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.

Rene and Chantal sipping from the Loving Cup


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.

Calming my bride before the ceremony. Photography by Hannah Hall.


Veronika Robinson is the editor of The Celebrant magazine, and has been a celebrant for 25 years. She officiates all rites of passage.

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The celebrant industry has, like the world around us during the Covid-19 response, seen seismic shifts to all that we’ve come to know and value. We may wonder if this industry, and our individual businesses, will return to normal. Ever. There’s no one who can answer that question for us.


Unless we remain vigilant of our thoughts, we may succumb to anxiety and/or depression or inertia. As part of your celebrancy training, did you learn how to keep sentry duty of debilitating and destructive patterns of thinking? If not, then this is an ideal time to become mindful of what you bring to your celebrancy practice through your daily thoughts. e.g “Oh no, all my bookings are cancelled!”, “Oh my God, other celebrants are stealing my clients!”, “Why aren’t any funeral directors calling me?” Or are your thoughts more aligned to the outcome you seek? “I am attracting my ideal clients from all around the world.” “Every day and in every way, I am open to being of service to those people who need a celebrant.” “The right clients always find me easily and effortlessly.” In short, what’s the dominant thought you hold about your celebrant practice?

 


In the face of adversity, we can crumble or we can create. And here’s the thing: only we can choose which path we’ll take. No one else can get inside our head and make those decisions for us.


In the global economic and libertarian earthquake that ruptured beneath our feet, celebrants have fallen (or been thrown) into three areas: those who are redundant (for who knows how long) from wedding and naming ceremonies; those who are at the front line as key workers and navigating the difficult and unfamiliar terrain of time-restricted, socially distant, minimal-mourner funerals; and there are those celebrants who ordinarily and comfortably straddle the terrain of all rites of passage suddenly landing on the side of key worker.


Just like the millions and millions of people who have found themselves stuck inside four walls for weeks (soon to be, months) on end, we can choose to be victims of circumstances out of our control, or, like the optimal and professional ways we work within our celebrant role, we can choose how to respond.

 

Our response within a ceremony,

and within life,

is all we have control over.

 

No matter what’s happening on the external landscape, our inner world is an area which we have the power to master.

To attune ourselves to change is to recalibrate as a celebrant. This might be a time where you go full-steam with marketing throwing out Canva posts to the wind all day long, or maybe it’s a reclaimed space to focus on your needs as a human, first, and celebrant, second, which could mean taking some quiet, slow time and administering some much-needed TLC.

 

Handfasting ceremony of Mr and Mrs Thwaites, Shap, Cumbria



Or it may be that your office needs an overhaul, accounts need updating, or you finally catch up on some ongoing professional development by mastering your creative writing skills or undertake consistent voice coaching specific to celebrancy or consider the look and feel of your website. What does it, as your shop portal, say about what you offer? What does it say about you?

 


Evolution has always been survival, not of the fittest as we’re often led to believe, but of those who can adapt. How are you adapting to these changes? Yes, it can feel absolutely harrowing to have this year’s weddings cancelled. Yes, it can be an unsettling time to wonder where your income is going to come from (either this year or next year due to accommodating the rescheduling of wedding ceremonies to 2021 and 2022). Maybe you’ve adapted to doing some blessings by Zoom or Facebook Live on the couple’s original date. Perhaps you’re finding ways to attract couples for ceremonies in 2022. Maybe this is the time you’re thinking of retraining so that you can offer ceremonies for all rites of passage.

For those at the front line, walking the precarious path of funerals, yes, you might have the work and relatively secure income, but what care are you taking of yourself? If you’re dependent on a third-party, i.e. funeral directors, you may feel that your work is based on their whim, and that can be unsettling.

Empty crematoria with seats spread metres apart, and connections with families limited to video or phone, take their toll. How are you dispelling this built-up energy? Have you made use of your celebrant-organisation’s support system? (e.g. The Association of Independent Celebrants has AOICGriefchat which its members can access for free professional counselling).

 


Maybe you’re journaling your experiences and allowing the changes to integrate through dreamwork and meditation. Perhaps you’re part of a weekly online connection with other celebrants (the AOIC is a trade body which offers members two a week: one for wedding celebrants and one for funeral celebrants). Whatever you choose, make sure it is supporting you in moving forward and not perpetuating negative beliefs.

Collectively, humanity is going through one heck of a rite of passage. When we come to the other side, incorporating those changes will need to be marked in a meaningful way. As a celebrant, are you up to the challenge? Will you offer your community a ceremony or ceremonies to help everyone take stock of the changes we’ve been through? Do you know how to do this?

If you’re consciously recalibrating as a celebrant, you’ll soon start to see rites of passage with new eyes.

There’ll be many memorials taking place for the deceased whose final goodbye was either a direct cremation or micro-funeral ceremony. Weddings and namings will initially be for just a handful of guests. In time, the larger celebrations will return. When and how this will happen is anyone’s guess.



But what of those other rites of passage? This year’s university students who were denied a graduation ceremony? Are you able to offer something for them, their friends and family? And the relationships which didn’t survive enforced togetherness day in and day out: can you create a Parting of the Ways ceremony to honour all that was good about their union, and the decision to now go their own ways? And what of those people who will take the courage to start a new business post-Corona times? Do you know how to create a meaningful ceremony for such a rite of passage?

In what ways can you be of service to your village or town or city?

 

Luke’s Naming Ceremony. Cambridge.



Recalibration might mean that you now think less about how many bookings you draw in but how much quality you can bring to each ceremony. If we can find the good that lurks beneath the torment, tragedy and trouble of these times, it may look like this: our hearts have expanded, rather than shrunk. We’ve looked in the mirror and said “You know what? I want more from this life.” And as you acknowledge that, you realise at the deepest part of your being that ‘more’ actually means less.

 

Mike and Petra’s handfasting in a stone circle at Limetree Farm, Yorkshire.


This time is calling us to be courageous, creative, consciously caring, and to listen to our intuition. The old ways no longer work. The hashtag #moderncelebrant will come to define the threshold our industry crossed as we acclimated to a new way of being. Modern means relating to the present not the past. Celebrancy has changed. And so must we. Change isn’t static. It spirals, takes steps in unexpected directions, and if we dare lean into the winds of change we can find the wings to guide us towards other horizons as we incubate new dreams.

Written by Veronika Robinson, editor of The Celebrant magazine

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