Newswise — Hands-on baby boomers are involved in politics, heath care, social services, and now funeral planning. In fact, this largest segment of the population is fueling the growing" funeral celebrant" trend.

The Oklahoma-based In-Sight Institute has trained more than 1,200 Certified Funeral Celebrants. Celebrants help grieving families by working with family members to plan original funeral services that truly reflect someone's personality and lifestyle and help begin the healing process.

"Baby boomers have contributed to our society in so many ways, why not in funeral service, too? It's certainly not your grandfather's funeral anymore where you simply walk through the generic paces of a service that could be for anyone," explained In-Sight founder, grief expert and author Doug Manning. "Baby boomers want the funeral service to reflect a loved one through originality, focusing on life stories, and using their favorite music. Even the most religious believers agree that every life story makes a difference. We train all sorts of people to become Celebrants and often, they not only help strangers, they also help their own families."

Personalized funeral servicesFor Ernie de la Fe, an attorney from Miami, Florida, Celebrant training helped him to personalize funeral services close to his heart.

"When my aunt passed away, I opened a bottle of her favorite Cuban soda at the pulpit and delivered a farewell toast. Everybody knew that she drank nothing but Malta Hatuey, so when I toasted to her life with her favorite sugary drink, everyone smiled at the memories," de la Fe explained. "A few months ago, when we lost my wife's 22-year-old nephew, whose name was Danny, I couldn't think of a more appropriate time to sing 'Danny Boy' at his graveside as his coffin was lowered into the ground. That song will never be the same for any of us again. The irony of Danny's early death is that, a couple of years ago at the time his grandfather died, he and I were the co-conspirators in personalizing our family funerals. He had been the first to speak at his grandfather's graveside. He knew that personalizing a service makes a difference. Connecting with family, friends and loved ones through personal moments is a gift."

Celebrant Marion Green of Los Angeles, California, remembers each one of the services she's conducted for its individuality.

"Holly, what a beautiful name,' was how I started my first service as a Celebrant. Who knew my first service, as a Celebrant would be for a family member? I got the call that my daughter's sister-in-law, Holly, a beautiful 35-year-old woman had died suddenly. She had battled drug problems for a long time and left two children behind. Her mom was overwhelmed with grief. Religious but also a very private person, she was at a loss and didn't know what kind of service to have for Holly, who had never been a churchgoer. She did not want a church service, but wanted something personal held in her front yard. We did exactly that, fulfilling her need," Green explained. "Trellises covered with ivy created a high border and cordoned off the yard so the service was out of view. Folding chairs were set up on the driveway and attendees sat down to a medley of Beatles music, songs that were becoming popular when Holly was born. People came casually dressed, and sat in the warm sun as stories were shared about Holly. The service was conducted in the same driveway that Holly had walked on her way to school as a child."

What happened next was completely unexpected as Holly's love of animals, her work at a zoo, and stories emerged as to how she helped cure sick or injured animals.

"The stories abounded, stories of her love of horses, cats, dogs, hamsters and birds. While I stood at the podium sharing these wonderful stories, out of my vision and above my head, a squirrel landed on the telephone wires. He sat there for a while, looked at everyone, and skittered away," Green said smiling. "Following the service, folks came up to me and told me how the squirrel sitting there, looking at them, was Holly's way of letting them know she was there in spirit. It was the most awesome experience. Holly's mom hugged me and thanked me for doing exactly the type of service that fit her needs. This confirmed my decision to become a Celebrant for other families. I wanted to help people at the most difficult time in their lives and help them design and plan the kind of service that best suited their loved one and honored their life."

Life stories told in funeralsCelebrant Ruthann Disotell of Clinton, New Jersey, has helped many families personalize a service with elements that come from life stories. "Amid an audience of truckers and bikers, the soundtrack of 'Disco Duck,' and 'Convoy,' was all too fitting," Disotell said. "At another service, as the family was seated at graveside, the daughter gasped. The traditional setting of a Jewish burial site had been changed. A wooden snow sled was propped on the mound of dirt by the open grave; reminding the daughter of a story she relayed about a wonderful time sledding with her Dad as a child. 'THAT is so perfect,' she whispered to me."

Families want to put their own stamp on a service."I was delightfully surprised when the daughters came with petite sunflowers in water vials for each guest, to honor their Mom's love of gardening. I returned the surprise when I offered everyone a stick of gum that could always be found in Mom's purse. Dad had worked for Wrigley," Disotell added. "Celebrant services are so different from traditional funerals because they change the focus from remembering the painful way someone died to remembering the wonderful life they lived."

Celebrant Kathy Burns of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, chooses a theme for a tribute based upon someone's life story. "For a woman who loved ballroom dancing, she had an entire closet for her ballroom dresses. During the service, we shared stories about the grandchildren who would spend the night at her home and they'd dress up in her clothes. They'd have to pin them up for the grandkids to wear them," Burns said.

"When I did a service for a doctor who spent a lot of time working at Native American clinics, we used Indian poetry on the memorial folder and in the service. It represented his story because he had great respect for Native Americans through his work," she said.

Moments that transform into ceremony happen spontaneously at Celebrant services. Celebrant Curtis Benjamin of Green Bay, Wisconsin, has seen those moments firsthand. "One of the most interesting services I conducted happened when the cremated remains were being entombed. A recording of 'Goodbye,' by Alabama was playing the entire time. As if orchestrated, which it wasn't, the family members one by one touched the front of the mausoleum crypt after it was sealed," Benjamin said.

Baby boomers are influencing the world as In-Sight Celebrants have been trained across the United States, Canada, England and New Zealand. For a variety of age groups, the Celebrant movement is focused on families getting involved.

Celebrant Ceri Peacey of Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, was led to this new career option after the death of her sister. "Losing my sister to cancer changed the direction of my life. It made me realize the importance of a personalized tribute. I was put in charge of her service, but we worked on it as a family. "At the close of my sister's celebration of life," Peacey said, one woman quipped, 'Can I book you in advance for my funeral?' This was a comment that put me on the path to become a funeral celebrant to help other families."