The world has changed in ways that six months ago were unimaginable. A Chinese bat bankrupting the global economy? Don’t be silly! Wedding cancellations falling across your diary like dominoes? Go away! Socially distant, minimal-mourner funerals? What are you talking about?
The landscape of celebrant working life is barely recognisable. Whether our work has come to a complete stop or we’ve adapted to functioning in other ways, it is important to honour the deep-level grief that may be ruminating like an embryonic abscess beneath our purposeful productivity or debilitating inertia. Collectively, we’re going through an unknown grief as humanity grapples its way through social restrictions, financial downfall and myriad insecurities as we’re taught to fear close contact with other humans. But what of our individual grief?
Grief describes our emotional transitioning as we mourn the death of a loved one. Francis Weller’s exceptional book The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief reminds us that we experience many deaths in life (any loss, not just physical death), and that each grief layers upon another.
In the age of Corona, there are the physical deaths of loved ones and/or those in our community, but alongside this are other deaths: the demise of physical or mental health, relationships, housing, companionship, jobs, income stream/s, socialisation, stability, freedom, and so on. These times invite us to fall back on our celebrant skills and to create and choreograph new rituals for one’s self; to hold space for ourselves as gently, reverently and kindly as we would do for another.
It’s vital in celebrancy that we keep our well full (self sustenance) so that we may be of service to others. This has never been truer than right now. Whether you’re still working as a frontline funeral celebrant or doing what you can to attract new wedding clients for next year and beyond, as well as rescheduling this year’s couples, be gentle with yourself. Even if you’re being productive and positive, it’s okay to honour that everything has changed. It’s not a failure to have days where you just stop and catch your breath and sigh. It’s more than fine to go back to basics and envision a new reality for your business. You might do this through mindmapping, journaling, visualisation or with a celebrant mentor to guide you. Even if you’re still working, recognise that your creativity might be a lot harder to muster! That’s okay, too! Honour the fact and it will not feel like such a lead mountain on your shoulders. Perhaps developing a daily meditation or yoga practice will give you the serenity to step through these months of uncertainty. If we can use this enforced sabbatical to align ourselves with a new and healthy rhythm for mind, body and soul, then that’s a bonus.
This week I was meant to be away on a much-needed (rare) Scottish seaside holiday. Instead, today I am on Zoom calls with wedding and funeral clients and working as usual but not in my usual way. Next month’s much-anticipated wedding on the Summer Solstice at the Callanish stone circle (on the Scottish Isle of Lewis) has been postponed till next year, as have most of this year’s wedding ceremonies. I am not alone. Celebrants everywhere are looking at their diaries and seeing ceremony after ceremony crossed out. It’s heart wrenching for us, but way more so for the couples whose wedding plans have been disrupted.
Who holds the celebrant during these tumultuous times? Well, physically it’s limited to the person/people you live with. Digitally, it could well be on any celebrant forum but when we’re all going through this process it might be that self-holding is the best option for you. Why? Because we’re all walking through this together yet muddling along on our own path. There isn’t anyone who has experienced this rite of passage. None of us is in the position of being the Wounded Healer, distilling Chironic balms.
Whether celebrancy is something you see as a career or a vocation, it has changed. That’s indisputable. We’ve had to adapt, to think on our feet, and to walk unknown paths. This is previously unexplored territory. Who are our guides? Who is the Wayshower? The answer lies within. What might work for one celebrant isn’t necessarily the path you should follow. More than ever we are required to draw on our inner strength, and to listen to our intuition.
By attending to our own emotional needs, we are better equipped to be a place of calm and grace for our couples and the families we’re guiding through funerals. We may grieve for abandoned holidays, loss of income, companionship of friends and family, or may grieve the death of a loved one all while trying to be strong and professional for a mourning family or couples.
Grief is a solitary rite of passage. No one can tell us how to do it or how to be. Listening to our inner self, that small still voice within, will help us to make the necessary changes. Maybe you need to go for a run or dig the garden like a gopher! Perhaps you’re more of a cup-of-chamomile-tea-while-tucked-up-in-bed person. Maybe your gentle grief path involves listening to old records or reading novels. Could it be that baking or sewing will soothe you? Or a binge on Netflix. What feels right for you? The grieving heart needs TLC, and we each have our own ways of tending to wounds. And make no mistake: the consequence of this global crisis IS a wound. It’s gaping, and it is leaking.
We have our individual wound, too. Ask yourself: what balm will soothe me? What do I most need right now? What things calm me? What brings me pleasure? Is there a way I can set the restart button on my celebrancy career so that when there is more fluency in our culture again, I will be strong, steady and satisfied that I have everything necessary to serve the people I create, write and officiate ceremonies for?
Whatever answers you come up with, at all times remember this: be kind to yourself.