Personalized Unique Ceremonies, Funeral Celebrant

Donna Henes, Certified Funeral Celebrant



More and more families today are looking for ways to personalize funerals and memorial services so that they better reflect the life of their loved one. Sadly, all too often, traditional funerals are cookie cutter affairs — generic and impersonal — reflecting neither the values nor the beliefs of the person who has died. 

As an experienced nondenominational ritualist and Certified Funeral Celebrant (by the In-Sight Institute, sponsored by the New York State Funeral Director’s Association), I offer customized creative, sensitive, spirited end-of-life ceremonies. All services are designed specifically to suit the individual needs of each family and are planned in collaboration with the near and dear of the deceased. 

My mission is twofold: 

To honor the life of your loved one in a meaningful manner that respects his or her beliefs, reflects his or her personality and circumstances, and celebrates the significance of the relationship that you shared. 

To offer comfort, consolation and grief support to those relatives, friends, colleagues and communities who mourn their loss.

I would be honored to work with you in your time of need.

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Fees vary depending upon the complexity of the ritual, supplies required, location, and number of attendees.

Please contact me by email or call 718-857-1343 to discuss your ceremonial needs.

Thank you for issuing such a beautiful and thoughtful eulogy for our son. We'll always be grateful for your services. We also greatly appreciate your kindness and support during this difficult time in our lives. Peace and Love
— Manny & Theresa, Ozone Park, NY

Families who work with Donna at the end of a loved one's life are so blessed. Her presence and her ceremonies turn a death into an event that is light-infused and healing.
— Amy Cunningham, Director Fitting Tribute Funeral Services




  • Funerals 
  • Memorials 
  • Life tributes 
  • Interments 
  • Cremations 
  • Ash Scatterings 
  • Commemorations 
  • Dedications 
  • Pet Farewells
  • Last Rites Release Rituals
  • Grief Support
  • Death Anniversary Rituals

How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?

- Stanley Kunitz



What is a Certified Funeral Celebrant?

  • I have been certified to conduct funerals by the In-Sight Institute, sponsored by the New York State Funeral Directors Association. Celebrants are specially trained and certified alternative ceremonial leaders. We are experts in creating end-of-life rituals, which are crafted and performed with reverence and eloquence. 
  • Celebrants design funeral ceremonies that are created around the life and personality of the deceased rather than a traditional liturgical format. We are an excellent choice for those who want to honor the life of a deceased loved one through a participatory end-of-life ritual that is deeply moving, comforting and meaningful for the bereaved. 
  • Celebrants are skilled facilitators, attentive and sensitive interviewers, expressive writers, professional public speakers, loss and grief counselors and ritual officiants.

Who would benefit from a service created and led by a Celebrant?

  • A celebrant like myself is most often called upon by those families who are not affiliated with a religious institution; or would prefer not to have a religious funeral; or whose members are from different religious, cultural and spiritual traditions. 
  • Those who consider themselves spiritual, but not religious.
  • Those with personally defined spiritual practices who want rituals that are individualized, unconventional and include participation of family and friends. 
  • Those who want ceremonies in nontraditional venues. 
  • Those who might wish to pre-plan their own memorial service.

What can I expect from working with you?

  • I will schedule a meeting with you during which I will encourage family and friends to share memories, stories and pictures, which will help me to accurately capture the essence of the person who has died. 
  • Together we will explore ways of making the service as meaningful and as personalized as possible. All ideas and input are encouraged. This is your customized ceremony. 
  • Once all of the elements of the service are discussed and decided upon, I will write the tribute and design the service, which will include any desired ritual, music and/or readings, as well as the participation of whomever the family chooses. 
  • During the event, I will facilitate and guide the proceedings, make any necessary announcements, and lead those in attendance through any rituals within the ceremony.

Why is it important to have an end-of-life service?

  • Every life is precious and deserves a fitting tribute.
  • An end-of-life ceremony provides permission to grieve and a supportive atmosphere in which to do so. It presents an opportunity for those who mourn to share in your loss and express your love, respect and sorrow.
  • Participation by family and friends in the funeral or memorial service helps you to move through the early days of bereavement with a sense of purpose. 
  • A funeral offers much needed closure and release. It permits the bereaved to face openly and realistically the difficult truth of death and helps you to take the first step toward emotional adjustment to your loss.

What are the different types of end-of-life services and what is the difference between them?

  • I have been conducting all sorts of end-of-life services for more than 20 years. There is a wide range of possible ceremonies which include, but are not limited to funerals, interments, cremations, ash scatterings, memorials, life tributes, commemorations, dedications and pet farewells. 
  • A funeral takes place soon after death. It is most common for the body or cremains to be present. Options for funerals include ceremonies at a funeral home, at the graveside, in the crematorium, at the cemetery crypt or columbarium, at a green burial site or at any other desired location, including at home. 
  • A memorial service or life tribute can take place at any time following the disposal of the remains. Memorials are often preferred, as they allow for the gathering of far-flung family members and friends. A memorial also allows time to plan for a more elaborate ceremony.
  • Funerals and memorials are not mutually exclusive. It is common to have a funeral following the death, and then some time later hold a memorial service or life tribute.

What are the benefits of pre-planning an end-of-life ceremony?

  • Facing the end of life can be daunting, so it is helpful to talk to an experienced professional who can help you and your family research your options and make well-informed decisions. 
  • You will be able to dictate exactly what sort of arrangements you want and will enable you to make your wishes known in advance. This is very empowering. 
  • You will feel secure knowing that your surviving family members will have less to worry about in the event of your death and that your wishes will be honored.

Do you offer any services to the dying and their families?

Yes. I am available to perform a Last Rites Release Ritual at your home or at a hospital or hospice. These individualized ceremonies are designed to faciltate a peaceful transition for your loved one, and a comforting farewell for you.

What is the cost?

  • My Celebrant fee ranges from $500-$800 depending upon the complexity of the ceremony, the distance to travel and the extra add-ons desired by the family. 
  • My consulting and counseling fee is $150/per hour.


Mama Donna's rituals transcend all cultures and beliefs, which is important for us as a non-sectarian cemetery whose gates are open to all. There has been a dramatic improvement in the work environment since she has been performing rituals here. Employees as well as the visitors participate in Mama Donna's ceremonies and are transformed by the experience. We come to the cemetery spiritually and emotionally depleted from the rigors of the secular world. Mama Donna's captivating presence, with her spellbinding stories, inspiring indigenous cultural traditions, and humorous adaptations sets us at ease. We depart Maple Grove feeling reinvigorated, spiritually nourished, and loved.

— Linda Mayo-Perez, President/CEO
Maple Grove Cemetery, NY

Wanted to let you know that Pacino passed on this evening in my arms. I am so glad he was blessed by you. Your blessings were his final rites before his flight from this beautiful Earth. He lived such a beautiful life and we are very grateful that he chose to spend his time here with us. Blessings to you.
— Claudine, Brooklyn, NY

Thanks, dear Donna, for making the ceremony for Judith's life so memorable. Your description of Judy's unique personality, her sense of humor, her wit, her compassion, her optimism, moved me and a lot of others to tears.Your talk about life and death, the cycles of nature, the Goddess, the need to relish everyday, to live in the present revitalized me. The ritual part, the burning of various plants, the sprinkling of a combination of waters from sacred sites all over the world was soothing. Everything you said and did in that beautiful white chapel designed by Louise Nevelson was so perfect that I will remember it forever. And, as I told you, I hereby engage you to do my memorial when I too go to the Goddess.
— Cristina, Palisades, NY

The service you conducted was extremely spiritual and uplifting. You incorporated beautiful poems and proverbs into Judith's memorial service in such a perfect and meaningful way. I know that all in attendance were moved and comforted. It was my pleasure to speak to you at the end of the service.
— Diane, Westchester, NY

Thank you for the private ceremony to celebrate my dad’s life, Mama Donna. My family had never done anything like that before. They really appreciated it and that made me feel good. Thanks so much.
— Kristin, Chatham, NJ

Families who work with Donna at the end of a loved one's life are so blessed. Her presence and her ceremonies turn a death into an event that is light-infused and healing.
— Amy Cunningham, Director Fitting Tribute Funeral Services

Thank you so much for the beautiful service you provided in honor of Michele and John. Everyone absolutely loved it... and you. I was very touched and moved by what you said, and in looking around the room, I could tell others were also. You truly are a gifted and giving soul.
— Michael, Sparta, NJ

Thanks again SO much for what you did, Donna. EVERYONE commented on how wonderful it was and how special, and that it was a beautiful way to remember both of my parents. I'm sure that my Mom and Dad would have totally approved of what we did and would have very much enjoyed the whole gathering, too. Thanks again so much for your contribution. It made the event truly special and memorable.
— Dr. Lorraine, France

I am so pleased with how the service went. You were really amazing. I loved the ceremony you created and the offerings, especially the corn. They were such perfect symbols of Jon’s spirituality. Many friends and family members commented that you did a great job of connecting everything for both the religious and nonreligious folk, which would be hard thing to do. I have been reading Care of the Soul, which talks about how the dark events of life can really shape and strengthen a person. I have been trying to understand this in the context of my life and Jon’s death. So your talk was especially appropriate and helpful. You inspired us all and I am very grateful.

— Carol, Brooklyn, NY

I never thought that a funeral could be so personal and meaningful. The ceremony that you created was completely respectful of Josine’s beliefs and aesthetics. You told the story of her life with such vivid compassion that it was almost as if she were there with us. Thank you for offering your uplifting and comforting wisdom to those of us who loved her.

— William and Cynthia, West Orange, NJ

I want to thank you for the ritual you performed for us at Susan's memorial. It was very moving and just perfect for what Susan would have wanted. I felt Susan's presence with us the whole time.

— Patty, New York, NY

Thank you for your wonderful, warm, nurturing, gritty, NYC presence at the memorial for my mom. It was a ceremony exactly as my mother would have wanted it. Your service did such a beautiful job of honoring Michele's spirit and doing it in a way that was particular to her quirkiness while being embracing to people from all faiths and we had many faiths represented. This is also how she would have wanted it.

— Elizabeth, New York, NY

Thank you for your kind words and your wonderful service.  I’m also glad so many people were compelled to come forth with stories as well, so thank you for facilitating what was a stressful but very memorable time. It went wonderfully.

- Giancarlo, New York, NY