DEATH is an inevitability few us care to contemplate too often, but one Swindon celebrant is encouraging people to think about the way they would like their lives to be remembered, and exactly what kind of send-off would suit them best.

Not only would this make wishes clear to loved ones, it might even help them deal better with the loss, thinks Ana Kelly.

“Properly listening to people can pave the way to funerals that can help them cope a bit better with their loss. Saying goodbye to someone you love with a beautiful service will not be able to make it all right, but it helps,” she said.

Ana, 51, from Old Town, is an independent celebrant. She had a brush with her own mortality herself this year, as she recently overcome cancer – and she lost a close friend to the illness in the summer. She also experienced the devastating loss of her son Fabian in 2004, when he was just 12 days old.

Now, in addition to her work as a celebrant, she is raising money for the Prospect Foundation and the Brighter Futures appeal by running sessions in which people can draw up their own Funeral ‘Wishlist’ – a document they can keep with the rest of their important papers.

Ana’s own life story has been full of challenge and adventure. She was the daughter of Catholic immigrants from Northern Ireland.

Her grandparents and four of their children moved to Swindon in the 1960s. Ana’s mother, Josie Kelly, was pregnant when they moved – unbeknown to her family. In fact, nobody realised till the teenager was more than eight months’ gone.

“It’s a good job we weren’t in Ireland then or she’d have been sent to one of the Magdalen convents or something similar,” Ana said. Even so, her mother was sent away – to a religious facility in Clifton, Bristol, for ‘fallen’ women and it was expected her child would be taken from her and adopted.

“A rich family living near Hilmarton had agreed to adopt me, but my grandfather relented,” Ana said. “I think he came under pressure from his other daughters, who were saying, let her come back. And England was more liberal than Ireland then.”

Ana grew up in Swindon, and was educated at St Joseph’s School. She did A levels at Swindon College, then studied English Literature at Queen Mary College in London. She qualified as a teacher and took a first teaching job at a school in Stepney, London in 1990.

“Even then it was still so run down in that area,” she recalled. “There were still places uncleared from the bombing of World War II. It was an amazing experience – the school was run by nuns. I stayed for three years.”

As she had married, Ana commuted all the way from Swindon to the school for the last year, before taking a job at New College, where she taught an undergraduate literature programme, called the Diploma of Higher Education, for mature students who had not taken the traditional path into university.

“They were so clever, so amazing,” she described.

Several years later, after the breakdown of her marriage, Ana decided to travel the world. She gained posts teaching in international schools in Venezuela and Beijing, and then in the United World College in Hong Kong.

She taught at the school for eight years, taking a sabbatical for a Master’s degree in poetry at Oxford Brookes University.

Ana wrote a dissertation called ‘In search of the father in Paul Muldoon’s poetry’. Muldoon is a Northern Irish poet, and Ana’s chosen topic proved prophetic.

“The following year I met my father for the first time,” she said. “We were put in contact with each other.”

She said the man she called Dad was her step father Maurice Lound, with whom she has a great relationship, but she decided she would meet her father, Richard Vaughan, and she travelled to Australia to see him in 2010.

“He’s a thriving quantity surveyor in Melbourne. I have two half-sisters, and we have a good relationship,” she said.

Ana had struggled for some years to have a child, before Fabian was born in 2004.

“I had miscarriages, and not great luck with relationships,” she said. Finally, it seemed her luck had turned around, and she was indeed pregnant, but Ana’s routine scan revealed her unborn child was severely undersized. She faced a devastating choice – a late termination or to continue a pregnancy which had only a 20 per cent chance of being viable.

She decided to proceed, and her son did indeed grow more strongly than expected. He was born by Caesarean section.

“I knew it was touch and go, but I really felt we had run clear of any problems,” she said. “At first, he looked really well, but he took a turn for the worst. It was such a roller-coaster,” she said. Fabian died at just 12 days of age – and he was given a woodland burial, beneath a guelder rose bush, in Hampshire.

Six years later, in 2010, Ana adopted her son KJ. He was a very lively three-year-old when she became his mum, and is now 10 years old, and in year 5 at primary school.

“It was a bit of a shock getting used to waking at 5.30am every morning, when he was three, but KJ has always been the most loving, affectionate child and I feel very blessed and lucky,” Ana said. “Being that much older when I became a parent, and having travelled, it was a good time to be grounded and settled.”

Ana continued to work in education, teaching literacy skills to adults at Swindon College, and started training as a celebrant. Then in August 2016, she woke up to find a lump in her neck.

“I hadn’t been feeling great, but I put it down to being tired or stressed. My energy levels were low. Then I literally woke up with a lump in my neck.”

It turned out this lump was a secondary cancer and it took some time for medical staff to locate the original cancer – which was in her tonsils. She had her tonsils removed, and five teeth, and then radiotherapy six days a week, for six weeks, making the journey to Oxford each time for her treatment.

Coping with the arduous and gruelling treatment, and taking care of her son, Ana depended on the kindness and support of her partner Paul Spooner, her mother and her family.

“It was humbling,” she recalled. “I had always been massively independent – even in my marriage I was the one who kept and supported my partner, Now I had to accept help and support.

“It was hard to cope – I tried always to be positive.”

The treatment went on through December and January, and when Ana was at the hospital for a scan, she discovered a close friend, Kay Hurley, had also been diagnosed with cancer.

A fellow school mum, Kay lost her fight with cancer in June – leaving behind two young daughters. As a qualified celebrant, Ana helped Kay to plan her own funeral.

“We used her own words – there were funny moments, and sad moments,” Ana recalled. People dressed in yellow to reflect Kay’s sunny attitude to life.

Ana left her job at Swindon College last summer. Now, she is raising money for the Prospect Hospice, which supported Kay, and the Brighter Futures appeal, so other cancer patients can avoid the long journey to Oxford for treatment.

As well as funerals, Ana is a member of the Fellowship of Professional Celebrants, and does naming ceremonies, the renewal of wedding vows, and weddings, as well as funerals. She has also run sessions where people can draw up their own funeral ‘wish-list’ in exchange for a donation to Prospect and Brighter Futures – which she plans to repeat in the New Year.

For more information about Ana’s work as a celebrant, or for news of future Funeral Wishlist sessions, visit her website at