Meet the pagan chaplain encouraging people to talk about their death and funeral

On Lyn Baylis’ computer there is a document which lists exactly what she wants to happen when she passes away.

Lyn Baylis
Lyn Baylis

It means that when the inevitable takes place, her loved ones will know how she wanted them to celebrate her life.

The 72-year-old pagan chaplain, who lives in Haywards Heath, is passionate about getting people to prepare for their own death, and making them aware of all the options available when it comes to funeral arrangements.

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She is one of several speakers taking part in an online event tomorrow organised by Brighton and Hove Council as part of Dying Matters Awareness week.

‘Your funeral, your choice’ will see Lyn and other experts talk about options for non-traditional funerals and memorial events.

Lyn said having an awareness week around dying was ‘so desperately important’.

“People are frightened to talk about death – if you don’t think about it, it’s not going to happen, although we know it does,” she said.

“They don’t even think about it until it happens. When it does, you’re not in a good state to make these decisions.”

It’s something Lyn knows from personal experience.

Her son was just 26 when he tragically died after being knocked down by a car while crossing the road.

Lyn said that, while they were able to add personal touches to his funeral service – such as playing the Stars Wars March – much of it was outside of her control.

“At that time, I was really upset and worried, and it was sort of taken out of my hands,” she said.

“I wanted to make sure that other people had a chance to think about it.”

People tend to choose the first funeral director they come across, but Lyn said: “I don’t know anyone who would buy a pram or a TV without shopping around a little bit.”

Speaking to different funeral directors and finding out about different options can not only help you organise a funeral better suited to your needs, it can also bring down the price.

Lyn said: “You don’t have to have a hearse, you can have whatever you want.

“The ceremony doesn’t have to be staid, you don’t have to have the music people usually expect.

“If you want the Rocky Horror Show music – you can!”

For the last 30 years or so, Lyn has worked as a chaplain supporting people at the end of their lives at home or in a hospice – as well as at Lewes Prison and hospitals in Brighton.

She said her role was to ‘make it a peaceful environment, so they can be comfortable and they can stop being scared’.

“You build up this relationship with them, you become almost part of the family,” she said.

“You are in a very special place, a very privileged place.

“They open up their heart to you, tell you some of their secrets.”

Once the person has passed away, depending on the family’s wishes, Lyn can help to wash and annoint the body.

Families are given the chance to be involved too, and Lyn said it could be an important part of the grieving process.

As a pagan, Lyn believes death is a transformation, part of the life, death and rebirth cycle – part of the rhythm of life, like the seasons.

She said many of the people she worked with would not necessarily describe themselves as pagans. “A lot of people come to me that perhaps call themselves spiritual but not religious.”

Whatever their beliefs, Lyn helps people come up with a funeral that honours who they were, and often acts as the celebrant too.

She said some people chose to be buried at a natural burial ground, where a tree can be planted for them.

People can even be buried on their own land or in their garden, provided certain health and safety criteria are met.

At a recent funeral, the deceased person’s ashes were laid on a Viking wicker basket and set out to sea.

“I think the main thing about the work that I do, it’s important that the person is put first and the family is put first,” Lyn said.

“It’s their time, their day, their last goodbye.”

Her joy from the role comes from seeing ‘everyone work the way it should have done’.

“It’s the pleasure of feeling that you’ve done a good job,” she said. “That you’ve made everything as perfect as it can be for that family and that person.”

To attend the ‘Your funeral, your choice’ webinar tomorrow from 1pm to 2.30pm email [email protected]