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Book Review: A Thousand Goodbyes (The Surprising Life of a Funeral Celebrant) by Ruth Graham

In her joyously life-affirming memoir, Ruth Graham shares what she learned about life and loss after presiding at over 1,000 funerals.

The cover of the book is turquoise with flowers
Image provided by author. Contains affiliate link.

My Review:

I am a huge fan of memoirs. I enjoy reading other people’s stories and have also written a memoir of my own. I’m especially interested in the lives of people who have unique jobs. Since I enjoy memoirs so much, I was pleased when I was offered a free copy of Ruth Graham’s A Thousand Goodbyes: The Surprising Life of a Funeral Celebrant in exchange for an honest review.

Before I received a copy of this book, I had no idea that people across the pond could make a living as a “celebrant.” According to the author, being a celebrant is a secular career in which members of the laity create personalized services to mark important events, especially weddings and funerals. Since my own personal faith tradition does not view weddings or funerals as sacraments, I have no problem with this. I also understand that the church has sadly hurt and alienated many people throughout our long history. Therefore, I can see why there is sometimes a need for nonreligious celebrations to commemorate special occasions.

In her book, Ruth Graham details the many lessons she learned while presiding at over 1,000 memorial services. Although Ruth Graham is not a member of the clergy, I think there is a great deal that both laity and clergy can learn from her quirky and heartfelt book. She writes that she became a celebrant after enduring a painful and insensitive funeral during which the memory of her friend was not properly honored. Graham came to the career of celebrant because she desired to help others deal with grief in a healthy way.

I enjoyed hearing about all of the colorful families she met during her experiences as a celebrant. Everyone processes grief differently and Graham provides numerous stories to illustrate just how unique the grieving process can be for every individual. She writes in style that is humorous but still remains sensitive to the delicate subject matter.

I learned a great deal about funeral practices in the UK. For example, I didn’t realize cremations were so common or that memorial services are often held at the crematorium. I laughed at loud at some of her amusing anecdotes and I also cringed at her many mishaps. Anyone who has stepped behind a pulpit can empathize with an inopportune slip of the tongue or a visit gone awry!

Graham encourages her readers to view death as a natural part of life. She shares her behind the scenes knowledge to help make dealing with death more approachable. She also offers the helpful insight that people should take time to discuss their end of life plans with their family in advance so that grieving families don’t need to make difficult (and often expensive) decisions while they are mourning.

A Thousand Goodbyes is a touching book about how to die– but also how to live. I highly recommend this book for fans of Caitlin Doughty and memoirs.

Thank you to Rachel from Rachel’s Random Resources for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

More about the book from the back cover:

If you liked Adam Kay’s book, ‘This Is Going To Hurt’, you’ll love the joyously life-affirming memoir, ‘A Thousand Goodbyes’. 

When Ruth Graham left the world of stand-up comedy to become a funeral celebrant, she’d imagined a less combative career.  
Over a thousand services later … she knows better.
Probably her most demanding role to date, Ruth has needed every ounce of diplomacy, courage, humour and her wits about her to juggle the daily challenges. From grief-stricken families to amorous widowers through to plate-smashing, warring siblings and even a flock of stoned doves at a Rasta funeral. 

As the story unfolds we witness her new career developing into a 24/7 commitment. Will it break her? Or will it be the spur she needs to get her own life in order?
Jaw-dropping, informative, moving and hilarious in turn, ‘A Thousand Goodbyes’ is a reminder that nobody is guaranteed a tomorrow; whilst encouraging everyone to seize their day. 

Get Your Copy

If you’re a reader from the UK, you can get your copy HERE

About the Author

the author has blonde hair. She smiles at th camera with a large friendly grin
Ruth Graham

Ruth Graham has written for many publications over the years on a variety of subjects.

Initially working for Emap Elan on Period Living and Traditional Homes magazine, she then moved on to freelance for titles as varied as The Evening Standard and The Daily Mail.

A move back to the Midlands in 2000 brought her first big break with her own weekly gossip/opinion column in The Sunday Mercury (Trinity Mirror), where she was billed as ‘Ruth Graham: More Balls Than Your Average Bloke’!

She then went on to launch her own magazine ‘Midlands Homes & Interiors’.

Two years later (2007), came her first series of short comedy books, ‘The Bible Series’ (Know The Score Publishing). One of these ‘The Break Up Bible’ was cunningly launched on Valentine’s day, gaining great publicity, and a spot on GMTV and Channel 5 news!

Since then Ruth has written and performed her own one-woman show (Just Sayin’); become a celebrant; and subsequently collaborated with writer/performer Cat Weatherill on the British Arts Council funded show ‘Unforgettable’ – celebrating the lives of those we’ve loved and lost.

And then came the book ‘A Thousand Goodbyes’ – all about Ruth’s work as a celebrant, the people she meets and the bizarre, touching and hilarious circumstances that constitute the average day, and life, of a celebrant.

Connect with Ruth Graham:

Twitter         @CelebrantRuthG

Celebrant Website:

Logo is a small green owl that says Rev. Rebecca Writes

If you enjoy books about people with unique careers, I also recommend…

Memoirs of a Karate Fighter– a fascinating look at what it was like to be part of the martial arts world in the 1980s

Erin Kelly’s memoir of strength and beauty about being a woman with a disability

And you can also check on my own personal story in Hope for the Broken: Using Writing to Find God’s Grace!

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