Creative Funerals ~ is virtual the new reality?

Creative Funerals ~ is virtual the new reality?

In these times of uncertainty, it feels as if everything is up in the air and it is, but hasn’t adversity always been the instigator of innovation? Giving us the headspace to think about how we can do things differently for the greater good and in our own personal worlds. People are reaching out and helping others in ways that have been nothing less than selfless and inspirational. Necessity being the catalyst to change, creativity has always been at the very centre of my role as an independent celebrant. Clients are telling me about their worries and fears and I can feel their desperation, especially when it comes to funeral services.

The Impact of Coronavirus or Covid19

Because of the new Coronavirus we find ourselves in situations that we could never have imagined and things are changing daily. Funeral services are becoming shorter in time and smaller in other ways. In some cities direct cremation or burial being the only option with no relatives in attendance and without a service or words of farewell, which is heart breaking for all concerned. Families are able to attend funerals in Greater Manchester for example but the guidance on numbers changes from borough to Borough. Restricting the numbers of mourners to between 2 and 10 people depending on local regulations. It is necessary to social distancing but upsetting to see chairs spaced widely apart and pews cordoned off. Procedures are also changing, in some crematoria curtains have to be closed at the end of the service, people are not allowed to pause at the coffin to say a final farewell and because of increasing death rates funerals are already happening at weekends.

,Creative Funerals and Fond Farewells

It is still possible to say a fitting farewell, but we do need to think differently, it was a conversation with Rosie Grant from Natural Endings Funeral Services about how we can support people just when they are at their most vulnerable that made me think about how we can reach out, instigating this blog. For a while now we have been breaking away from the ‘norm’ of traditional funeral services, leaning towards more personalised and creative ways to say goodbye. There is no reason why we can’t expand on this, if for whatever reason you find yourself in a situation in which you are unable to attend the funeral of a loved one, you can still be there in virtual reality.

Funeral services can be arranged electronically, by email, over the phone, on Skype and Zoom. Zoom is a great resource for inviting lots of people to a gathering and easily downloaded via an app. When the funeral service been written and agreed, it can be recorded or live streamed so that loved ones can be present, which means you can still honour your loved ones and say farewell. There is also scope for collaboration. Richard Brown, a Funeral Celebrant based in Italy has recently carried out a virtual funeral service in which people shared memories, colleagues read poems, someone was in charge of the playing the music and a photographic slideshow played in the background it was virtually the same as any other funeral. People attended in a Zoom room, which meant that they could see each other and hopefully feel comforted by friendly faces.  It was an uplifting and positive move towards facilitating a meaningful farewell in collaboration with like-minded colleagues. I have recently carried out a funeral service in which the Funeral Director filmed the service on his ipad and emailed it to the family.

Memorial Services and Celebrating Lives

You can never underestimate the value of human contact, a hug, the brief touch of a hand, a look that says, “I’m here for you, I know what you are going through” the sharing of memories, stories and anecdotes that encapsulate the very essence of your loved one. There will be those of you who have already said goodbye but families are telling us that they would like the opportunity to have a celebration of life or memorial service at a later date. Surrounded by those who would normally have been by their side at the funeral, without fear or separation, the people you feel comfortable with, bringing love and mutual support.

Find out more

If you would like to speak to me or Rosie about how to create a meaningful farewell, you can contact me by email at liz@unityceremonies.co.uk or Rosie Grant from Natural Endings Funeral Services on enquiries@naturalendings.co.uk to arrange a time to talk,

for now, look after one another and please stay safe…

Hi, I’m Liz…

I am a family Celebrant based in Manchester and my aim is to help you create truly unique and personal ceremonies and services. I have arranged many a funeral service or ceremony over Zoom, Skype and email, more so with the outbreak of Coronavirus or Covid19 and want to stress that there is hope and we will find a way together to say meaningful farewells to our loved ones.  

Unity Candles

Unity Candles

Creating  a flame and opening a circle

Lighting Unity Candles during your wedding ceremony is a beautiful way to symbolize your lives joining together as one. Unity candles usually consist of three candles, two tapers and a pillar candle, but you can use be more.  The taper candles represent each of you in your uniqueness and are usually lit at the beginning of the ceremony, they can be lit by the each of you or a representative of each side of your family or friends, symbolic of their love and allegiance to you. The perfect way to symbolise your union and the pledge of unity between you and the merging of your families. Unity candles can be used in weddings, blessings, vow renewal and naming ceremonies.   

 

Closing the circle

Towards the end of the ceremony, you would each pick up a taper candle and light the centre pillar candle from your combined flames. A light has been shared, a bond has been created, the joining of two into one, blending your families and sets of friends and the circle has closed around your love, bringing the love and support of your familie’s fire and the brightness that will light the way and shine throughout your lives.

Gift of a Wedding 

Most of us have the time to save up and make plans for our wedding ceremonies, but just imagine how you would feel if you were in a relationship, happily planning for your wedding and a future together when suddenly life takes a turn that cannot be predicted. Diagnosis of a terminal illness is a shocking and terrifying event that stops you in your tracks and changes everything in a heartbeat. Everybody, no matter who they are should have the opportunity to have the wedding that they have always dreamed of.

Gift of a Wedding are a marvellous charity, who work tirelessly to pull together suppliers who give their services for free, giving the priceless gift of saying “I do” to the love of their life 

How Can I help?

Simply by offering the same service that I offer to any couple. A personalised, bespoke wedding ceremony. The couples in receipt of a wedding often don’t have the luxury of time, Patricia Harrison and her dedicated team of volunteers galvanise to make their wedding happen. In the course of my work I am invited into people’s homes and trusted with their most personal information which is an honour and a privilege and something that I never take for granted. Usually within the space of a week or two, I have met with the couple and have written the first draft. Faster than I usually work but time is of the essence here and a few late nights are not a problem. Their ceremonies contain everything their hearts desire, whether that be a simple traditional ceremony, weaving in all of the little personal stories and touches that make their relationship and family and friends so special and unique or including a symbolic ceremony too. Kaitlin and Nathan, wanted Unity Candles and wanted me to share that part of their ceremony with you.

Kaitlin and Nathan’s Unity Candle

 

Hello Liz, We are emailing to thank you for donating your time and services to our wedding on Friday. Thank you for the most incredible ceremony, and letting us have a printout we can keep. They are safe in my wedding memory box. I will never forget what you have created and you really made the ceremony as special as it could have been. Words cannot thank you enough x

The Williams’

How can you help?

It is an always an honour to meet people and to be part of their story, Gift of a Wedding rely heavily on the goodwill of others who donate their time and money, if you would like to help in any way at all, you will find all of the informatoon that you need on the Gift of a Wedding Website. 

Liz Thompson is a Family Celebrant based in Manchester in the UK and working across the North West of England, Liz creates unique and personal ceremonies and services for life events such as Weddings, Civil Partnerships, Baby naming, Vow Renewal and many more. 

Alice and Ric at Bellefields Farm

Alice and Ric at Bellefields Farm

Alice and Ric are adventurous, open and friendly, they care about their world and the people in it, family and friends mean a lot to them, they are a diverse bunch of people and share very similar values. Their vision of the perfect wedding for them was to be among nature, surrounded by their loved ones, not stuffy or over formal, full of colour, fun and laughter. As we talked and planned their vision started to become a reality, and this is what we created together…

Love, best wishes, hopes and dreams

Family and friends gather to take their seats, as they arrive they place their hands on Alice and Ric’s wedding rings warming them with their love and hopes for their future, it was lovely to see them closing their eyes as they made their wishes and gave their blessings, this is a very much loved couple.

A Family Affair

Ric and Alice aren’t very traditional but they wanted their ceremony contained elements of tradition, with a twist… Alice walked in with her parents accompanied by a cover of Home – by Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zero’s, sang and played by the band RumJig, we began the ceremony with some heartfelt words about Alice and Ric’s love for their family and friends, and how happy they were there to celebrate their relationship with them. When I asked  the question “who is supporting Alice and Ric in their marriage to one another”? I was met with a resounding, “We are”!  and so, their perfect ceremony had begun. 

Their story

A little bit of humour goes a long way when creating a ceremony ‘Who would have thought that when Alice was on a night out with Corrinne in Tiger lounge that their lives were about to take a turn that neither had expected. Both on the dance floor, the Black Keys song Your Touch began to reverberate throughout the club. Alice was dancing with Corrine and Ric manoeuvred his way over whilst shaking his wedges and stomping his feet, quite a sight to behold! It wasn’t long before they were shouting over the music, discussing their mutual appreciation for the band. Ric persuaded her give him her number, and she gave him the real one’!  

A Perfectly Imperfect, Proposal

Everyone loved the proposal story – ‘Ric had already been hatching a plan… one that saw him becoming increasingly nervous as time went by. He was confident that she would say yes but still his nerves were building… He intended to propose in a secluded and scenic spot in Central Park. However things never go according to plan do they You can just imagine it… as they walked he was looking for a quiet space, little did he realise how difficult it would be to find such a spot.  Everywhere he looked something was going on, a man doing Kung Fu moves randomly against a tree, a homeless lady set up camp and then began stripping off’! 

A Heartfelt Reading

Alice’s dad chose and read beautifully a reading by Luke K Freeman, inspired by Carl Sagan’s Cosmos,

…’May these partners build a better wold for the next generation to come. 

May this union bring a new light to the sunshine, a new fragrance to the flowers, 

a new beauty to the earth, and a new mystery to life’… 

 

Vows and Promises – Uniquely Said

Ric and Alice share most things including the writing of their vows. They spoke each line alternately, finishing by repeating the same promise to each other, one of everlasting love, walking life’s path hand in hand while carving out new adventures. Then it was time to exchange rings and that Kiss!

Congratulations

It was a wonderful ceremony, made so much better by all of the little personal touches, their personal story, writing their own vows, including people. They made their own wedding decorations for the Tipi, as bright and vibrant as the two of them. Their transport was unique and so very them. They had thought of everything and it showed. I wish them so much love, laughter and happiness in their lives. So more of the same really!

Get me to the Beer Tent!

Thank You’s

To Alice and Ric of course for working with me to creat your perfect ceremony and for trusting me with your innermost feelings and most precious memories, it was a pleasure working with you. To Ayesha Photography for the amazing images, to RumJig for being a fantastic band and lovely people too! and last but most definitely not least to Bellefields Farm Weddings for being great hosts as always.

Just to say thank you again for everything on Saturday, you were amazing and everyone commented on the ceremony and how indidvidual it was and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without you.
Alice and Ric

Wedding Testimonial

Liz Thompson is a Family Celebrant based in Manchester in the UK and working across the North West of England, Liz creates unique and personal ceremonies and services for life events such as Weddings, Civil Partnerships, Baby naming, Vow Renewal and many more. 

Eleanor and Lucy at Didsbury House Hotel

Eleanor and Lucy at Didsbury House Hotel

Something you can never accuse Ellie and Lucy of is being ordinary, their vision of the perfect wedding was potentially problematic as they are very different and both wanted a ceremony that reflected their individual personalities, Ellie is calm, elegant and confident and Lucy is exuberant, boisterous and also quite shy. This in mind, they were struggling to see how to make it work for both of them. They found me on the Canal Street Website and by the time they contacted me neither were really holding out much hope that they could have a ceremony that they could be completely happy with.

A Sense of Completeness

When we met, both women were completely honest about their desire for a ceremony that would celebrate their different identities, and I could sense they were becoming despondent. As we chatted it was easy for me as an outsider to see how they actually blend well together and as our conversation turned to their relationship, I was getting a clear idea of how I was going to write their ceremony and I felt honoured that they had asked me to be a part of this most important rite of passage.

Embracing their Uniqueness

New Years’ Eve is the perfect wedding date as it is a time that you can celebrate new beginnings and make promises that will last not just for a year, but your whole lifetime through. The ceremony began to the tranquil and beautiful strains of ‘Everybody’s free, (to feel good)’ Lucy entered on the arm of her dad Rick, followed by Eleanor supported by her dad, Philip. As they stood in front of me, there was an almost tangible sense of calm as both women began to relax, their guests settled into the quietness that only comes with anticipation, this was no ordinary wedding. This super cool twosome broke with tradition by wearing black and gold, each of them had chosen wedding outfits that suited their personalities and they looked stunning.

Opening the Circle

Symbolic elements such as Unity Candles are a beautiful way to symbolise not only Eleanor and Lucy in their uniqueness but also of each of their families and friends,  honouring those past and present. Their mums Sarah and Madeleine, lit a taper candle each, followed by Lucy and Eleanor. The candles burned throughout the ceremony casting the warm glow of their love as they celebrated their relationship in front of the people who mean the most to them.

O Mistress Mine

There are many ways to include your family in the ceremony, another way is for them to read a poem or a reading, before I shared Eleanor and Lucy’s love story, Lucy’s sister Hanna, read Shakespear’s O Mistress Mine, which has deep significance in their relationship. Another way is to bring the dog, And why not, Eddie is part of the family, a team of three.

Lucy and Eleanor’s Love Story

When they met, Eleanor was in full throttle in life spending time between work, playing rugby, and in the pub socialising. Lucy was in party mode and not necessarily looking for a life partner, so when their worlds collided it was a big eye opener for both of them. They say that their first date was the world’s best first date ever, they met in London, and planned to go to the opening night of the Flat Iron restaurant and it didn’t take them long to work out that they had a lot in common and saw the world in the same way. Shortly after Eleanor had to go on holiday and you know how it is…., that thrill of sending texts and the anticipation of waiting for a reply, the long phone calls that you never want to end… something was definitely happening here…

Creating a ceremony by the telling of a story is a wonderful way to celebrate, and for families and friends to hear their story, (there is always something we don’t know) and just the same as in any other romance, they have worked hard on this relationship and themselves, it has been a time of learning and growth, they spend a lot of time together and miss each other when they are apart, the times of separation make them stronger, they are good at being a partnership but not needing to do everything together, their independence is never an issue and between them there is unquestioned trust and loyalty. Their family has grown with the introduction of their dog, the gorgeous Eddie, (and doesn’t he know it!) and rest of their story is their business.

Personal Vows and Heartfelt Promises

The women had written their own vows and took turns in making their promises to each other, hankies were in abundance! Their brothers Tom and Chris handed them their wedding rings and they sealed their vows with a simple and beautiful statement of their love and unity before signing the certificate that testified to the celebration of their relationship as ‘Satisfied’ by Hamilton played out in the background. 

The Kiss ~ Mwah!

What better way to seal your vows than with a kiss, after which Eleanor’s brother Chris read ‘Oh the places you’ll go’ by Dr Zeuss.

Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself  any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the ones who’ll decide where to go’. 

Closing the Circle

They each pick up a taper candle and light the centre candle to show the world that they are indeed, one light burning brightly in the darkness. Their ceremony ended in a huge round of applause and by Lucy making the most of the confetti, not so shy now!

It was a beautifully unique ceremony, no doubt followed by a wondeful night of dancing and having fun (debauchery) as only Lucy and Eleanor can do, I’m sure their lives will be filled with love, laughter and lots cuddles from the lovely Eddie.

Thank you Lucy and Eleanor for a fantastic testimonial

Credit to the Team

Jenny and her fantastic team at Didsbury House Hotel as always made sure everything ran like clockwork, thank you!

A massive thank you Andy and Jo from Drew Findlay Photography for being great to work with and for the amazing image

You do meet some lovely people in this work xx

Liz Thompson is a Family Celebrant based in Manchester in the UK and working across the North West of England, Liz creates unique and personal ceremonies and services for life events such as Weddings, Civil Partnerships, Baby naming, Vow Renewal and many more. 

Julia and Ben at Albert Hall

Julia and Ben at Albert Hall

It’s not unusual these days for the groom to make initial contact to inquire about a wedding ceremony. So, when I received Ben’s email telling me that he and his girlfriend were having a Christmas wedding in Manchester and wanting to know more about my services I sent the usual information. Chatting over email he told me that she is an actor and our meeting would depend on her schedule. No problem, I offer a very flexible service and prefer to work around people’s needs as much as I can.

First Impressions

So, on a gorgeously sunny day I tipped up on their doorstep and was greeted by Ben and his fiancé who I immediately recognised as Corrie star Julia Goulding who plays Shona Ramsey in the soap. To be greeted by one of Coronation Streets’ favourite actors was surreal, I knew Ben’s fiancé was an actor, but it didn’t occur to me that she would be so well known and in a soap opera that I had grown up with and love! I was acutely aware that this meeting was about them as a couple and, not wanting to overshadow that, I quickly suppressed my excitement and the million and one questions that I had, to concentrated on them. What a great couple they are, it was a boiling hot day and Julia was wearing a simple shift dress with no make-up and looking cool and beautiful, they are a very beautiful couple, inside and out. I was made to feel very much at home. I still wonder about the impression I made, I’m sure they must have thought I was slightly bonkers as I was ‘all of a dither’ and it must have showed!

Image copyright Julia Goulding and Ben Silver

Love laid bare

Right from the beginning it was obvious that they both knew what they wanted and how they would like to celebrate their relationship, and as we sat and chatted, with the help of Marcel the cat, we began to plan the beginnings of a beautiful ceremony. Both were relaxed and happy and it was obvious they are very much in love, the way they look at each other speaks volumes. Family and friends are important to Julia and Ben and you could tell this by the important roles and prominent position given to them. Julia loves being on stage and always wanted to have her wedding ceremony on one, and Ben was happy as he would have loved to play on a stage that big when he was in a band in his younger years, mission accomplished as Manchester’s Albert Hall was the prefect venue and Christmas is one of my favourite times to have a wedding, it is just magical. The venue looked gorgeous and very seasonal with twinkly lights and their woodland themed decorations, Ben’s mum made the table dressings and it was just perfect, there was a lovely excited buzz about the place as we waited for Julia’s arrival. As Ben waited nervously for his bride to arrive their ushers and their friend Taron Egerton who was toastmaster for the wedding were chatting to the guests, making everyone feel welcome and relaxed. Ben was a mixture excited and emotional, his brothers and friends kept him calm… until he set eyes on Julia… and there were tears! It was such an emotionally charged moment that even I had to take a deep breath!

‘The soul comes joyful to the eye’ 

Their families were seated on the stage as the bridal party entered, Julia’s bridesmaids were chosen because they have all been with her at different stages of her life, school days, family times growing up and in different parts of her adult life, she says she couldn’t have got through any of those stages without them. Ben chose his best man and ushers for the same reason, they grew up, together, rebelled together, made friends and stayed friends, and stood by him when he needed them. Julia and Ben followed them in to the strains of the beautifully atmospheric Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence by Ryuichi Sakamoto, and in a break from tradition walked in together. Their joined hands, a clear and visible representation of their deep love and friendship. They were celebrating their union as they intended to carry on, side by side, holding hands and in the warm glow of each other’s love. Julia’s family are not traditional, and it wouldn’t have felt right for her to be given away; she was brought up to know that she is her own person and it wouldn’t have felt right for Ben either.

Ben looked gorgeous in a hand-made burgundy suit and Julia was breath-takingly beautiful in an ivory silk and satin gown, her veil was sheer and edged with silver sparkles, I had serious veil envy! Ben’s teary eyes and Julia’s big grin as she turned and looked at me spoke volumes; they were both just so happy to be having this wedding celebration.  The ceremony began surrounded by those closest to them, the guests, who included Julia’s Coronation Street co-stars Daniel Brocklebank, Sue Cleaver, Jack P Shepherd, Nicola Thorp, Lucy Fallon, Sair Khan and Tina O’Brien, were seated on the mezzanine which was decorated with Ivy and fairy lights with string lights hanging between the balconies. Following my welcoming speech Ben’s brother Josh opened by reading Alan Ginsberg’s ‘Song’ after which I shared Ben and Julia’s story.

You’re my cup of tea

When Julia was at RADA she was set the task of mentoring Ben’s brother Josh, over time they sparked up a friendship and Josh said ‘if you ever met my big brother you’d fall in love with him’ Julia’s response was ‘Give over’, well they did meet and there it was, that spark, two worlds had collided and Josh wasn’t wrong!They got to know each other over time and began dating, Julia planned the whole of their first date, she took him to the Tate Modern to see Picasso’s Weeping Woman, his favourite painting and then they went to see her favourite which is Proserpine by Dante Gabriel Rosetti, all very cultural… and then they went for a burger in a pub!  That was on the 13th Feb 2016.

Just over two years later Ben proposed on a snowy walk under a beautiful tree which was no mean feat as we were in the grip of the ‘beast from the east at the time, Julia squeaked a big fat, ‘Yes’! They were celebrating Ben’s 30th birthday so it came as a complete surprise to Julia. Clever planning on Ben’s part, three bottles of champagne later they told their families who were over the moon for the couple, they are so well matched. Julia is lively, vivacious and fiery, and Ben is calm and laid back, a beautiful soul. They are both quite funny and their banter is lovely, he says she is the most beautiful person ever and she agrees! She says he makes her a better person; and he is easy on the eye and of course, she is never wrong, so when he challenges her and he is right, it really annoys her. He loves their banter and the way they are open and honest with each other. They are two halves of a perfect whole and have so much fun together, every day brings them something to smile about… Following their story their friend Alex read WH Auden’s ‘Foxtrot’ which was fitting as Julia loves a nice brew. 

Vows and promises

It was time for the most meaningful part of the ceremony, where they made their vows which were traditional and beautiful in their simplicity, Adam and Nicola carried their rings over and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as they sealed their bond with a kiss at which point the whole room just erupted and they were given the longest round of applause I have ever heard. Julia and Ben were emotional throughout the ceremony, it was a truly beautiful occasion, He says it was the best day of his life and, I hope, a day they will look back on fondly for the rest if their lives, for me, it was the beginning of a perfect Christmas and I’m still smiling at the memory of it.  

Credits to the team

The warm and welcoming team at Albert Hall who kept everything running smoothly, fabulour job, thank you.  

Photography by Joseph Scanlon

Ben’s suit by Ismail Kocak from Fix2fit

Julia’s gown by Zaynep Kartal

Julia’s Make up – by Sally Row – Poppy Nicholson and Laura Harrison for bridesmaids make up.

Julia’s Hair – by Jennifer Kennedy and The Hair Lounge, Norden for the bridesmaids hair.

 

Liz Thompson is a Family Celebrant based in Manchester in the UK and working across the North West of England, Liz creates unique and personal ceremonies and services for life events such as Weddings, Civil Partnerships, Baby naming, Vow Renewal and many more. 

Ticking all the boxes – and more

Ticking all the boxes – and more

When Judy contacted me to explore the possibility of creating a memorial service for her father, I don’t think either of us anticipated the journey that we were about to embark upon. We had connected, Judy introduced me to her brother Anthony and over the weeks that followed we jointly began to piece together the story of their father’s life. After the ceremony Judy contacted me with a beautiful piece that she  had written about her experience which says far more than I ever could, sit yourself down with a cuppa and enjoy.

Learning to Accept

As his life drew achingly slowly towards its end, my father spasmodically addressed what might happen ‘’afterwards”. While never referring to his actual passing, he did talk in an almost sanguine manner about a time when he would be no longer with us. An understandable and characteristically theoretical approach, a slight distance from the practical and emotional reality. In his customary manner he was clearer about what he would not want in the way of a funeral and unforthcoming about what he did. “It’s up to you.” The ‘would not wants’ included a priest and any form of showy celebration. He added, “and don’t talk about me too much.” I agreed to the first two stipulations and openly and humorously declined the third using just one word, “tough.” Just as well as things turned out!

His approach to discussing his end was at one with his lifelong reluctance to talk about anything remotely emotional or spiritual and of course death embraces both. This was a challenge for me as a priority of the second half of my own life has been about addressing this area of my own development and of course part of that was learning to accept that I could not share any of that with him. I smiled inwardly when people commented on how close we were since in reality there was a sense of almost semi-detachment in our relationship where we were indeed close in the sense that I met all his specified needs but was not able to approach his unspoken concerns. On reflection I feel that this left us both lonelier than we needed to be.

It is strange how often this happens in families. The tie of blood is inexpressibly strong and yet many of us find closer and deeper bonds with friends who we meet through shared interests. I was grateful to learn that my father found it easier to share his concerns with his doctor and with selected members of staff. Maybe it is the very strength of family ties and the indescribable pain of loss that sentences us to silence and evokes a need to seek a compensatory connection elsewhere. It was at this relatively safe and superficial level that we talked about holding a lunch party in lieu of a funeral which would bring those of us from his family together with those of my stepmother for the very first time.  “Make sure it’s a good meal” he said! His only other advice was to keep anything else short.

Faced with a sense of dissonance, I started a somewhat guilty search for a celebrant. Thinking back to the almost irrelevant ceremony come endurance test that marked the end of my mother’s life and anticipating the feelings of disablement that might accompany the loss of my Father, I was already on a path of preparation. I consulted the internet and discovered that just one person stood out from the rest. Her website spoke my language: “I will work with you to create a service which is personal and uplifting, respecting your beliefs and values and those of your loved one. Your loved one’s funeral service will be as unique and individual as the person themselves.”

Active Hope

Hallelujah. Further research into the furthest corner of her website led me to uncover her interest in deep ecology, personal transformation and the work of the celebrated author and Buddhist scholar, Joanna Macy. Relief flooded through me as I pictured the front cover of one of Joanna’s famous books, ‘Active Hope,’ which of itself formed a suitable title for my quest. I immediately experienced the warmth of connection, we were on a similar path. I had no idea what we would create and how we would go about it, but my sense of isolation lessened. We communicated by email and she totally understood and commended my need to have her in the wings. She also empathised with our current situation.

I felt as though I had at last found a toehold in the shifting sands of this situation, I placed high hopes on this woman, and I was not disappointed.

When my father slipped away, it was simplicity itself to send off an email to Liz, the celebrant, and she responded with an ease and a sense of professional and personal assurance that was deeply reassuring. In the back of my mind I discovered a half-drawn plan of the way in which we could celebrate the century through which my father had lived. It also occurred to me that this was the opportunity to revisit my mother’s funeral and pay her due honour. Furthermore, my stepmother’s funeral which took place only thirteen months earlier was also brief; my father’s primary focus had been his wish to walk like the soldier he once was unaided both in and out of the church which meant he pressed for something short. Indeed, the service was relatively brief and more devoted to doctrine than my stepmother. Here was our one chance to unite the different and meaningful aspects of his life and celebrate his most significant relationships and achievements.

Untying the Knots

I was buoyed up by this possibility but had yet to discuss it with my brother. To his great credit, once he understood the pre-agreed wishes and was introduced to Liz on Skype not only was he on side but offered to write and ultimately read an account of the first half of his father’s life, covering the period between1917 to 1971 when our mother died. It so happened that holiday plans relating to key players in this event meant a delay of four weeks. My father’s cremation took place much earlier without ceremony, reflecting his wish. As his remains arrived at the crematorium in Cheshire, I walked quietly by the River Dart in Devon, holding a slender twig in my hand. It was also the fifth anniversary of the death of our nine-year-old grandson, Charlie who was named after his great grandfather Charles. The sense of discomfort in my insides reflected my sense of loss, the older and the younger generation now united in the mystery of death. I cast the twig into the tide and watched it float away before walking quietly home.

We were able to use time given to us to work with Liz productively to design the ceremony and write our individual pieces. My brother faithfully charted his father’s life from his early days to his wartime army life and his return to find a ready-made family. He smiled as he referred to himself as the ‘baby who would not sleep.’ This time cannot have been easy for father and son. My brother had had his mother to himself for over a year and now had to share her with my father for the first time. My arrival no doubt escalated matters as apparently, I did sleep – provided I was given enough to eat! In those days new mothers were away from home for several weeks and existing children banned from visiting. My mother said my brother ignored her when we finally arrived back home together. No wonder. If bereavement is about untying the knots of relationships, my brother’s choice gave him a great opportunity to engage in that process.

A Colourful Tapestry

The content grew organically and no longer did I hold that sense of isolation, Liz just got it and provided all the freedom and support that I could have wished for. The shared document took shape in front of my eyes and I know and valued that this was part of saying goodbye to my father in the best way I knew. Finding a venue proved more challenging and it was thanks to the advice of the helpful funeral directors that we landed in the perfect place. My brother was able to lead this part of the proceedings and he did so with thoroughness and precision. Throughout the process I was truly grateful that we were able to put this all-encompassing event together without a cross word passing between us.

My Father’s Blessing

On the day itself the celebration started at 10.30 a.m. with visitors who were unable to attend the ceremony calling by for coffee. The fresh flowers, one arrangement for each lunch table and one to act as a focal point for the ceremony, arrived just half an hour later. The woman responsible for these works of art was a friend of my late stepmother. She lovingly placed the arrangements and shared memories of the time with her. We parted with a hug; she had transformed the room. As people arrived, we greeted them individually, gave them a drink and ultimately a lunch that would have received my father’s blessing. While the luncheon guests drank their coffee, those attending the celebration started to arrive. The most touching scene took place as six members of staff from my father’s nursing home arrived. Hugs and tears mingled as we greeted one another. Over lunch, I had an uneasy feeling that the success of the service of celebration was totally and irrevocably in the hands of someone who I had not actually met other than via the Internet. When she arrived, we met with a hug and my sense of responsibility evaporated in her direction.

A Moment of Connection

When everyone was seated, she played the first piece of music, strains of the clarinet, an instrument that my father loved. I felt the grip of panic in my whole being, how would I make it through this event? Then, with a soft out breath I relaxed into what I knew was the best that we could do to honour our father. I was fully present without the need to look out of the window. I knew and had complete faith in what was about to be revealed. The afternoon unfolded seamlessly, a testament to all the planning that had taken place over the weeks. Everyone read their own work beautifully, while Liz read mine. I knew that I would not be able to express myself fully if I had to stand and read my words aloud. Liz held it all together like the professional that she proved to be. We shared a moment of connection when, at the conclusion the Brahms, she held my eye and we waited together for sufficient reflective time to elapse before she stood up to draw the ceremony to an end.

A Sense of Fulfilment

We were left with a sense of real fulfilment. We had paid due honour to a long life, well lived. We had introduced parts of my father’s life to all present and celebrated his work, his army career and more importantly two long marriages and life as a father. The contrast between this event and the one which took place back in 1971 is best illustrated by my experience with the flowers. When I first spoke to the florist, she was very keen to be involved and took great care in ensuring that I was involved with choosing the colours and varieties to be included. When it came to cost, she suggested a figure and I added a fifty percent uplift asking her to make them as beautiful as she could. I had seen the enjoyment in my father’s eyes every time I arrived in his room with flowers, these were the last ones. Thinking back to the stark reality that we did not ever see the flowers sent for my mother’s funeral it seemed appropriate that these were enjoyed by all concerned. I was even able to give the arrangements away at the end of the day to members of my stepmother’s family, the daughter of my mother’s closest friend and my brother’s wife. The circle felt complete.

When I got home there was an email waiting for me, sent by my stepmother’s niece. She and I had had the opportunity to get to know each other well since my stepmother died. She kindly informed me that the celebration had ticked all of the boxes and more besides. Her message carried such warmth and understanding, it said it all.

Copyright Judy Allen ~ December 2018

 

None of us can ever know the impact that we make in this life, my Celebrant role brings deep connection and lasting memories, for the people with whom I work and in my own life. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to work with so many wonderful people, the bonds formed leave echoes that resonate for many years. I felt as if I knew Judy and Anthony’s father, a great man who lived his life so very well…  Following  his memorial service Judy contacted me to show their appreciation with a gift that I will treasure, but more so, I will treasure the lasting feeling of having met a kindred spirit. Thank you Judy ♥

Liz Thompson is a Family Celebrant based in Manchester in the UK and working across the North West of England, Liz creates unique and personal ceremonies and services for life events such as Weddings, Civil Partnerships, Baby naming, Vow Renewal and many more.