Category: Celebrant

Why Dying Matters Awareness Week marks a time to talk for us all

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It’s Dying Matters Awareness Week — a chance to talk about death and our end-of-life choices.

Many of us don’t have an open discussion with our families about our funeral wishes.

Indeed, recent research by Humanists UK found that 20 per cent of people were left feeling unsure if the funeral was what their loved one would have wanted.

Dying Matters, which runs the week as a public campaign and is part of the charity Hospice UK, found:

  • fewer than one in ten (8%) have put in place medical and/or emotional support for the end of their lives (dropping to 6% among over-55s)
  • just three in ten (31%) adults know how to make arrangements to ensure they die in the place they would wish to

We need to break that taboo and open up the discussion around dying.

After all, most of us would agree the most important element of a funeral is to honour the life and wishes of the person who has died.

In my work as a civil celebrant, I put the life we are celebrating at the forefront of the whole ceremony.

That’s why, family members often tell me afterwards that the service I led did them proud.

Covid-19 has forced death into the public consciousness yet many people remain unaware of the support available to them to plan for a good death.

It’s time to talk.

Read more about Dying Awareness Week via Dying Matters.

Read more about the Dying Wishes campaign by Humanists UK.

Liked this? Read also: Bereavement in the new normal: life after Covid for Saga Magazine.

Bereavement in the new normal: life after Covid for Saga Magazine

There is no new normal post Covid.

Every one of us is, after all, grieving to some degree.

That’s the idea behind my first feature for Saga Magazine, an article I have been working on this past week.

My article explores, through case studies and expert comment, the loss we have all experienced during the pandemic and how we, both collectively and individually, can hope to move forward.

Psychologists talk about the five stages of grief, namely denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

But for one of my case study interviewees, Kerry, whose husband died last November, the whole experience has been an emotional rollercoaster, not a linear route.

“Sometimes at night, sleeping on his side in an empty bed, I call out to him. ‘Jeremy, where are you? Where are you?’ When there’s no response, I feel so alone.”

Kerry started keeping a diary as a means to express her grief, a key element of finding a path through the darkness.

“I started writing a journal to record the rollercoaster of emotions I’ve been through. It’s my substitute for counselling,” she says.

Amongst the expert interviewees for the feature is Julia Samuel, the pyschotherapist and author whose book Grief Works I read and admired. She told me:

“The only thing we can be certain of in life is change. We have to grow with the change. When we try to suppress it, we do not thrive.”

Julia explained how, for every death, at least eight people are affected, often many more.

With the UK death total from the pandemic currently nudging 140,000, a lot of people have been touched by tragedy in the past year.

How do they – we – all find a new normal?

“When grieving, it’s like having less layers of skin, so you feel raw,” said Julia. “My advice is to intentionally do things to soothe yourself.”

Read the full feature in the June issue of Saga Magazine — subscribe here.

I’m available for civil celebrant ceremonies in the Northwest region.

Liked this? Read also: Why 1,546 is more than a number – it’s a true national tragedy.

Why 1,546 is more than just a number — it’s a true national tragedy

Today marked a grim milestone for the UK with the highest ever daily death toll — yet.

The 1,546 people whose deaths were recorded today, all of them having died within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test, brought the pandemic death toll in the UK to over 100,000.

Commentators reacted with a mix of anger, despair and weary resignation.

But it’s easy to focus on the numbers on the numbers [see BBC graphic above] and forget the human cost.

Each one of those 1,546 deaths represents an individual tragedy, and a grieving family left behind to pick up the pieces.

I know from my work as a funeral civil celebrant that every family is different. Every family copes with its personal loss in its own individual way.

And family members take comfort from the opportunity to celebrate the life of their lost loved ones.

I work with those families to remember the person behind the statistics. We remember their achievements and cherish their shared memories.

Every one of the 1,546 souls lost today deserve the dignity of a highly personal service, one directly tailored to the needs of the individual family.

After all, that’s how the latter will find the strength to carry on.

As Julia Samuel, the author of the book Grief Works, says:

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”


I’m available for civil celebrant ceremonies in the Northwest region.

Liked this? Read also: How to share your story for National Grief Awareness Week.

Why our own innate resilience is key to the art of not falling apart

Christina Patterson understands loss.

The journalist and broadcaster often talks about how she has survived cancer and is the last remaining member of her family, having most recently lost her brother.

“I am,” she says, “the end of the line.”

Yet she still finds ways to celebrate life with her love of the arts and her relationships with others.

Christina documents her story of loss with honesty and eloquence in her book, The Art of Not Falling Apart.

I enjoyed her writing but also admired her resilience, a topic she discussed as a guest on the latest edition of the What I Believe podcast from Humanists UK [pictured above].

The knockbacks she has survived in life have, she explained, built her sense of resilience. She has not only overcome them but gone on to build a career as a freelance writer and commentator.

We don’t all have Christina’s resilience.

It’s hard to bounce back when life sends a curveball. It’s hard to stand up again when events conspire to knock us down.

It feels even harder to remember that now as we draw to the close of a year that many people would probably rather forget.

But we do bounce back. As Christine reminds us, there are fleeting glimpses of beauty in even the darkest skies.

She finds it in poetry and nature; others will locate it elsewhere. The secret is to grasp it wherever you find it.

After all, she says, loosing her entire family has only strengthened her resolve to keep on embracing life.

She says:

We’re all trying to work out what really matters to us during this pandemic. There is certainly something to be said for reminding us how short and precious life is.

In my role as a civil celebrant, I meet people who are living with loss.

It’s raw and painful but, as we work on a eulogy about their loved ones and gather to celebrate their lives at a civil ceremony, I see their resilience shine through.

Christina Patterson’s writing helps to remind us resilience is hard-wired into all of us — we just need to let it flourish.

More about The Art of Not Falling Apart.

Liked this? Read also: How to share your story for Grief Awareness Week.