Monday, 16 November 2015

Independent Celebrant | Talking about Grief | Losing a Friend

Talking about grief can be a difficult task. Bursts of anger, loss and pain may rise as words but it is not easy to put all our thoughts together in a coherent manner, so they can be shared and understood by others.
When writing a funeral, I try to listen to these short sentences of grief and show my understanding by the way in which I include them in the ceremony. While it's extremely important to celebrate a person's life and a funeral may have moments of joy and even laughter, it is also a place where we may safely show and share our grief at the death of a loved one. As a celebrant, I can speak of this when relatives are unable to do so, due to the strength of their feelings.
Earlier this year I lost a friend to cancer. Jemma was a wonderful person, creative and beautiful, so loving and much loved.  I miss her.
One of Jemma's friends, Frances Wright, wrote the following short piece about her feelings of grief and loss.
I think it is a perfect description and says so much of what I feel and I am grateful that she has let me share it here. I hope it may touch a chord with others.

"I don't know why, but tonight I am thinking about you a lot. I never got to see you after you found out how ill you were, and I never got to properly say goodbye, but I have so many memories of you my darling girl. So much laughter, so many years and so much time that passed without really telling you what you meant to me. There are so many questions I want to ask you, and my God, how much I want to hear you laugh again. Your joy when you told me how you had met Jim again, fallen in love, were so happy - I was so pleased for you, but I don't know if I ever really told you that.

Those we lose, who were precious to us, are forever there - voices in the quiet parts of our minds. It is always somehow, the really wonderful people who leave us, those we look up to, who inspire us, those whose laughter lives just beyond what we can hear.

I have words, I have memories, but I would joyously trade them all for a moment more with the people that I have lost."

Thank you Frances.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Civil Celebrant | Remembrance Day stories | Memories

Last week at the Hudson Road Friendship Club, everybody was telling their stories and re-living their memories from the last World War. It was Thursday 11th and we had just listened to 'The Last Post' on the radio and sat in silence for those long two minutes. I found it incredibly moving to watch the faces of the men and women, as they remembered their lost loved ones. Theirs was the generation on whom the hardship of the war had taken its toll.

One of the reasons I enjoy being a Celebrant is the chance to hear people's stories. These may be individual tales of love and first meetings, or a whole family's memories from a Grandparent's life. It is these stories, with all their quirks and individuality, that form the backbone of many of my ceremonies.

Everybody's stories are important and at the Friendship Club there is always somebody to listen, even if we have heard the tales before.

Remembrance Sunday always affects my guests in a very personal way. Many served in the war or lost friends, parents, brothers or sisters. Later that morning, three elderly gentlemen were re-living their youth and swapping tales of Companies, journeys and injuries. Although I knew the stories, I listened again. Their memories were so clear and their emotions were still strong, it was like hearing young men chatting about last year's adventures.

One gentleman answered a query: "Oh, I was 18 and a half, nearly nineteen" My son Sam was nearly 19 when he went inter-railing last summer. Suddenly, the reality of the men's stories hit me. Why, last summer I had been a bit nervous of Sam taking off across Europe and facing the word on his own. What a comparison!

When Malcom was the same age, he joined up, left home, travelled to India where he took part in fighting and was so badly wounded in his leg, that he had to stay in hospital for two years after he was shipped back to England.

No wonder these men remember their war.

Long may Fathers and Grandfathers tell their tales and re-live the adventures of their youth. To have seen so much, suffered so much when such young men, they deserve to have their stories told and re-told and hopefully, never forgotten.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Independent Celebrant | Readings and Poetry | Poems for Autumn

I think poems can play an important part of most ceremonies. A poet can often capture an exact moment of emotion so perfectly, that everybody responds. Even people who don't usually like poetry can appreciate something well chosen and well read. 

The beauty of the Autumn countryside, added to the feelings of slight melancholy it creates, makes this a season beloved by poets. Many try to capture the last fleeting moments of life and beauty before winter arrives.
Here are a few Autumnal poems that I have enjoyed. For a funeral, I feel they can be more moving than readings specifically written for the purpose.


Roy Campbell

I love to see, when leaves depart,
The clear anatomy arrive,
Winter, the paragon of art,
That kills all forms of life and feeling
Save what is pure and will survive.
Already now the clanging chains
Of geese are harnessed to the moon:
Stripped are the great sun-clouding planes:
And the dark pines, their own revealing,
Let in the needles of the noon.
Strained by the gale the olives whiten
Like hoary wrestlers bent with toil
And, with the vines, their branches lighten
To brim our vats where summer lingers
In the red froth and sun-gold oil.
Soon on our hearth's reviving pyre
Their rotted stems will crumble up:
And like a ruby, panting fire,
The grape will redden on your fingers
Through the lit crystal of the cup.



The next is a short peaceful poem.
There is a quiet comfort in an Autumn day
that rests so kindly with my tired soul.
The fields and hills made gentle by the mist
take from me any thoughts but of the here and now.
The past is slowly gathered by the turning year,
I feel my spirits rising with each yellow leaf.
It has not the strong and questing beauty of an April day
But a more subtle harmony and grace
When to the next life I am called to go
I hope it greats me with an Autumn face.

 Edward Thomas is probably my favourite poet and I think this would be a lovely choice for a gardener.


Edward Thomas
Today I think
Only with scents- scents dead leaves yield,
And bracken, and wild carrot’s seed,
And the square mustard field;
Odours that rise
When the spade wounds the roots of tree,
Rose, currant, raspberry, or goutweed,
Rhubarb or celery;
The smoke’s smell, too,
Flowing from where a bonfire burns
The dead, the waste, the dangerous,
And all to sweetness turns.
It is enough
To smell, to crumble the dark earth,
While the robin sings over again
Sad songs of Autumn mirth.
Of course there are many more. However, even reading these three poems again has made me want to wander off amidst the falling leaves and catch the feel of this most elusive of seasons, before it's all over for another year.
Happy reading and happy wandering.