Home » Emily’s Journey to Celebrant

Emily’s Journey to Celebrant

Hi everyone! I’m Emily Karp, a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant® and experienced video editor, and I would love to assist you in honoring the life of someone you loved. I am based in the Maryland/Northern Virginia/Washington DC area.

I know what it’s like to go through devastating and traumatic losses as a nonreligious person who doesn’t believe I’ll be reunited with the person one day, nor that the person is in an afterlife.

I have been identifying as an atheist since I was 20 years old. I was raised Catholic (due to my mom’s side of the family being Catholic). My dad’s side of the family is Jewish. Today, many people in my extended family are agnostic or atheists.

Image of Emily Karp, a while woman with light brown curly hair wearing a dress that's navy blue with many hot pink flowers on the top part of the dress and they fade as they go down the dress to less and less hot pink flowers over top of the blue. She stands in front of Green bushes with pink flowers on them, while she holds a binder and reads aloud from it to an unseen audience.

Fairly early into my journey into secular communities and nonreligious spaces, I learned about Secular Celebrants as professionals who one could hire to perform weddings, funerals, baby naming, and coming of age ceremonies, all without needing to be tied to a religion. From the moment I learned of their existence, I was sure a Secular Celebrant would be who I’d hire for significant life events in my future. I was captivated by the idea of how ceremony can be powerful and meaningful, and entirely secular. It made perfect sense.

A Religion check box list, with empty boxes beside Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and Other, and then a check written into the box beside Atheist.

When I was 23 years old, I was there when a beloved uncle of mine died by suicide, and I began a journey of more fully understanding the nature of bereavement and the grief process. I’d been to three services for others who passed away, but my uncle’s death was the first loss I needed to mourn on an extremely deep level, and I was fortunate to be granted the opportunity to speak at my uncle’s funeral and share my pain with a community of family and others who cared so deeply about this man.

I then experienced three other significant losses before age 30.

At the end of 2016, I experienced the death of my grandmother with whom I lived for part of my childhood and who was a significant adult who helped raise me.

A cartoon graphic of a blue sky with grey rain clouds and grey rain drops

One year later, in 2017, a colleague who was a close friend of mine who co-hosted a podcast alongside me perpetrated a murder-suicide. He murdered his wife before killing himself, leaving his three young daughters orphans, and also leaving behind a son from a previous marriage who is my age.

I joined multiple online grief support spaces. I heard perspectives from many non-religious individuals. These were people who found funerals for their loved ones far too often put way too much focus on religion and God. Many people found it alienating to listen to an officiant assume the idea of an afterlife is comforting to all in attendance, or to be given sympathy notes from friends that invalidate their worldview rather than meeting them where they are at. My years in these spaces provided insights into what actually is comforting to nonreligious people comparatively, and what they yearned the funerals would’ve been like instead.

At the start of 2020, my abusive mother whom I’d been estranged from for 12 years, died following a heart attack. I’d processed a lot of my grief for my mom while she was still alive, but her death brought new emotions to the forefront as well. I felt grateful to have video editing skills already and the ability to edit a memorial slideshow of my mom for all the friends and family in her life, in order to help them see a fuller picture of my mom’s life. I felt a duty and responsibility to host a small memorial gathering for the people who needed more closure and a space for sharing the mourning among others who also knew her. Attendees were grateful for the powerful experience of this gathering and the stories and poems shared.

Not long after that, in the midst of the pandemic, I began looking for a career change. I realized I’d love so much to use my video editing experience towards edit memorial slideshows for others, but also that being a Funeral Celebrant would be the most fulfilling career I could imagine for myself. Many end of life ceremonies don’t center celebrating the life of the person who has died the way most of us crave these ceremonies would, and don’t give the attendees guidance on carrying their grief forward with them after the event concludes.

I started the process of launching this business and trained in a 20-week intensive program at the Celebrant Foundation & Institute to become certified as a Life-Cycle Celebrant®, and specifically in my case as a Funeral Celebrant, learning how to write eulogies that are full “Soul Sketches” and capture the essence of who the person was, as well as learning how to create a powerful emotional arc to this kind of ceremony, and create rituals and highlight symbols specific to who the person was.

Graduation cap sitting a top a pile of books, and a piece of paper, presumably a certificate of some kind, rolled with a ribbon around it on the books too.

I am committed to honoring people’s life stories authentically and powerfully.

If you hire me as your celebrant, I’m committed to painting a picture of who your loved one was and of what carrying this grief forward with you may look like. People may be reminded of just how deeply this loss hurt near the start of the ceremony, and by the end, they will begin to see a little bit of hope in sight that they may be able to integrate this loss into themselves and their own life story one day.

If the only service of mine you need is editing the memorial slideshow for you, I will keep in mind the experiences of the many different types of people watching it and try to make it the most positive experience it can be to watch it, a reminder of so many good times and memories, and an introduction to sides of the person that some people may not have known. The music, pacing, and visual effects can go a long way towards those goals.