Coping with Covid19 – Digital Ceremonies 2

Digital Funerals

Many crematoria are now live streaming funerals from their Chapel of Rest, although there are still restrictions as to numbers able to attend and also social  distancing is being practiced.  This will mean that your funeral may be very different from the one you may have planned or thought about.  Obviously this means that the normal etiquettes and comforting measures are also not able to happen which could, potentially, cause much distress at an already traumatic time, and whilst the inclusion or use of a digital service cannot overcome all of the barriers faced, it can potentially help unite people in a time of grief.

As a celebrant, I meet with the family using some form of digital technology – Zoom, Skype, Facetime etc and the usual protocols  are followed.  I find out as much about the deceased their life and relationships as possible and then devise a ceremony with them at the heart of it.  Without a coffin, the family can put together a collection of relevant artifacts – photographs, a favourite item of clothing, something to represent the personality and interests of the deceased which could be displayed together, illuminated by a candle which was ceremoniously lit at the start of the ceremony.   All relevant friends and relations  are asked to log on at the set time – and this may also include those who may have found it difficult to attend in person.  Key people are asked to contribute a poem or a reading or perhaps even a song as part of the proceedings, and importantly all the family can be involved in the planning.  The younger, more technically minded can help and feel useful by setting up the meeting, whilst others are detailed to research and write down about the deceased’s life, and importantly others are involved by supporting the grieving.  It is a time when people can come together face to face through the medium of technology.  My role is to work with the key mourners to coordinate the event, as well as composing a eulogy and creating an order for the service which is then disseminated to all those involved.

Nice touches may for example include everyone wearing the deceased’s favourite colour, or a button hole, or possibly evereyone having a photograph of the deceased visible during the ceremony.  They could all be asked to have some of the deceased’s favourite tipple to hand so that they could toast their life, or each be asked to share their best memory of the person who has died – the options are limited only by imagination.

On the appointed day as a celebrant it is my job to hold the space for the family and friends to grieve, offer mutual support and love and act as the MC.  I unmute and bring people in on time.  After the eulogy and celebration I ask a member of the family – possibly the chief mourner if they feel up to it – as a symbolic gesture to turn the photograph face down, as I read the words of the commital.  This is often the most difficult moment of the proceedings and is done with as much solemnity as can be brought to bear and may be accompanied by some music chosen by the family.  Perhaps everyone with a photo of the deceased could join in at this point – all turning their photos down at the same time.  The candle could also be extinguished now, accompanied by appropriate wording.   After this I leave the meeting, allowing for the family to comfort one another and offer words of strength and support in their own time and way.

Although may not be the funeral you had imagined or planned, it allows for family and friends to be in the same, albeit virtually, at the same time with a single objective in mind – to honour the memory of the deceased whilst bidding farewell collectively.  It also allows more people to communally express their grief and support one another than is currently allowed in a public place.  It can take place after a funeral service at the crematorium or cemetery at which only the immediate family were allowed – giving them the luxury of a very private farewell.  Alternatively this can replace the service at the crematorium or cemetery, and the family opt for a Direct Cremation or Burial where there is noone from the family in attendance.

At a later date, when everyone is able to move more freely and meet socially, then that could be a time for a more relaxed memorial and celebration of a life well lived.  This can be done at a place of the families’ choosing and could coincide with the scattering/burial of ashes for example, or on some other significant anniversary. It is another way of helping in the healing process and is an event for which most celebrants are well trained.

Nothing is able to replace the grief of parting in the current circumstances and I wouldn’t want this to in any shape or form.  What it may do is enable the healing process provided by a traditional funeral and its preparation to remain, whilst giving those grieving something to concentrate their mind in those first few weeks following a bereavement.

Coping with Covid19 – Digital ceremonies 1

Zoom Handfasting

Handfasting is an ancient and traditional ceremony in which the couple’s hands are tied with a variety of knots.  It comes from the Celtic lands, particularly Scotland, and is used a lot during ceremonies at Gretna Green.  Originally it was a ‘temporary’ marriage until it could be legalised by the Church or a notary.  Because of that I think it very appropriate for our current extraordinary situation.

You have had to cancel your wedding, but that day can still be celebrated and honoured by you and your family / friends.  This will help to make your memories of the day less painful and also make you unique in having had two weddings!

How it works

The couple sent a Zoom invitation to their bridal parties and family members to join them at the time that would have been their wedding.  I asked them to make a promise to each other – not using their vows which they will save for the official day – but a binding promise.  I then explained about the history of handfasting and spoke some ceremonial words.  I had previously worked with the couple on the logistics of them tying their own knot.  They then tied the knot, incorporating their rings into it, and I proclaimed them nearly weds. Everyone was able to offer a blessing or words or words of encouragement.  The father of the bride made a toast and we all drank to the couple.  They then cut a cake they had made the previous day – their favourite flavour – and we all witnessed them cutting the c.  The bride wore the dress she was wearing at the evening do and the groom bought her some flowers.   The whole thing was very informal and very happy and the comments on Facebook following were very complimentary.   It was great to turn what could have been a very painful day into a joyous celebration.  The knot they tied will be taken to their wedding and the knot will then be untied to release their rings.

For a review of this ceremony look at my Facebook page

Celebrating when in isolation

Well – what a month we have had so far!  We have dealt with massive flooding and restrictions on our travel as a result.  Commiserations to those who are still having to deal with the aftermath of the terrible scenes we have witnessed.  Now we have the dreaded Coronavirus – Covid 19 – in case you’re unaware.  This is going to be dictating our movements for many months it seems, and we have no idea of the outcome.  We are being told to self isolate and  wash our hands, whilst keeping our distance from everyone to avoid spreading a virus which we know so little about and may inadvertently be carrying.

What therefore I hear you ask do we have to celebrate?  Weddings are being cancelled, large gatherings discouraged, pubs being advised to close, sporting fixtures being postponed the list goes on. We should be out there celebrating

  • St Patrick’s Day ( and night) – 17th March
  • The Spring Equinox – 20th March
  • Mother’s Day – 22nd March
  • Clocks going forward and the  start of British Summer Time (haha) – 29th March

So how can we do this if we are all self isolating in our homes, not going out or meeting anyone?  Here are some ideas

  • Enjoy family meals together – cooking and devising them together, then eating as a family.  Who knows the weather may even let us eat outside soon …
  • Plan the day as a family building in activity fun time, balanced with quiet individual space.
  • Think of creative ways to be together in a confined space – board games, cards, read to each other, plan days out for later in the year when you can get out, grow things either in a garden or in pots inside – try growing salad crops and then eating them. Paint, sing, dance, talk to one another and tell jokes – release your imagination and don’t just sit in front of a screen all the time.
  • Do jigsaws, write stories and poetry – enjoy each others company.
  • Celebrate that you are a family with a roof over your head, access to clean water and food and more importantly you are helping to keep yourselves and your neighbours healthy.
  • Keep in touch with other family members, not only on the phone, Facetime or Skype, but also making cards or writing letters.
  • Give each other space too – there are times when others may want to be on their own – respect that.
  • Think of ways to help others – remember your neighbour may be on their own and lonely – keep in touch.
  • Remember we are human beings -we are immensely resourceful, have vast imaginations if they are exercised and celebration is not always about dressing up, eating and drinking.  Celebration is about recognising and honouring the situations in which we find ourselves, making the best of them and trying to find the most satisfying, inclusive and memorable ways to enjoy ourselves.

So here are some suggestions for the dates above

St Patrick’s Day – have a green day – wear green, eat green food, find out why green is an important colour for the day.  Listen to Irish music, try doing some Irish dancing.

The Spring Equinox – go into the garden or outside, watch the sunrise and sunset, try a circle dance or some drumming.  Look for spring flowers, make a daisy chain, listen to the birds.  Eat fresh spring greens and make plans for the summer.

Mother’s Day – remember your mum. Make breakfast in bed and offer to cook her favourite meal.  Make her a card – this may be treasured more than a shop bought offering, especially if it shows what she means to you.  If they live away from you get in touch and send them your love.  Have a family meal – all sitting around the table with no distractions except chat and banter.

Start of BST – weather permitting go outside and sit in the garden or even do some gardening together – include your children.  Clean off any outdoor furniture and toys – prepare them for the long sunny days ahead!  Plan exciting activities for the family to do in the summer – holidays and days out during the summer break.

Although it feels the odds are stacked against us at the moment with increasingly harsh ‘ advice’ and guidelines coming from the establishment, a bleak summer ahead, panic buying and empty shop shelves there are alternative ways of viewing things.  The way we approach life will have to temporarily – or perhaps permanently – need to change.  But as a species we will survive, we will muddle through or we will have fun, relearn lost skills and joys and in the future look back on these times as ‘the good old days’ or the golden times.  Don’t underestimate your ability to enjoy things in a naturally simple and meaningful way.


Some things you might like to know about St Valentine’s Day

  1. Above is a picture of one of the almost 224 million red roses that will be sold for Friday, with the majority being given by a man to a woman, although other variations do occur.  Some people even buy roses to give to themselves on Valentine’s day.
  2. The number you are given has significance too.   A single rose shows devotion or gratitude; two asks the question ‘will you marry me?’;  six acknowledges the need to be loved; eleven tells of a deep and abiding love, whilst if you receive thirteen they will be from an unknown admirer.!
  3. Mother’s day is second in rating for the numbers of flowers sold for a single event during the year.  Interestingly both these dates are out of the normal, natural flowering season for roses in the UK, so probably the blooms you will receive will either be imported or forced and therefore carry a high carbon footprint.  Is there any mileage in buying locally grown flowers from local poly tunnels – perhaps the eco-minded need to do some research here.
  4. In the USA (I couldn’t find figures for the UK) about 145,000,000 Valentine’s cards will be sold, making this celebration second only to Christmas for card sales.  Interestingly enough, whilst the majority of flower purchases are made by men, the bulk of card sales (approximately 85% in US) are made by women.
  5. St Valentine’s day has been celebrated in some recognisable form from the 14th century, when it was recorded by Geoffrey Chaucer in his poem the ‘Parliament of Foules’.  Legend, however, puts its origins much further back to Roman times.
  6. As usual the celebration grew from a traditional pagan celebration recognising the time when the natural world was showing growing signs of fertility and mating.
  7. Traditionally, from the 18th century on, couples would exchange handwritten notes on this date. However, the technological ‘advances’ in printing during the Victorian era, meant that by 1900 cards were being mass produced.
  8. Alternative cards, ones that informed your partner of the end of a relationship, were on sale from the mid 19th century until the Second World War.  Many carried verses commenting upon heavy drinking or loose moral behaviour which would be sent by women to men, whilst conversely men would send women cards with verses commenting upon their growing independence and  fight for suffrage.  These were known as Vinegar Valentines, losing favour during WW2 because they sapped morale of soldiers at war and away from home.
  9. Other presents given for Valentine’s Day include chocolates, with most manufacturers having their own special heart shaped confections or other flowers.  In fact nowadays,as it is considered unfair to leave out unattached family members, often the gift giving is extended to include lonely spinsters or lovelorn bachelors.  Please think hard about doing this.  Some family members are single by choice and don’t necessarily want to be included. Valentine’s Day is, after all, a celebration of fertility, couples and found love rather than a family love in.  Perhaps it is important to remember this and confine the celebration to the couple – today you don’t always get the opportunity to honour that commitment and loving relationship and doesn’t it deserve you being a bit selfish for that one evening?
  10. Some ideas of things to do – go out for a meal, or send the children off for a sleepover somewhere and have the house to yourselves for a romantic evening in;  go to the theatre, pictures or other show; indulge a shared passion or discover something new; pamper yourselves.  Whatever you do, do it for yourselves, for your relationship and the love you bear one another.  Enjoy and revel in each other’s company.

Children’s Funeral Fund

On Thursday last I was lucky enough to get a last minute place on a seminar put on by the Child Funeral Charity at which was discussed all sorts of aspects to consider after the death of a child.  It was really educational and interesting, heightening awareness and giving advice on how to best help those in such circumstances.  We heard from the Child Funeral Charity,  the ICCM and Bereavement Training International  as well as a funeral celebrant, a Church of England minister and a Funeral Director and representatives from Tyler’s Friends and gateway Publishing.  In the morning the key discussion was around the Children’s Funeral Fund and how this has been rolling out  since July 2019 – more details below, and in the afternoon we looked at ways to help grieving families – parents, grandparents and siblings.

Some key things I brought away from the day.

  • The importance of letting everyone know of the existence of the Children’s Funereal Fund as well as the Child Funeral Charity.  In particular the feeling was that at the very least all Funeral Directors should be able to advise families and offer help to fill things out.
  • Thoughts about why celebrant and minister fees are not included – surely this is a key role in the funeral process and potentially more important than a hearse which is covered.
  • There are lots of wonderful initiatives out there to help at this awful time – and many born from people who have suffered a similar loss and may have a greater understanding of where the bereaved family is.  Funeral Directors should be aware of these organisations to offer support to their customers.
  • The loss of a baby or child is like no other loss and cannot be compared to anything else, and it doesn’t ever stop.  Therefore there are some guidelines for us to follow such as referring to the child by its name, giving the parents and family time and space to grieve, being honest and avoiding euphemisms and platitudes – they don’t help.
  • No one knows how someone else is feeling this is purely personal grief.
  • Little things matter – memory boxes, an intimate seating plan at the funeral, hugs, getting the name right, allowing them to carry the coffin.  This is a significant point in the whole family’s lives and nothing will ever be the same again.

I know this is not the most up beat post, but the fact is that children and babies do die and this cannot be ignored.  If you know of anyone who is struggling in this situation,please point them towards this post as well as child bereavement charities such as Child Bereavement UK and the Rainbow Trust or Winston’s Wish for those supporting a child who is coping with the death of a parent or sibling.  Footsteps (Worcester) and Touchstones Child Bereavement Support are ones local to us.

To end some key things to remember around anyone whose child has died

  1. The child has died, not gone to sleep or passed.  It is best to be honest and clear unless of course that is the way the parents are expressing themselves.  Going to sleep or upstairs in heaven or passed can be very confusing terms for siblings who may become afraid of going to sleep as they may never wake up, or they may use a ladder to try and climb to heaven, or if they are told their sibling has passed they may very well go and look for them.
  2. Ask how the grieving parent is, but qualify that by saying this morning, or this afternoon as they may be experiencing different moods and feelings throughout they day.
  3. Don’t be afraid to give a hug if asked, or alternatively ask if they would like a hug – sometimes this helps people to feel held, comforted and safe.
  4. Avoid such statements as’ well at least you still have your other child(ren)’, ‘time is a great healer’, ‘you’re young enough to try for another child’, at least they’re no longer suffering’, ‘they’re out of their misery’.  All of these will certainly not soothe a grieving parent.
  5. We are all human and do sometimes say things or do without thinking or realising the effect they may have on others until afterwards.  If this is the case, acknowledge that you have been insensitive, apologise and explain things in a different way.
  6. At a child’s funeral the parents are relying on everyone else to ensure that the whole thing goes as smoothly as possible and it is the responsibility of all the professionals there to look after the deceased and the family with potentially a different level of care than would be usually expected.

January Wolf Moon

If you’re outside tonight look out for the full moon and an eclipse – traditionally known as the January Wolf Moon. This is from the Native American tradition when wolves would howl in the snow outside Indian villages. Why not let your hair down and go outside at 2.21 am and howl at the moon to celebrate the New Year. Other names for this moon are the Old Moon, Moon After Yule or Snow Moon. Just to add to the excitment there is also an eclipse tonight – best visible between about 2.30 and 4.30 – especially timed for all you insomniacs.

Winter Solstice

The Winter Solstice this year fell on 22nd December, with the sun rising at 8.17 and setting at 15.58, making this the shortest day and longest night of the year.  Another title for this day is Midwinter.

A Bit of Science

Because of the fact that the earth has a natural tilt and orbits the sun, there are four key sun festivals.  These are – Winter Solstice (19-23 December), Spring Equinox (19-23 March), Summer Solstice (19-23 June) and Autumn Equinox (19-23 September) – dates refer to the northern hemisphere.  In the southern hemisphere the Solstices and the Equinoxes are the opposite way round – Australia has just experienced its Summer Solstice.

The word solstice comes from the Latin – 2 words sol meaning sun, and  sistere meaning to stand still.  The word equinox also comes from the Latin and means equal night.  At the spring and autumn equinoxes therefore there is a date on which the length of day and night are exactly equal.  However, at the solstices there is the greatest difference in length of night and day – the longest day occurring in the summer, and the shortest day in the winter.  In winter on this day the sunlight is very weak and appears low in the sky.  In some places above the Arctic Circle there will be perpetual night with no obvious sunrise at all for the days of the solstice.

How people have interpreted this

The Celtic peoples – from whom much of our pagan worship and rural traditions stem – only recognised two seasons – summer and winter, with summer beginning at the spring equinox and ending at the autumn equinox, followed by winter.  This was the reason for the rise of the term Midsummer and Midwinter being given to the two solstices.  Religiously and spiritually, however, the two solstices are of great importance as sun festivals.

The winter solstice, occurring as it does at the dark time of the year, was always considered very important as it signified the return of the sun.  Many traditions celebrated this event with stories and folklore.  In many religions this time celebrated the mythical and  magical birth of gods and goddesses of light – eg Frigga, or Freya gave birth to Baldur – the son of light in the Norse religion; Horus – the Egyptian sun god from Ancient Egypt; Lucia the goddess of light is honoured across Europe.  These were important as they would ensure a return to the warmer times and if honoured correctly and sufficiently would help to ensure good crop yields.

I have just celebrated the Winter Solstice with my family, choosing to do the big winter get together then rather than at Christmas.  We enjoyed a meal together, exchanged meaningful gifts and welcomed the new year together.  The house was decorated with natural borrowed branches from locally grown native trees and lit with candles.  It was great to step away from the commercialisation of the Christmas machine.  After all the Christian message is all about banishing darkness by the miraculous birth of the light of the world, a sun god or the son of god – really not so far away from Persephone coming out from the dark world of the dead to offer light, health and hope; or Amerterasu, the Japanese sungoddess being born to shine light into peoples’ lives.

Whatever you call this time, and whatever you choose to celebrate enjoy good times with your loved ones, remember those who may be lonely, cold and denied a bed (like Mary and Joseph) and perhaps give accordingly of your time or your finances or your love.  Winter solstice blessings to all.  As the days begin to lengthen and the temperatures begin to rise may the ideas which have been germinating over the dark winter turn towards the sun, grow and flourish.  Here’s to an active, happy and fulfilling 2020.

Great News

As from today – 02.12.2019 it is possible in law to apply for a Mixed Sex Civil Partnership.  The law comes into effect 31st December and so those who wish to go through the process and be one of the first couples to have a Mixed Sex Civil Partnership ceremony need to apply TODAY in order to provide the requisite 28 days notice to the Registrar.

A Mixed Sex Civil Partnership gives cohabiting mixed sex couples who don’t wish to get married the same rights as married couples in matters such as

  • income tax
  • inheritance tax
  • claiming benefits from the pension arrangements of a dead partner.

The ceremony is purely legal and therefore can only be performed by a Registrar.  The coupe sign the Civil Partnership document in front of two witnesses and the Registrar.  This completely non religious and civil ceremony can then be followed up by a more personalised ceremony honouring the commitment just made.  This can take place at a location of your choice and in front of friends, relatives and well wishers as well as being devised and carried out by a Celebrant such as myself.  As with a wedding we would design the ceremony together and I would ensure it was as natural, simple and meaningful as all the other ceremonies I do.

For a limited time only, and because this such an important ruling, I am offering my Celebrant services at the cut price of £400.00

This offer is only available to couples who are ready to complete the Mixed Sex Civil Partnership Ceremony by

31st January 2020