A Humanist Funeral Transcript

Narrator:  Humanists are people who don't believe that there is a God or life after death, but they do believe that it is possible to live good lives without a religion, telling them how to do it. Cathy was a humanist. Humanists make their decisions based on science, kindness, a concern for all human beings and the belief we only get one life. This combination of attitudes is called humanism. Knowing her life would soon end. Cathy began planning her humanist funeral and agreed to discuss it on camera at her home in Wales.


Catherine:       I'm Catherine Ellen Hawkesbury Weston, now Catherine Simons. I love the name, although I didn't like being a Welsh girl because I couldn't say anything in Welsh and I like to talk. I've been living here now, I would say 61 years. Um. And I couldn't imagine living anywhere else. My mother reckoned she was a good Christian. Um, Methodist. I had to go to Sunday school every week, whether I wanted to or not. And I couldn't have cared less. I really didn't want to be there. I'd like to believe there was something. But I don't think we ever come back. And I don't think I would like to come back, actually. And as long as I'm buried in the garden, I don't care.


Narrator:   Cathy died on May 24th, 2022. Her funeral took place at a chapel a month later. Kathy wanted a humanist funeral, which can look very much like a religious funeral, but there are no prayers and no mention of God or a life after death. It's a celebration of someone's life and the contribution they've made to the world. It's a way for friends and family to say goodbye, and the ceremony can take many forms.


Simon:     Welcome, everybody. We gathered here today to pay tribute to the life of Kathy Ellen Simmons. Along the way with every experience and every action, every reaction. With every single thought and emotion, we develop qualities that make us both memorable and unique. And it is that uniqueness, that separateness from others, which is the source of sorrow in bereavement. So if we searched the whole world over, we won't find another quite like Kathy. Her actions and her beliefs reflected the very best of being human. And from our conversations, I've distilled just a few of her thoughts, and it's in keeping with Kathy's very clearly expressed wishes. Her funeral will not be religious for those I have not met. My name is Simon Dinwiddie. I'm a celebrant with humanists UK, and I had the privilege of meeting Kathy for the first time in 2020. Now, being a very pragmatic woman, she wanted to discuss a plan for her own funeral ceremony. That was the first of several meetings, both in person and by telephone, for I'm sure you can all appreciate. Cathy had quite a tale to share.


Catherine:       I realized that religion wasn't really my thing, I wasn't interested in it, and I thought it was more important to be kind to people and just help them if I could. I wanted to be a nurse or was wanted. I never had a doll that was healthy. It would always say, I went for an interview there. You already said you've passed what you want to go in Army, Navy or Air Force? I didn't know they had them in the Army, in the Navy and the Air Force. So I said, I want to be an Army nurse. I could see the uniform, you know. So he said, well, you're in. You're going in a fortnight. Oh my God, what am I going to do? Um, and the very first day I was wearing my uniform and I thought I was chocolate. Oh, I got a hat on. Right. Um, I went down to Cambridge Military Hospital, and there was a brick parade square in front of us and the cookhouse down there. And here's this six foot three, uh, boy with red hair in uniform, marching up and down. And I said, hey, look at that to my mate. He's nice and nice, and he's got red hair. I'm going to marry him one day. She said, you are off your head. I said, we'll see. We'll see. And three years later I did. I think he was more of a believer than me, but it didn't matter that much. You know, it wasn't his life. He passed away and I can feel his goodness. And I want to. I want to capture that.


Simon:     Cathy loves to sing. His wonderful voice serenaded her with renditions from Mario Lanza. So let us take a few seconds or a few moments while we listen to our Maria.


Catherine:       Listen to him sing. Oh God, it made the world go round, you know it's. It was something special. It was just him and I, and it was just wonderful. I've never felt like that with anybody else. I would love people to play this music at my funeral. It meant so much for me. Um, I was jealous because I couldn't sing, but oh, boy, did I enjoy listening to him singing.


Simon:     So the opportunity to introduce her to two film makers. They've been making various films about various belief systems. And back in October 21st, Cathy very kindly agreed to talk to them on camera about her life and humanism. She was sharing memories from her long and adventurous life, including a career and that amazing bucket list of Spitfires, snakes and driving a blood red Ferrari. Now. Cathy loved the idea of sharing a few select clips from her interview with you today. So we should listen to a little bit more of her story.


Catherine: I think the first time I heard about humanism, I met this lady through another friend and I went to see her, and I think I can't be accurate about this. She was a humanist, but she looked in my eyes and I felt. Hang on. That's a little bit the way I feel. Being a humanist makes me feel good. Worthwhile, useful and kind. I think it made me feel. More sensitive to other people's needs. Not just mine. But other people have feelings. And perhaps you can help them in one way or another. I only wanted boys and I only wanted ginger haired boys for us. And it was really funny, actually, because I started having treatment in London and they were determined to get me pregnant and he failed. Um, and that, I suppose, was one of the biggest disappointments in our lives. But we decided the guide dogs would help a lot of people and the forces, because we've been so happy in the forces. And I'm not kidding you. The fun and games I've had with help for heroes, the guide dog puppies, the children with cancer. I love it, absolutely love it. I got an answer only about six months a year ago. Um, the guy that I used to go to in London said to me, Cath, do you know we know why you couldn't have babies? So I said, go on, tell me then. So he said, it's the pancreas. I take over 100 tablets every day to keep me going. I don't want a load of flowers bought for me. I don't want to a fancy this, that and the other. I don't want a meal afterwards. Good God didn't go and get chips down the road. And I just want my ashes to go where I've spent a lot of hours where I used to love being with Terry. He had a beautiful garden. Honestly, um. And where I had a lot of happy times. And it's just nice to know that we'll be together again. You know, if tomorrow's the day. Tomorrow's the day. Um. I've had a good life. I've done a lot of wonderful things. I've met some amazing people. When you think of the beautiful things, we've got to see the places we can go, the people we can meet. Aren't we lucky? We really are lucky. And I love people and I love being with animals. And it's just. Aren't I the luckiest girl in the world? I think so.


Simon:     I think Kathy's message could be summed up in one sentence. Now we've got one life living to the full and seek joy in every day. Ladies, gentlemen, if you're able. Would you please stand for the last post.


Narrator:  The last post is a bugle or trumpet call that is played at funerals for people with a connection to the military. Ah. After the funeral, Cathy was cremated at the chapel. Her ashes were scattered in her garden beside the ashes of her husband, Terry.


Simon:     Yeah, well, that absolutely was perfect for her. So the main thing about a humanist funeral is that they are as unique as the individual who chooses. They're a unique estate, a family that wants to respect the life and reflect upon the life of the person they've lost. And so there is no formula for a humanist ceremony other than we celebrate the life we recognize. It's a good life.


Catherine:       I really would like to be remembered as somebody sensitive, caring and loving. That's all.