As we descend further into the chill of Autumn, my thoughts shift to an upcoming script I’ll be writing: A Sagesse Ceremony. Sagesse is from the French, and means ‘wise’.

 

I recently officiated a funeral for a woman who, when due to retire from the NHS, was given a certificate to say she could keep working. She stayed in that job until 75, and then continued working in private care right into her 84th year. Stories like this are few and far between. Of course, some people can’t wait to retire. This could be because they hate their job, or have fabulous hobbies they want to spend more time on, or they simply don’t need to work because they’re financially secure. But what we don’t tend to talk about as a culture is what happens when we reach society’s Use-By Date it has assigned us. More often than not, Culture offers the elderly a nursing/care/retirement home. So long they’re comfortable and fed, let’s keep them away from the rest of the world and out of sight. We certainly don’t want to be reminded about what’s down the track for us at the end of life, do we?

 

One of the reasons for the rapid deterioration of the elderly is because they’re no longer valued. They’re not considered an asset and so with that loss of purpose, what else do they have to live for? Studies show, for example, that hands-on grandparents live longer and are healthier than those who don’t have such interactions. In the moving book, Being Mortal, we read about how people in care homes where there are indoor plants, pets such as cats, dogs or even a lorikeet in each resident’s bedroom, visiting children, and vegetable gardens they can tend, usually come off most or all medication and thrive. Why? Because they have a sense of purpose. Each day there is a focus, a job to do, something or someone to observe or care for. It’s pretty much common sense, but this is so fundamentally lacking in many options for the elderly.

 

 

 

 

I had a conversation a year or so back with a man in his early 70s who was reluctant to retire from his business because of the lack of purpose he’d be facing. He wanted to do something with all the knowledge and expertise he’d spent a lifetime accumulating. Where was he to leave and share that experience, he wanted to know. Some elderly people volunteer in charity shops, and others befriend the lonely. On the whole though, culture shuns those who are no longer of use.

 

Writing ceremonies for those transitioning between working or reproductive life, and what’s on the other side of that, is done so with immense reverence, and with the intention of honouring all that has gone before, and how that shall be mindfully carried into the future in such a way that the Cloak of Wisdom is wrapped as a regal shawl of worldliness. Such a ceremony may be titled: wise crone; sagesse; menopause; Saturn return, for example.

 

The elderly are the libraries of our culture. We’ve already seen the impact of kindle on bookshops, and social media destroying face-to-face communication; how long will it be before care homes are considered a ‘waste of space’? Changes happen incrementally in our world. Things come and go: people, trends, inventions, values. When parents/grandparents are no longer an integral part of family life, they deteriorate. But you know what? So do we. We lose the vital opportunity to have our lives enriched.

 

 

When I come across someone in their 90s who is positively thriving, it’s always because they have a rich and purposeful life: they’re avid gardeners, bakers, have a firm family life, volunteer, are still driving and therefore independent, and so on. They’re not sitting on a sofa watching Jeremy Kyle.

 

Think about the elderly people in your life whether they are family, friends, neighbours or even strangers you pass. When was the last time you stopped and talked to them? Really talked to them. Not about the weather or some external thing, but about what their dreams were/are, their passions, their regrets, their loves, their losses. What makes their heart sing? If you don’t have the time or inclination to care about such people, just remember this: one day you’ll be old, and there may not be anyone around to value your life’s journey. Maybe you’ll be shunted away without anyone giving a damn as to all you’ve learnt and can pass on to others. What makes a life meaningful (goes the reading I sometimes share at funerals), is not what we learn but what we teach.

 

So, when you’re old, will you be wise? Will you feel impotent because there’s no one interested in all the experiences you’ve garnered and life lessons you’ve mastered? What shall you do with your three score years and ten of ‘life’?

 

When I teach celebrant students, I say that the most important part of this job is our ability to listen. It doesn’t matter a jot if you’re the world’s best writer, performer, have good business sense, are a whiz at marketing, or have fab social skills or thousands of likes on Facebook. If you can’t slow down, keep your mouth closed other than to ask caring or insightful questions, then you miss laying the strong and vital foundations of all ceremony work. If the same truth was applied to our cultural approach to the aging, oh how different society would look.

(*silent and listen contain the same letters)

 

For my part, it will be my immense privilege to start creating a Sagesse (wise woman) Ceremony for a lady transitioning into being an elder in her community.

 

Veronika Robinson is a Heart-led Celebrant who has been officiating ceremonies since 1995, and is a Celebrant Trainer in Cumbria where she offers private tuition in all aspects of celebrancy. She’s also the editor of The Celebrant magazine. Veronika is currently President of the Association of Independent Celebrants.

 

As an Aussie-born child, I had the delicious delight of being raised by German parents. Christmas was an absolute joy and wonder year after year. It was never a commercialised event based on how much money could be spent or buying presents to make up for presence; and it is still a ceremony that I hold as sacred (not in a religious sense, but as a time of family devotion, love and dedicated rituals).

 

Amongst the beautiful memories of singing carols in German and English by the gorgeously scented Christmas tree (grown on our land) with candlelight all around, are the tastes of Christmas. Mother would bake stollen (German fruit bread with marzipan). Our home would be awoken by the scent of spices mingling, brandy, almonds and honey as the yeast-based dough rose willingly in a warm bowl. As I sat nibbling on some shop-bought stollen today (with the student I have here for 5-day celebrant training), I confessed to feeling a bit like a fraud eating the stollen I’d bought when I’m perfectly capable of making one (and have done, over the years while my daughters were growing up).

 

 

While my student, Lorna, is writing a naming ceremony, soup is simmering on the stove top. Despite the grey, glum day outside, we’re warm and cosy. Not long now till I’ll serve up the home-made minestrone for lunch. How good does food taste when made with love and care and cooked from raw ingredients? So many of my warmest childhood memories are tied up around delicious food always cooked from scratch: the best mushroom soup ever made from the wild mushrooms we’d collect after much-needed rain. Saturday night was always pancake night (crepe-like with lemon juice and brown sugar): mum’s secret ingredient was custard powder. Whether it was delicious sweet treats like stollen or lebkuchen or the healthy salads we’d eat at night, they were always prepared with care.

 

After reading through some of the ceremonies I shared with Lorna as part of her training, she made the comparison between celebrants who use templated scripts for their ceremonies (the ‘cut and paste’ celebrants), and those who write (cook) from scratch. The difference is… LOVE.

 

The pot of minestrone I made for my daughter a few days after she’d given birth to my granddaughter.

 

Similarly, registrars use one of three or four scripts (in the UK) and everybody gets one of those for their wedding ‘ceremony’. It’s like having cup-a-soup from a packet. They all taste the same. One size fits all. Yeah, it’ll do, but really, where’s the magic? Where’s the love? Where’s the care? Where’s the personalisation?

 

 

 

When I make a pot of minestrone, there’ll always be similar things: the tomatoey base, some gluten-free spaghetti and some beans. Everything else is ‘what do I have? What will make this delicious?’ It could be, as in today, sweet potato, red pepper, spinach leaves, pinto beans, smoked paprika, black pepper, Italian herbs. Another time, it might have green beans, broccoli, carrots, potato. It’s still minestrone but it’s personalised.

 

 

When I order soup in a café (and I rarely do, as I’d rather have my own soup at home), I can immediately taste if it’s from a can or a packet. Immediately! When you’re a heart-led celebrant, you can immediately recognise a scripted ceremony when you hear/read it.

 

 

As celebrants, we surely come to this role as guardian of the liminal spaces that people must pass through on their rites of passage to give them the best ceremony (and celebrant) they deserve? Now, it’s fair to say that in a ‘hungry’ world where people are generally deprived of meaning, it could be said that any ceremony will fulfil that need. If you have the choice to feed someone soup from a packet or one you’ve made yourself, presumably the first is only an option if you’ve no other food in the house? As a celebrant, though, we ALWAYS have food in the house of our creativity. If we’re too lazy to draw on those ingredients, perhaps the job should be left to someone who has the time, care and energy to make a worthwhile offering?

 

 

Veronika Robinson is a Heart-led Celebrant who has been officiating ceremonies since 1995, and is a Celebrant Trainer in Cumbria where she offers private tuition in all aspects of celebrancy. She’s also the editor of The Celebrant magazine. Veronika is currently President of the Association of Independent Celebrants.

 

 

The Celebrant magazine is here!

 

This invaluable and gorgeous full-fat resource for celebrants-in-training and working celebrants is edited and published by Cumbrian-based celebrant Veronika Robinson. A whopping 88 pages, each colourful issue is brimming with lively, intelligent, interesting and inspiring articles relevant to all aspects of ceremony and celebrancy.

 

Consider it your 24/7 CPD. This handy A5 publication is easy to read in the bathtub, while waiting for a train, in bed, or any other place where you’ve got some spare time and when you wish to be re-energised in your celebrant role.

 

 

The Celebrant is a subscription-only print publication available worldwide.

 

 

 

The Celebrant: international journal of celebrants and ceremonies

 

ISSN 2632 – 9557

Subscribe here:  Celebrant Magazine

 

Publisher and editor: Veronika Robinson/Starflower Press

 

 

 

U.K. publication dates

 

September: Autumn Equinox

 

December: Winter Solstice

 

March: Spring Equinox

 

June: Summer Solstice

 

 

 

The Celebrant magazine warmly welcomes submissions from celebrants around the globe. Contact us for submission guidelines.

 

How often do we use the word ‘courage’ to denote someone who acts bravely in the face of adversity? It’s certainly how most people understand the word and its tone of battle-like determination. Yet, when I reflect on what it means to live a courageous life, it is based on the original meaning. Courage comes from the Latin, Cor, meaning ‘from the heart’.


A courageous life is one whereby you tell your heart story without a flutter of doubt about your north star. It is a life based on inner values and the ability to speak your truth. The languages of trust, listening within, intuition and authenticity are ones few people would associate with courage, and yet, they are essential companions walking ‘hand and heart’ with the life of those who listen to their inner drummer.

 

 

The treadmill of life, which we are all hoisted onto at birth and ripped off at our expiration date – no matter how great and glorious the world has decided we are – has most people just trying to get by. At times, it feels like we have to run just to keep up, or else we’ll fall off. If you ended up being born into Western society, you’ll have been enculturated with beliefs about your worth stemmed firmly in external validation (it begins at birth with our measurements and weight!; and continues with grades, certificates and awards, for example), and status symbols of car, career, house, wealth, and so on. A Yang-based cultural soup encourages egocentricity. Now, it’s not that we shouldn’t aim or reach for such things if they’re meaningful to us. The question, however, must be asked: Does this desire mean something to me or am I trying to prove something to someone else? Parents, siblings, peers, friends, and so on? Honest reflection isn’t encouraged by those around us because, if it were and we were true to ourselves, we’d probably all make radically different choices. However, to our great detriment, almost everyone lives their life based on what other people will think.

 

 

If we truly made decisions based on what felt right to us, and on what made our heart move through this world with joy – and therefore lived our days without fear of censure, or the desperate need of applause – how might our life look? Would it even be recognisable? What if, we were simply true to our inner calling?

 

My work as a Heart-led Funeral Celebrant is based on listening intently to the stories I hear of other people’s lives, and then it is up to me to craft meaningful ceremonies and create stories from the snippets of information I’ve gleaned. Being immersed in a family’s grief has a profound impact on me. Deeply empathic, it’s as if I draw their pain right into my heart. The one thing that always stands out for me, though, is the simple truth: we can’t take ANYTHING with us when we’re booted off the treadmill. Except love. Read that again, if you need to. Love. Where does love emerge from? The heart.

A humanist, of course, doesn’t believe that love continues after death. I do, though.

 

 

So, if we really understood that everything is temporary, and that all the stress, madness, ambition, control and power are, frankly, pointless, would we live differently? How about greed, consumption, jealousy? Who are we without our titles, roles, and material possessions?

 

I met a gorgeous young lady recently, aged about 16, who was not only a truly lovely person, but she had a wonderful singing voice too. Afterwards, in conversation I said to Seanna about how blessed she was to have such a gift. I confessed that I mourned the lack of any such gift or talent. She replied “You do. You’re really good at reading people.” Her words stopped me in my tracks. She was right. I’d never really considered it before as a ‘gift’, only as a given. With radar-like vision, I see people because I look beyond the labels, badges, jobs, empires, wealth and all the other human-made plasters. I look into their heart, and perhaps even deeper than that.

 

 

Who are you?

How would you identify yourself if all these externals were taken away from you? I ask these questions not to be morbid or cruel or condescending, or even disrespectful of your life path and choices, but to encourage a deeper awareness of what creates a courageous life.

Who will miss you when you’re gone?

 

Why will they miss you?

 

It certainly won’t be because of your fancy clothes, expensive car or eye-watering mortgage, boob job or bikini wax. I doubt it’ll be because of your job title or manicured lawn or your business logo.

 

A life invested in mindful awareness of the sacred all around, and the offering of compassion, kindness and love, is one that not only contributes to our well-being, but it also leaves the world a better place.

 

Legacy isn’t about our constructions and empires and pursuits, it’s the feeling we leave in others when we’re gone. And this can only come from the heart.

With the rise of celebrant-led wedding ceremonies in England, and registrars now offering ‘bespoke’ ceremonies, it’s important for couples to understand the difference between when a celebrant creates a bespoke ceremony and when a registrar offers a bespoke ceremony. Let me say at the outset, they are nothing alike, though you may think for the £850 or so that a registrar may charge you’ll be getting something special.

Penelope and Freddie’s Askham Hall Wedding Ceremony. Photography by Hannah Hall.

As a celebrant, I spend an average of 20 hours per wedding couple. This includes getting to know them (face to face or by Skype, depending on if they’re in the country or not), truly understanding their beliefs about life and love and marriage, learning their love story as well as their hopes and dreams for married life, writing their ceremony script, meeting them at the venue before the wedding day, the day of the ceremony, spending hours rehearsing their ceremony so that it flows freely and is ‘off the page’ during the officiating, and travel time. The 20 to 30 minute ceremony I officiate on the day, rests on the foundation of a lot of unseen work.

Fiona and Paul’s Dutch-themed wedding ceremony at the beautiful Askham Hall, near Penrith, Cumbria.

Bespoke, to me, means that not only do I get to know the couple and build a meaningful relationship with them, but I write a script that is just for them. I am hugely invested in their wedding day, and this shows by the amount of time I spend per couple. In my work, the heart of their ceremony features their love story. Any rituals created are meaningful to them and their beliefs; they’re not simply space fillers or ‘off the shelf’. And just as importantly, I match my energy to theirs.

The gorgeous moment when the bride walks down the aisle.

A registrar doesn’t write a bespoke ceremony for the couple. End of. They use a templated script which was written by a colleague in the office (someone who won’t even meet the couple), and although it allows for the addition of a handfasting, possibly a quaich or sand-blending ceremony (even though registrars aren’t given professional training about handfastings or other rituals), the ritual scripts are templates. The couple must provide their own cord, cup or sand. To be clear, a registrar is not a specialist in rituals.

The bride’s Scottish grandmother offered her silver quaich (Scottish loving cup) for their ceremony at Askham Hall. Photo: Veronika Robinson

With a government ‘bespoke’ template, the couple may write their own vows, and choose readings and music. However, these MUST be approved by the registrar (how bespoke is that?) and must not contain any religious or spiritual elements. Interesting, really, that a handfasting would even be allowed (ditto humanists offering it) given that it has ancient pagan roots and is deeply spiritual.

Inconsistencies abound.

Today is the one-year anniversary of when I officiated Rene and Chantal’s ceremony in Outback Australia.

As an independent celebrant, bespoke to me means the ceremony I create is unique to the couple. If one of them is Catholic and the other Jewish, or maybe one is Pagan and one is atheist, then the ceremony will reflect their beliefs (not mine or that of a government employee). When two people come together, as one, their ceremony needs to accurately reflect this.

Rene and Chantal’s handfasting. Photo by Ben Broady.

A celebrant-led bespoke ceremony is not restricted by government guidelines. A registrar’s ‘bespoke’ ceremony is simply another template with space to pop in some vows written by the couple. There’s no crafting, beauty, care or true personalisation allowed. And there most certainly isn’t recognition or reflection that each human being has beliefs that are unique to them.

Michael and Victoria’s bohemian wedding

To be 100% clear, the registrar taking your ‘bespoke’ ceremony will not have written you a unique script. The words they say aren’t even ones they’ve written themselves. They are, essentially, ‘rent a gob’, to put it crudely. When a skilled celebrant crafts a script, it is done with awareness of pace, pitch and pause; not to mention beauty, flair and creativity. Their script will also accurately reflect their natural vocabulary and the words will flow easily.

Loz and Kate

My lovely couple, Loz and Katie, tied the knot by a waterfall in rural Yorkshire.

The registrar will not have spent hours and hours getting to know you. And they certainly won’t be available to wait around if there’s a delay to your ceremony start e.g. rain or bride held up or some other reason why things haven’t gone to plan. As a matter of course, I don’t book more than one wedding per day. My couples know, with complete certainty, that if there’s any hiccup that might cause a delay, that I am theirs for the day. A registrar, in most cases, has another ceremony to go to and won’t wait for long.

The use of the word ‘bespoke’ by the registration service is, at best, misleading, and at worst, demeaning. It shows a complete misunderstanding of what bespoke means, and short changes a couple of what could be a truly personalised ceremony.

Mike and Sara

Michael and Sara live in Australia. They chose Cumbria for their wedding ceremony. Such a special day!

You are warmly invited to a celebrant education day for celebrants in the north of England and Southern Scotland.

 

 

 

Regardless of where we are in our celebrant career, ongoing development is essential for best practice. This education day, led by Veronika Robinson (President of the Association of Independent Celebrants), is suitable for celebrants at all levels and stages of their working life, including those just beginning. This day is based on practical and interactive workshops.

When: Sunday, 13th October, 2019

Time: 9.30 for a 10am start. Finishes at 5pm

Where: Wreay Village Hall, Chapel Hill, Wreay, CA4 0RG

(easy access from junction 42 of the M6 a few miles south of Carlisle, Cumbria)

(Free on-site parking and disabled access). Local accommodation, if required, is Premier Inn at junction 42 or the village campsite or local Air BnBs.

Fee: The education day fee is £20. This includes all the workshops, morning/afternoon tea, (hot/cold drinks all day) and a hot lunch. *The fee is non-refundable unless the event is cancelled by the organiser.

 

Space is available on a first-come first-served basis. To book your place, please email for a booking form veronikarobinson (at) hotmail (dot) com

 

 

 

All marriages end. Whether by death, divorce or old-fashioned neglect, the rose-hued dreams we had for Happily Ever After become eroded in the passage of time. To love is to risk. Who here hasn’t gambled on love? And if we knew that someday it all would end, would we have taken even a single step in the direction of our dreams?

 

We’re just walking through life, minding our own business (although, increasingly, people are actively searching for love online), when slap bang onto our path walks someone who turns our head. Kapow! Gotcha! Whatever direction it was we thought we were walking in, suddenly changes. Our worlds collide, and in time we’re setting up home or having babies or travelling the world together. One thing’s for sure: when ‘the one’ comes along, most of us will tilt our world sideways to ensure longevity. Compromise after compromise after compromise. Afterall, why wouldn’t we want that wonderful feeling of love to last forever? (well, whatever ‘forever’ actually means in mortal terms)

 

The wedding industry is huge. As a wedding celebrant, my focus is purely on the ceremony and what I can bring to help a couple set the scene for their vows, promises and pledges. I bring my whole heart to this role, and in that wholeheartedness my deepest wish is that their intentions come to fruition.

 

 

But what of those at the other end of marriage? Where is the ‘industry’ (apart from greedy lawyers and divorce courts) or support systems to cushion those who find themselves walking out the other end of marriage – alone – their dreams crushed into the dust? Where are all the well wishers then? Why isn’t there a support team to help you move along with the next chapter/s of your life? Because it’s not pretty, that’s why!

 

When someone is widowed, sure, there’s the funeral, but what of the support for the person who is now living without the daily companionship of their beloved? The bottom line is that there is no one to fill that void. The loss of that vitality and life force that their loved one brought into their lives is akin to an earthquake. The landscape is forever changed. There are support groups for widows and widowers, but it seems to me that, as a culture, we simply don’t have the cushioning needed for this bookend.

And then there are people like myself who, for whatever reason, come to the end of what may well have been a long and happy marriage, and then find themselves separating. Not only does a marital separation of the couple ‘least likely to split’ terrify your friends and have them running in the opposite direction in case it somehow illuminates the fault lines in their own marriage, it also leads to people assuming the one who did the leaving is ‘ok’. The one who is ‘left behind’ is to be pitied and rallied around. It’s not surprising, really, given the litigious culture we live in. We’re virtually raised on the blame game from the get go.

I can hand on heart say, from my own experience, that grieving for a person who is still alive is even more painful that grieving for someone who is dead.

 

 

As a woman, wife, mother and celebrant, I have done enormous soul searching over the past 20 or so months since that first moment I became aware of the inner turmoil looming within me. It’s torn my heart in half over and over. If my husband had been a bad person, or had done something wrong, maybe this path I’ve walked might have been easier. I don’t know. All I know is that I’d irrevocably changed following my dearest friend’s suicide on Christmas Day 2016.

To those who ‘gossip’ that I’m okay and looking good, here’s the truth: I’m not! I just have an ability to know what my needs are and how to tend to my wounds in silence. Solitude is my healer. It always has been.

 

As a celebrant, I’ve offered divorce ceremonies right from the outset. People used to laugh and think I did it for ‘repeat’ business. That one day my wedding clients would come to me to be undone. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am a hopeless romantic (the unpublished romance novels on my laptop are proof enough of that), and do still dream of happily ever after, if not for me, then for every other person walking this earth with that longing. I’m also realistic and know that humans are deeply complex. My own evolution is also teaching me constantly, and as a result my work has to evolve alongside my personal life. In the past, I’ve always felt strongly that a divorce ceremony should involve both parties. I now see that a Parting of the Ways ritual shouldn’t be denied to someone because their ex-spouse isn’t willing to take part or has blanked them.

 

Forgiveness doesn’t require the other person’s permission. To forgive is to free ourselves.

I am so grateful for the 23 years of stability, kindness, love, laughter and care (and the awesome daughters we raised together) that I enjoyed in my relationship. At no level of my being do I see our parting as a failure, though that doesn’t stop the pain of separation. Honouring the change of nature in our relationship is something, that to my mind, doesn’t require a piece of paper from the government.

Into the depths of the woods I shall enter, and true to my nature as a solitary practitioner of healing, I will allow the wisdom and wonder of Mother Nature to be the altar upon which I heal this bone-deep loss. I trust in her to allow my ‘ceremony for one’ to bring both of us a soothing balm that will echo through time and space and love. And maybe, just maybe, my intentions for peace, love, harmony and forgiveness will heal others, too.

“When words are inadequate, have a ritual.”

 

 

The words death and café conjure such different images, don’t they? The idea of placing them alongside each other evokes confusion or curiosity, but rarely is the response neutral.

 

Grief, pain, torment, shock, loss, heartbreak, endings, finality.

Cappuccino, cake, tea, scones, taste sensation, pleasure, companionship, joviality.

 

How on earth do you link them together? And perhaps, more importantly, WHY would you put them as companions in written or spoken word?

 

When I tell people I facilitate a Death Café, the response is invariably one of horror or of intrigue. Generally, those who find it distasteful don’t want to engage in any further discussion. Those of a curious nature learn a heck of a lot in a short space of time.

There are approximately 8, 472 Death Cafés around the world in 65 countries. Some are offered regularly, and others occasionally. What they all have in common is a desire to raise awareness and help remove taboos around death and dying through friendly discussion. There is no set agenda.

My passion for setting up a monthly Death Café in Penrith was initially prompted because I wanted to bring choice and change to my local community. Few people consider death until it slaps them in the face (and if you’ve experienced grief, you know full well that ‘slap’ is an understatement). When suddenly faced with having to arrange a funeral, the chief mourner has anywhere between 80 and 300 decisions to make. That’s a hell of a lot of computing for the neo-cortex to deal with at a time when the body needs to be expressing raw grief.

 

Having seen behind the scenes of the funeral industry, as a funeral celebrant, I wanted people to start having conversations about death. In short, I was determined to disrupt the cultural script (in my neck of the woods, anyway) that death is a dirty word.

 

January 11th 2017 is a date that will stay in my mind for many reasons. Once I had decided to set up a Death Café, I chose my first date: January 11th. I would host meetings on the second Wednesday of each month for as long as there was interest. As per usual in my life, the Universe likes to amplify things a bit. I had no idea in the world (how could I have?), that on Christmas Day just previous, my best friend of eighteen years would hang herself. My whole being turned inside out as I grappled with the trauma and shock. As Fate would have it, her funeral date was January 11th just an hour or so after my first Death Café. I was to be the celebrant. Needless to say I was staring death in the face without any full-force protection that day!

 

Through conversations around cake and coffee, tea and scones, and amidst the gorgeous setting of Greenwheat Florist and Fika, a beautiful café and flower shop on Brunswick Road, Penrith (and thanks to the kindness and generosity of owners Laura and Lee for creating space for us there) we have started writing a new story. It’s one of choice, change, consciousness, creativity and care. Some of our guests have been there since that first session back in January 2017. Their thoughts on death, dying and indeed, living, have had quite a metamorphosis in that time.

 

No subject around death or dying is taboo. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve explored, we’ve asked questions, we’ve shared books. Opinions are sometimes diametrically opposed, and that’s okay too. After all, it is a discussion group. We’ve covered topics ranging from eco-burials, ashes into jewellery, life after death, the ethics of the funeral-director industry, coffins and shrouds, cultural death practices around the world, pet deaths, grief, mourning, caring for a body at home, the politics of death, burial v. cremation, how to choose a funeral director, what makes a meaningful life.

 

Who comes to a Death Café? Anyone at all. We’ve had mourners, celebrants and a funeral director, hospice care workers, those who are simply curious, and friends who’ve been dragged along and rather enjoyed it. I can’t speak for other Death Cafés around the world, but I know that I look forward to our friendly little group in Penrith. Sometimes it’s been incredibly busy, with sixteen or so people gathered in a little café, and other times it’s just two or three of us. For my part, I’m there regardless ready and willing to have a conversation about death, dying, love, living, and more. Most importantly, to show others that death is not a dirty word.

 

About Me:

Hello, my name is Veronika Robinson, an independent funeral celebrant in rural Cumbria.

Determining the nature and feel of a ceremony isn’t as simple as: religious or not religious. Most people have their own hybrid philosophy of life, death, love and living, and as your celebrant I seamlessly weave your beliefs into a ceremony that is enriching, healing and affirming of the relationship you shared with your beloved. I am able to do this because I listen clearly and carefully. At all times, my job is to craft a ceremony which belongs to you.

I’ve been an independent celebrant since 1995, and have officiated all manner of ceremonies internationally. My intention is to create, write and officiate deeply meaningful, personalised and beautiful ceremonies for every person I am honoured to serve.

Being a funeral celebrant, for me, is a vocation which is founded upon high-level care, compassion, empathy, responsibility and awareness.

Ceremonies, when crafted with skill and love, have the ability to be deeply healing.

Is ‘running off in secret’ something couples do to avoid dealing with complicated relations, permission, expensive commercialised wedding days and high-level stress or is the shrouding of the event in secrecy a form of magical intimacy? Culturally we’ve been somewhat conditioned to believe it’s rather anti-social behaviour, and often done in haste, but I would suggest reframing elopement. Perhaps honouring the delicious esoteric nature of lovers’ promises is a healthier way of viewing this less-traditional crossing the threshold?

 

Geoff, the handsome groom

 

When my dear friend Tanya confided that she and her beloved, Geoff, were eloping, I did a happy dance. YES! Actually, I was ecstatically happy! I’ve known Tanya a long time, and had the honour of officiating her son’s naming ceremony in Australia 20 years ago.

Carefully chosen items for the wedding altar

 

 

Why was I so delighted? You’d possibly think, as a wedding celebrant (and, obviously, as a friend), that I’d want to see the gathering of guests and all that a wedding ceremony traditionally entails. Without her giving me any explanation as to their decision, I fully understood why they were taking this path.

 

 

There are many reasons for choosing to elope, and while it’s more common for people entering their second or later marriage, even first timers can enjoy the intimacy which comes from ‘just the two of us’.

Tanya on the verandah of the beachside cottage they stayed in for their elopement

The benefits of eloping:

 

  1. The focus is entirely on yourselves. No expensive venue. No exorbitantly priced disco lights. No wedding invitations. No caterers. No £500 wedding shoes. No having to mediate between parents and in-laws’ ideas about what you should do or have.
  2. No extortionate wedding expenses. If you fancy going away, you can spend money on travel instead and have an amazing adventure.
  3. There’s no worry about who to place at what table for the reception, or the hell of divorced parents having to meet up.
  4. You don’t have to be concerned about who to invite.
  5. You don’t have to worry about stage fright and nerves.
  6. It is incredibly intimate and ever so romantic, and the whole day is about you (not anyone or anything else).

Traditionally a wedding is done before friends and family as witnesses, and the sharing of your joy is what helps to make it such a special occasion. In this day and age where weddings have become so commercialised, often costing couples anywhere between £10 000 and £50 000 (in Cumbria, at a registered venue), imagine what a couple could do with that money? Apart from a lovely destination elopement or honeymoon, it could provide a solid basis for creating a home. Or it could feed a few orphans. Or rescue animals. At the heart of any wonderful wedding is the ceremony. No amount of money in the world will make it extra special. The secret ingredient of a beautiful wedding ceremony is the undiluted love the couple share with each other. It’s not dependent on anything but looking into each other’s eyes as they declare their commitment.

 

They said I DO!

 

Elopement might just become the new norm as more couples recognise how many benefits there are to saying “I do” without an audience.

 

Your wedding day sets the tone ~ a template, if you like ~ for your married life. Whatever choices you make, it’s important that they feel right to you and aren’t based on keeping everyone else happy.

 

Tanya and Geoff on their wedding day. They eloped to Tasmania.

 

Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos with the world, Tanya and Geoff. Wishing you all the best for an amazing life together. You deserve it!

 

About Me:

Veronika Robinson is a wedding celebrant who has been officiating wedding ceremonies since 1995. She loves the intimacy that comes with ‘just the couple’.

 

If you’d love to have an obligation-free chat about eloping in Cumbria or are planning a destination wedding here with guests, contact her: www.veronikarobinson.com/celebrant

 

Is the closing of curtains a vital ritual in the cremation service or an out-of-date tradition? A fundamental aspect of being a funeral celebrant is the ability to listen the needs and wishes of the chief mourner. One of the questions that we must ask, for those planning a cremation service, is “Do you want the curtains closed or left open?”

Increasingly, mourners are asking for the curtains to remain open. The thought of them closing is simply ‘too much’. It is an understandable fear, and regardless of the Chief Mourner’s decision, I respect the choice they make.

 

From the perspective of being specialist in ritual and ceremony, I’d like to share a few reasons why the drawing of curtains shouldn’t be so quickly dismissed.

 

Although our currency of communication is based on words and language, there are times when these are inadequate to reach into the core of where we need deepest healing. On such occasions, we call upon ritual to inform our ways.

 

The drawing of curtains on our beloved’s earthly life is enacted with immense reverence. It isn’t just a gimmick or one more bit of funereal theatre. It has a profound purpose, and isn’t done to make grief even more unbearable. This symbolic act of closure may offer us healing. It allows us to be mindful, and to recognise that the bond we’ve had in physical life is now over. Our loved one, in the form we knew them, has gone. Our love, however, shall remain.

 

As a child, I was raised on 700 acres in rural Australia where my siblings and I were surrounded by dozens of horses, cats and an assortment of wildlife. One of the things that always struck me deeply was how when a horse or cat died, other horses/cats would come up and smell the body. They’d walk around it, touch it, and make the connection that nothing was happening in that body anymore.

 

I had no way of truly appreciating the value of this until my father was killed in a car accident a little over seven years ago. I hadn’t seen him for about thirteen years, and I’m grateful for the opportunity that I had to view him in an open casket. Doing so allowed me to do what came so instinctively to the animals I had watched as a child. I was able to hold his hands and give thanks for all the work he’d done during his life to provide my siblings and I with a lovely childhood.

 

My hands then touched his cheeks. I smiled as I ran my fingers in and over the chicken-pox scars in his cheeks. As meaningful as his funeral ceremony was (apart from the useless celebrant getting his name wrong throughout), in many ways I gained far more from being able to body-and-mind register that he was dead. My ability to grieve was augmented in a healthy way. Not everyone has the option or chooses to see their loved one in death. Perhaps other sit with them during the dying process, and have no desire to see them again in that state afterwards. There is no right or wrong in how we walk ourselves through this part of grief, and from my perspective, certainly no judgement.

 

However, from a ceremony perspective, I have often found that a burial (particularly the woodland burials I officiate), can bring more closure to mourners because they are directly connected to the elements: they’re standing on the earth.

 

They feel the sunshine on their skin (or in the case of the vast majority of burials I do, the rain, sleet, hail or snow, or howling winds). There is birdsong in the air. Perhaps bluebells dance at our feet. Maybe the scent of the woodland floor rises up to meet us in welcoming reverence. And then…and then we witness the shrouded body or coffin going down, down, down into the embrace of mother earth. We are connected to the act of saying goodbye. Yes, it bloody well hurts. It’s meant to! We are severing a physical tie with someone who lives in our heart. This is raw grief. This is what it means to let someone go.

 

 

In a crematorium, we are (by nature of the process) disconnected to the element to which we are committing the body. Yes, we talk about the primordial nature of fire. But here’s the crucial thing: at the time of committing the body, we don’t see, smell or hear the fire.

 

The heat of those flames isn’t there to remind us of the transformation taking place. Smoke doesn’t permeate the landscape around us. We’re not piling logs onto the fire as a ceremonial rite. Whether we like it or not, we are disconnected from the commitment process of how we offer the body.

 

 

The tradition of cremating a body in a pyre connects mourners to the transformative nature of the ritual. Sitting in a crematorium does not.

So the ritualistic nature of closing the curtains in a cremation service is one of the only ways in which we truly have of informing our psyche that the physical life is over, and gone from our view. It is a simple act, yet deeply powerful. So powerful, in fact, that many mourners are shying away from including it in the ceremony. There are many layers of our being involved in recognising the passing of a loved one, and some of those layers need physical acts, like rituals, to enable the full flow of grieving.

 

Leaving your loved one’s body on the catafalque and walking away from them may prove to be a lot harder than having them ‘vanish’ behind the curtain.

 

There is no right or wrong decision to be made. It is, as always, the choice of the Chief Mourner.

 

About Me:

Bidding a loved one farewell is a rite of passage that only happens once, so it has to be right.

 

Hello, my name is Veronika Robinson. It would be my honour to be graced with supporting you during your time of grief. The ceremony I create for you is based on your beliefs (and/or those of your loved one). This means I am not constrained by any belief system or motivated by my own.

 

I’ve officiated all manner of ceremonies, and am as comfortable leading mourners in The Lord’s Prayer as I am with a pagan ritual, angel blessing, or any other expression of deeply held beliefs. Whether you’re looking for a traditional service or something wildly unique, or anywhere in between, I have the skills and experience to meet your wishes.

 

Determining the nature and feel of a ceremony isn’t as simple as: religious or not religious. Most people have their own hybrid philosophy of life, death, love and living, and as your celebrant I seamlessly weave your beliefs into a ceremony that is enriching, healing and affirming of the relationship you shared with your beloved. I am able to do this because I listen clearly and carefully. At all times, my job is to craft a ceremony which belongs to you.

 

I’ve been an independent celebrant since 1995, and have officiated all manner of ceremonies internationally. My intention is to create, write and officiate deeply meaningful, personalised and beautiful ceremonies for every person I am honoured to serve.

 

Being a funeral celebrant, for me, is a vocation which is founded upon high-level care, compassion, empathy, responsibility and awareness.

 

Ceremonies, when crafted with skill and love, have the ability to be deeply healing.

“Thank you for everything you have done for us over the last few weeks. Your warmth and sensitivity made an awful situation just about bearable. I do hope we get to meet up again under better circumstances. You managed to write a beautiful eulogy that I will keep for my children.” Becky (Chief Mourner)