Beth O’Brien

Beth is trained in the kind art of supporting people and their families and friends through the seasons of death and dying through soulful and meaningful conversations, rites and ceremonies.  Beth is an unusual blend of the intimacies of these personal journeys and the healing potential, coupled with a business background that understands the funeral industry and brings a diverse set of skills and knowledge to this loving endeavour.

The devastating stillbirth of Beth’s friend’s baby more than 20 years ago changed the trajectory of her career. She worked as a marriage celebrant at the time, when her friend asked her to conduct the funeral ceremony. 

Feeling not mature or experienced enough, Beth turned to a mentor who guided her through the difficult role. The moving ceremony was praised by family, friends and the funeral director, who encouraged Beth to consider expanding her career.

 At the time, celebrants were not that common with particularly funerals conducted as traditional religious ceremonies. A few years later in 2003, Beth established Australian Celebrations, a niche celebrant training organisation. While still working as a celebrant, Beth was conducting more funerals. She was becoming increasingly interested in the end of life planning, along with supporting people who were dying and their loved ones.

 For more than 20 years, Beth has been studying, researching and working with people who were facing death or experiencing loss, grief and bereavement. She is a Certified Thanatologist, holding an international accreditation with The Association for Death Education and Counselling. Beth was the first humanist hospital chaplain in Queensland (now called spiritual care team) and is a bereavement counsellor.   

Beth has always been a person able to handle other people’s grief and is passionate about teaching others to be more comfortable around death. Throughout her work, she noticed a real lack of conversation for people who were dying around death. She believes a reluctance to address “the elephant in the room” leads to higher anxiety for all involved. 

She says End of Life Planning consultants each find their niche. She says some may help clients work out wills or advance health directives.  For Beth, it’s the autobiographical work, recording a dying person’s legacy and having deep conversations that she finds the most fulfilling.

Beth believes End of Life Planning is about helping people to die peacefully and ensuring they have true quality of life until their final breath.  She says it is also about giving a dying person assurance that their family and friends are fully supported.   

Beth's Qualifications
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Funeral Celebrancy
I designed and performed my first funeral 17 years ago and since then have celebrated many services for very special people. Whilst I find all the ceremonies rewarding, there is something about sacredness of funerals that I find deeply fulfilling. I have always loved listening to stories and writing stories. So, I guess it makes sense that I can enjoy both as a ritual maker.
It always amazes me that you can meet a family for less than a week, under grieving conditions, and how they trust you to listen to them, design and perform the ceremony, for someone that means so much to them. I don’t know that there are too many opportunities in our careers to be so intimate with a new acquaintance. Performing funerals that dignify the life that was led, and support the people mourning to begin their healing, is a treasured position for me as a funeral celebrant.

When a funeral ceremony or a memorial service is underpinned with the storytelling of a life lived it has an individual and powerful presence. Listening to families voice their stories of that person, is always illuminating and often inspiring. For many years I specialised in infants’ funerals which gave me a differing insight into grief. In my work with young families I have also performed many rituals for beautiful babies that were miscarried. It has been my great honour to have these families teach me how to support other families with this need for ceremony.
I became so enthralled with the storytelling at a funeral that happens in a person’s autobiography – the eulogy – that I decided to study and become a Personal Historian. People love to hear real stories about real people, and often family and friends hear stories they never heard before about someone they love. I believe that everyone has a story and every story matters.

Life as a Teacher
Since 1982 I have been a trainer/teacher in some way. I started firstly with teaching a method of hydrotherapy to assist people with physical and/or intellectual disabilities. In the mid 80’s I began working in marketing universities and I studied my first degree in Business. During the following years I taught at colleges or universities predominantly in a part time role in business subjects.
Since 2003 I have been a curriculum designer, trainer and assessor in my own training company Australian Celebrations Training, which is a training company for marriage and funeral celebrants’ qualifications. Some of these courses offer grief and loss training, which has become my passion, so in a large way it brought me to the path I now find myself on.
When I teach/facilitate in loss and grief I feel constantly reminded of the saying “we are all teachers”. With all the wonderful experiences and knowledge, I have gained from others over the years, I feel like those thoughts and experiences when spoken with another, come from more than just myself, I feel like all those teachers have come together to assist me to work with others in their healing.

My spirituality – Humanist
I welcome anyone’s faith, culture and beliefs as their human right to enjoy. The Humanist Institute has an ethos that I find warm and succinct, “We envision a world in which every individual’s worth is respected, and human freedom and behaving responsibly are natural aspirations.”
It is difficult in a few sentences to fully explain where my thinking on this topic rests – I think it never rests when you are considering the beauty of the people and our world. I have met, studied, and loved some amazing people over the years on their own quest for “Is there a God?” and of course that is an individual endeavour for anyone to pursue. What I do know is that there are elements in life that hold mystery and magic, and it’s up to all of us to endeavour to live well with ourselves and each other, as we travel through our lives.

Humanist Chaplaincy
In 2016-2017 I served as a volunteer Humanist Spiritual Care Team member at Gold Coast University Hospital and Robina Hospital. I continue to work in a humanistic pastoral care role with people who are at the end of their life living in the community.

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