Sunday, 27 February 2011

A wonderful memorial ceremony

I blogged earlier in the month about preparing to do a memorial at a nursing home and I'm happy to say that it all went really well and I had a brilliant time. The 'audience' was made up of staff and relatives of the residents who had passed away and they really seem to appreciate the sentiments and the poetry elements of the ceremony. It was quite emotional as you would imagine and I was really touched by a poem that was read by the grandson of one of the reidents who had passed away last year. It was called 'Slow Dance' and has some wonderful advice for us all with our busy twentieth century lives

Have you ever watched kids on a merry-go-round

Or listened to the rain slapping on the ground?
Ever followed a butterfly's erratic flight
Or gazed at the sun into the fading night?

You better slow down
Don't dance so fast
Time is short
The music won't last

Do you run through each day on the fly
When you ask "How are you?" do you hear the reply?
When the day is done, do you lie in your bed
With the next hundred chores running through your head?

You'd better slow down
Don't dance so fast
Time is short
The music won't last

Ever told your child,
We'll do it tomorrow
And in your haste, not see his sorrow?

Ever lost touch,
Let a good friendship die
'Cause you never had time to call and say "Hi"?

You'd better slow down
Don't dance so fast
Time is short
The music won't last

When you run so fast to get somewhere
You miss half the fun of getting there.
When you worry and hurry through your day,
It is like an unopened gift....
Thrown away...

Life is not a race
Do take it slower
Hear the music
Before the song is over.

It's really what we are all about:- slow down and make the most of life whilst you are here because it's the only chance you'll get.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Wedding Vows - don't let them stress you out

A lot of couples get stressed when they start to think about the vows that they will make to each other during the wedding ceremony. As far as I'm concerned, it is not absolutely necessary to write your own vows although I admit that a couple of lines that come from the heart are preferable to something that has been lifted randomly from the internet.

For a lot of people though, the thought of trying to put into words the kind of promises that they want to make to their future husband or wife fills them with horror. With the best will in the world, not everyone can do this and so I have a big file of sample vows which might give you inspiration. You may find something in here that says exactly what you want to say and if you do that's great, we'll go with it.

You may find a line here and a line there that you want to put together and mix and match. Again, if that's what you want to do - we'll do it that way.

If you do feel moved to write your own vows, try to do it from the heart. It doesn't have to be Shakespeare - it just has to be pledges that you really mean and that reflect the reality of your life together. Try not to make them too long and involved - short and sweet is better and it will concentrate your mind into focusing on the things that are really important to you both. Try making a list of the things that you miss about each other when you are apart, or list the things that attracted you to each other in the first place. Remember vows don't have to be deadly serious and stuffy and sometimes adding a little humour can be great if that's the kind of people that you are.

Some couples work together on their vows and say identical ones. Some work on them on their own and send them to me separately. That way, the first time that the other person hears them is on the wedding day. Only you two know whether that approach is something that you are both comfortable with.

When it comes to the ceremony itself, there are several ways that we can approach the part where you actually make your vows. Some couples are worried that they will get emotional at this point and it would be strange if they didn't. I always have tissues available so if the emotions get too much, we can take a moment to compose ourselves and then carry on. Don't worry about it....

When the time comes for you to make your vows, I'll ask you both to turn, face each other and join hands. We can then do it one of several ways:
  • We can write the vows on a card and you can just read them off.
  • I can say the lines individually and you can repeat them after me: for instance 'Stuart - please repeat after me - I promise to always surround you/ with the love that you deserve.
  • We can do it in the format where I ask if this is what you promise and you just reply I do - for instance 'Stuart do you promise to always surround Susan with the love that she deserves?' and you just reply - I do
The last option is great for those of you who feel very nervous about actually standing up in front of people and saying very personal words.

You should choose the approach that you feel most comfortable with: don't stress yourselves more than necessary on the day and try to use words that you are comfortable with. If you try to make them very flowery and poetic and that is not who you are, the people who know you will know that you are trying too hard.

Enjoy this very intimate part of your ceremony and remember to look at your future wife or husband when you speak - and not me!!!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Being a celebrant isn't just about weddings..

Weddings are lovely to do and they are certainly on the increase as far as popularity is concerned but I, like a lot of my colleagues became a celebrant to conduct non religious funerals. Weddings are a lovely bonus but for me, funerals are the most wonderfully rewarding work.

Now of course I can't blog about the funerals that I do in the same way that I can talk about weddings but I wanted to share a ceremony that I am involved in planning at the moment.

A couple of months ago I did a funeral for a lady who had passed away at a relatively young age and who had spent the last few months of her life in a nursing home. The funeral director was not one that I had worked with before and he called me a couple of weeks later with a germ of an idea. The manager of the nursing home had been toying for a while with the idea  of having a memorial service for the residents at the nursing home who had passed away the previous year and she wanted it to be non religious so as to include as many people as possible. She had spoken to the funeral director and he had suggested that she approach me which she did. I immediately thought - what a brilliant idea!

When I got to thinking about it, I realised that both the staff and the residents at the nursing home must have to deal with the death of somebody that they had become close to on a regular basis and quite often not be able to attend the funeral to say their farewells to them.

For a nurse, it is part of the job to be faced with the loss of a patient and they deal with it in a professional and yet compassionate manner. For the staff at a nursing or care home, I think it is slightly different. Quite often the residents are with them long term - sometimes for years and they must become quite close to them and to their families. I know that whenever I have performed a funeral for someone who has been in a nursing or care home the family talk about the staff almost as part of the extended family. I don't think that they could do such a wonderful job without caring and compassion but that means that they must grieve for the loss of a patient that they were close to in much the same way as if they lost a friend. The downside though is that they can't all go to every funeral for obvious reasons and so they miss out on what I consider to be a vital part of the grieving process. I hope that the memorial ceremony that I am going to do will go some way to addressing this.

I talked to my good friend and colleague Penelope about the idea for the ceremony and she told me that her mum had spent a long time in a nursing home towards the end of her life. One of the things that she commented on was the fact that when one of the residents passed away, sometimes the first that they knew about it was when they realised that their friends room was empty. Obviously there is immense pressure on nursing home beds and usually within a couple of days there was a new person in the room. With the best will in the world, nursing home staff can't always take residents along to a funeral and so they too can miss out on a chance to say their final farewells to someone they may have known for years. For them too, I hope that the memorial will provide some comfort.

The ceremony will be happening on Saturday and we are just putting the finishing touches to the poetry and the readings and we'll be finishing it all off with a well wishing. As far as I know, this hasn't been done before in this format and so I'm really looking forward to it and hopefully making it an annual occurrence.