Nobody wants to talk about death

Nobody wants to talk about death. No-one wants to face their own mortality. But the impact of the Coronavirus has changed all of that. Almost 30,000 souls have died as a result of this pandemic; people who didn’t expect or anticipate their demise in the early months of 2020.

Families and friends have been left bereft by the unanticipated loss of loved ones. Wills are being drawn up, affairs put in order, funeral preferences stated. Virtual death cafes have been inundated by those wanting to talk about the dying and bereavement process because the need to make some sense of the current situation has become critical. No-one knows what may happen next, or to whom.

Above all, it hasn’t been possible to say our goodbyes and grieve for our loved ones in the ways we know and understand.

Funerals have had limited mourners because of social distancing, families can’t touch the coffin to make a personal and heartfelt farewell and there has been limited ability to share the support and memories of those who knew the deceased well.

Direct cremation has become the norm in these dire times and the funeral rites of the past have vanished for the time being.

If you are suffering, you are not alone, and all is not lost.

In these darkest hours of the pandemic, there is little that can be done practically to change what is happening and how we honour our dead.

But funeral ceremonies CAN be performed digitally. Family and friends from all over the world can join in with a streamed ceremony and most crematoria now have the ability to do that. A celebrant can still write and deliver the story of the deceased in a true and full celebration of their life.

Most crematoria are also happy to have a shortened funeral ceremony which can be performed with limited mourners. If that ritual and that goodbye is vitally important to you, it’s still possible, either as a private and exclusive celebration or with others joining in via the internet.

Or perhaps you might consider a memorial ceremony in the future? This allows for a future celebration which will include the gathering of family and friends to share love, laughter and memories for that missing person in your life. Their story doesn’t lose any value for a few weeks of not being told. And with the shock of losing someone at this time of isolation, those weeks may provide a much needed start on the path of grief.

Remember there is help all around you, albeit it be digitally or via the telephone. As a celebrant, I miss the ability to offer comfort and support to the families I meet. I have performed ceremonies where I can’t even shake hands with the families I serve, let alone give them a hug in their grief. And that is heartbreaking.

Things will change. Maybe not quickly; some things may never quite go back to how they were. But together, we’ll find a way.

If I can help you, even if you just want to talk, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


Are funerals still important?

Since the dawn of time, funerals have been the accepted way to create a final ‘goodbye’ for a loved one; ceremonies involving rituals and practices dependent on religious and cultural beliefs.

Our society has become more secular over the years and whilst many families don’t want to reject a prayer or a hymn from the ceremony, nor do they want it to be based on the Victorian model of ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’.

Rather, a more personalised approach is being adopted; the celebration and recognition of a life, the acknowledgement of their impact upon us, and a reflection of all they meant to us.

Such a ceremony can easily be created by the family themselves.  They, above all, knew the deceased, and carry their memories in their hearts. But the more emotionally accurate the tribute, the harder it is for close family and friends to speak the words.

It’s important to remember what the funeral ceremony seeks to achieve.  It is usually the last time anyone will be in the presence of the deceased’s physical remains which requires an acknowledgement of their passing.

The shock of a sudden death or even an expected demise can leave nearest and dearest in a state of denial.  With the loss, comes pain; a pain felt by all present at a funeral ceremony creating strength through sharing.  That shared emotion also helps to establish meaning to a communal loss and the understanding of a new identity without that person in your lives.

Above all, the ceremony needs to provide a sympathetic and positive reflection of the deceased’s life – a celebration if you will!

A celebration of life should still satisfy all the key requirements of a funeral but gives a very different feel to the occasion.

Direct cremation in which there is no funeral as such, just a family choice in the disposal of ashes, is now offered by various funeral directors.

Time will tell whether this will turn out to be a popular option, it’s certainly a cheaper one – but does it actually accomplish the ‘closure’ of a funeral ceremony?

Western civilisation is exceptionally bad at discussing death, particularly one’s own and this means that many people die without having indicated their preferences for their funeral.   With choices involving natural burial, resomation, or cremation, families can feel lost and bewildered when it comes to making decisions.

Which also brings us to the question, who is the funeral ceremony for? Is it for the person who has passed away?  Or is it for the family and friends left behind?  How many times have you heard the phrase ‘it’s what he/she would have wanted?’ How do we know that?

There is little doubt that funerals are complicated affairs and families are increasingly wanting ‘individual’ and relevant goodbyes.

If the bereaved don’t know the wishes of the deceased, they need to know the options available to create the ‘send off’ of their choice.

A funeral celebrant can help with every step of the way if desired.  In particular, the writing of a ceremony that will provide both the celebration of a life alongside the catharsis of a final goodbye.

Feel free to contact me to find out more. 

Horseshoes and weddings

Before the rise in popularity of celebrants, running away to Gretna Green was considered the ultimate in ‘alternative weddings.’

The popularity of this venue dates back to 1754 when Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act came into force in England, which vetoed the union of any couple under the age of 21 without parental consent.  In Scotland however, boys could marry at 14 and girls at 12.  ‘Irregular marriages’ under Scottish law also allowed almost anyone to conduct the marriage ceremony.  The local blacksmiths and their anvils have become symbols of the Gretna Green wedding as the ‘anvil priests’ have performed thousands and thousands of weddings there.

Why a blacksmith?  It was believed that blacksmiths could heal the sick and that any marriage performed by one would be a happy one.  They were also revered because of their work with horses and iron – a magical combination of rock and fire.   Manipulators of this magical metal were believed to have supernatural powers themselves and the giving of a horseshoe by a pageboy, to a departing bride, came to symbolise good luck and fertility

Legend has it that back in the 10th Century, the Devil himself asked St Dunstan, patron saint of blacksmiths to shoe his hooves.  Recognising who, or what, was making the request, St Dunstan complied but made it as painful as possible and extracted from the Devil a promise that he would never enter a place where a horseshoe was displayed.

There’s a lot of disagreement about how a horseshoe should be displayed.  Some say that hung ends up will allow good luck to collect in the U shape, others that ends down will allow good luck to flood into the house. For optimum luck, a horseshoe should come from the hind feet of a grey mare!

Similar in shape to the crescent moon, horseshoes were also believed to have supernatural powers of enhancing fertility.  They most often were held in place by seven iron nails, a number of huge importance since ancient times.

Weddings – Evil spirits

Queen Victoria sparked the trends that are still adopted today in what we call a ‘traditional’ wedding.  A church service with white dress and bouquet… In reality may traditions originate from way way back.

Evil spirits have been, and continue to be a major concern for wedding organisers!  And often overlooked.  Apparently they see brides as vulnerable in the moments between leaving the protection of her parent’s house and reaching the protection of her husband’s.  So these little varmints are all about spoiling your happy day, and not just by swapping name cards at the wedding breakfast.

But relax!  There are many ways to protect yourself!  The traditional wedding veil came to represent a bride’s purity, yet its original purpose was to disguise the bride in order to fool enthusiastic evil spirits.

Surrounding yourself with a gaggle of female friends is also a jolly good way to confound any sabotage, especially if the bride and her friends wear similar clothing.  Let’s call them bridesmaids and the idea might catch on!

It seems to me that these evil spirits are not the brightest bulbs on the string, but their next opportunity comes as the bride enters her new home.  Doorways are most attractive to loitering spirits, so it’s important that the groom carries his bride across the threshold to thwart their attempts to come in with her.

Back in the day, many marriages started with a kidnap so the groom’s adversaries would be a little more ‘real’ in the shape of the bride’s family or another suitor.  So, forget having your lifelong friend as your ‘best man’ – the term used to refer the best swordsman the groom knew.  Someone to aid and abet him in absconding with his bride.