Monthly Archives: July 2015

On becoming a funeral celebrant

Here’s the second update.

There’s no doubt that the death of a loved one, and particularly one as loved as Nicky was,  changes everything. I have written a lot about the family and our grief, about sadness and in recent times our gentle rehabilitation but I haven’t talked about about the wider impact of her death on our lives. I haven’t once mentioned work. Practically too her death changed everything.  I could no longer commute daily to London, I could no longer find (much) meaning in (much of) the media work I have done.  When our lives were eviscerated by Nick’s death all my established perspectives on personal ambition, professional achievement and the pursuit of wealth became like strange derangements. So for both practical and personal reasons I could no longer do what I did.

I should say at this stage that I am grateful to old friends and colleagues who have helped me out with offers of work over the last few months, it’s kept me afloat. Thankyou.

But I needed to find a new thing.  Something that I believed in, and genuinely believed I could be good at. Something that was important, meaningful, and that was inherently of value. Something that employed my love of people, of listening to them and writing about them. Something that deployed my skills and pleasure in recounting stories and my aptitude for organising events. Critically too it had to be something that acknowledged and responded to the events of the last year.  I had to find a positive in something so negative and do something creative and useful with that experience, Nicky asked me to do as much as she died, but at the time I didn’t know what it was.

Simon Smith, Humanist Funeral celebrant, in his suit, in the park.

Simon Smith, Humanist Funeral celebrant, in his suit, in the park.

So, over the last six months then I have been in training to become a Humanist Funeral celebrant and I am now qualified as one of Brighton and Hove’s two funeral celebrants accredited by the British Humanist association.

WTF?

Yes, it’s a strange thing I know, and I am sure there are some raised eyebrows out there,  but believe me, this is the best thing I have ever done. Humanism has for a long time provided a philosophical framework for my beliefs, and when Nicky was dying it was a source of great comfort for both of us.

As a funeral celebrant I will create non religious services for cremations and burials. The training has been brilliant and has allowed me to face up to and understand more about my own and others’ bereavement and grief. I am not troubled by other’s grief, it’s not mine, but it is an honour and a privilege to make my experience of use to others, and to perform the simple and meaningful task of organising a funeral service that celebrates the life of their loved one.  Rituals or  rites of passage are fundamental to our ability to face transitional moments in our lives, they are for the living, not the dead and they should be beautiful, memorable and meaningful. That’s my job. This is part of recovery, to face up to death with a life that acknowledges death for what it is, and makes the best of it.

I am freelance, to get work I am on the BHA website and market myself to Funeral directors as a celebrant. Brighton is of course knee deep in celebrants of one flavour or another, but I am very happy to be specifically  a Humanist one and will I hope, be able to do this until someone is around to provide the same service for me.

In due course I’ll be doing weddings too, that’ll be more fun.

Taking off the grief coat.

It is 16 months since Nicky died. I have shared much of our experience of that, our journey into and through grief and written too about the process of recovery. Recovery. Readjustment. Restoration. There are many words that are helpful here but the one I prefer most is rehabilitation. Learning to live again.

In my last post I hinted at something. ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’. You’ll have to ask a scientist about why this is the case, I’m not equipped to explain, but I know it’s true. I also know that a year ago the space Nicky left in our lives felt like a vacuum.

Now, 16 months on I am amazed and enchanted by the resilience of life, the tenacious way that it has swirled around and scratched at the bell jar of my sadness and found the chink.  Amazing too is the capacity we have for growth, recovery, change, evolution. We humans, we are extraordinary. Really, we are.

There’s two significant updates to come. Here’s the first:

I said a year ago when I bought the big yellow bike that I believed it would be our salvation. In the sweetest way it gives me hope and happiness as we ride around on it. But, beyond that it’s been a catalyst to change. A change of wardrobe if you will.  I am no longer wearing the grief coat quite so much.

The grief coat. I have written about this before. The grief coat hangs about the shoulders of the grieving. Absorbing light and energy it does the opposite of sparkle. I see them on others still,  I recognise the stance, the burden of this heavy vestment.  In Scotland recently I spoke seemingly at random to two strangers, within a minute we had clocked each other’s coats and shared our stories of widowhood. One, a farmer, 20 years alone with two young boys grown up now and fledged, held his life in memorial to a wife who still brought a smile to his face and whose loss a tear to his eye. His eyes betrayed the vulnerability of loneliness and the wisdom of loss. The other a woman, fifty odd, whose life at once upturned a dozen years ago had fled to a farm on Skye to bear her grief. She, by contrast, looked at me and twinkled. “A man came to mend my fences” she said. “He never left”. Stroking the hair of her ten year old lad she said, “I’m so lucky, to have loved not once but twice, lucky”. With that she left. And her grief coat had become an iridescent suit of armour.

When she was dying Nicky said more than once that I should not grieve alone for long. “You’re too good a man to be on your own.” Was what she said. Perhaps what she meant was “You’ll be shit at being on your own.” Either way I hope she had a point.

In early March not long after we gave Nicky’s ashes back to the earth we were
cycling along the sea front on the big yellow bike. Someone yelled out ‘nice bike’, we all returned the look and smiled. Now I’ll spare us all the detail of how we came to actually meet but the ‘nice bike’ yeller recognised us from a picture. Those of you familiar with the practicalities of modern courtship can fill in the gaps. I’ll spare some blushes too.

Now, Don’t get me wrong here. ‘Grief is forever’ I wrote that in the depths of it. I hold to it still. I, we, will alway grieve for Nicky, for what might have been, for the future lost. But I believe now that we the grieving have a choice. We can choose to inhabit the grief coat, to live in it and let become the costume of our lives. (I understand why some might do this, the grief coat becomes strangely comfortable and the bereaved are rightly forgiven a multitude of sins, why give that up?)  Or we can let life back in, let life rush in to fill the vacuum.

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Arriving back in Newhaven after 3 days in Normandy

I wrote this blog as a means of sharing our recovery as a family. And that is happening, the girls are getting stronger, fitter and funnier.  I am no longer entirely alone. I’ve met a woman who Nicky would have liked, who the kids like, who makes me laugh and does the things I like to do. I feel stronger and happier, and I am a better Dad. We have all been camping together, and we cycle together and even combined the two. We can laugh about that.

A few of you have met Rona, some even know that she’s become a significant other. I think you’ll agree she’s good for me. Gentle, wise and kind. I built bridges for Nicky, Rona is mending my fences.